7-11 stores are everywhere in Thailand. There is often more than one on a single block in some of the larger cities. And some are saying that this retail monster is destroying part of the best of Thai culture.
Many people say 7-11 stores are great, being so convenient, and in Thailand they are even more convenient than the typical convenience store in American communities. You can get an immediate snack, pay your electric bill, add time to your cell phone, pick up a condom for later tonight and wash it all down with an orange flavored Fanta soda (Fanta being the creation of Hitler’s Nazi Germany when they could no longer get Coca Cola has since been acquired by Coke). What’s so bad about that? Well there is always a yang with that yin, and please read on to get my opinion of the after-effects to the nation from this chain.
In the United States, the third largest nation in the world, there are 6,900 7-11 shops. In little Thailand, with a population about one-fifth of the US, there are 6,800 7-11 stores. This Dallas born atrocity, with its white bread processed absolute crap food (by and large) is competing in Thailand with street kitchens that produce rivers of flavor with some of the best food on the planet. It is a sad commentary of the changes in the eating habits and health of Thailand, and perhaps other societies as well.
.7-11 stores became so popular in Thailand because they filled a need. Usually to have some street stir fried noodles and a cup of excellent Thai coffee, a customer must actually sit down and wait for a few minutes — not long for sure because the sidewalk chefs are adept at producing a great lunch in less than ten minutes. But in today’s world with I-phones and computer pads, instantaneous worldwide communication, and all of civilization’s knowledge available in a moment of google-ing, ten minutes is way too long. And the results of this obsession with instantly fast everything are greater obesity, higher blood pressures and astronomical cancer rates.
“Your intimate friend, always close by” in the motto of 7-11 stores in Thailand, and it is definitely true. They are close by anywhere you may go in Thailand. You might even see two 7-11 shops within eye-sight and have to decide which one of the almost identical stores you want to go into. But are they a true friend?
The convenience stores do adapt to the local tastes while maintaining a foundation of the worst ingredients of processed eatables and sugar water drinks possible. In Muslim predominant areas, such as the very far south of Thailand and across the border in Malaysia, 7-11 marts offer halal foods. In most of Thailand, they will have pizza slices with the flavor of Tom Yum. All 7-11 establishments are loaded with Lay’s Potato Chips (probably the worst food available for the human body), and in Thailand the Lay’s Chips are Seaweed flavored, or Spicy Crab flavored or a number of other chemically created Thai tastes.
What is the result of this junk food empire moving in on the Kingdom? It’s obvious. Thai people which are inclined genetically to be thin and trim (and generally beautiful people) are becoming heftier, not yet to the degree of an obese country like United States, but moving in that direction. According to World Health Organization statistics, about 30 percent of Thailand’s population is overweight (which is not necessarily obese, fortunately). As the monster junk food chain grows and grows, will Thailand’s population begin to resemble America’s generally fat population with its accompanying cardiac and diabetes epidemics?
Like in America, one of the biggest producers of health problems are “soft drinks” (how we came up with the moniker “soft” is probably an amazing story by itself. They should be called “sweet drinks”, “sugary drinks” or “slow poison drinks’, but those are probably not great marketing names). These world industrial giants producers, dominated by the American company Coca Cola, have gigantic promotional budgets that would dwarf even the most aggressive campaigns that could be put out by health organizations.
There are television ads for 7-11 junk food on Thai TV every day around the clock. There is even a slapstick television show called “Sausage Mansion” which has non-stop product placements of 7-11 items. The emphasis of this TV show is on hot dogs. It is a Thai tradition that people have funny nicknames like “fish” or “crab” (that’s the prime minister’s nickname) or “pig” (which is not negative in Thailand and does not refer to cops). On the “Sausage Mansion” show, characters have nicknames like Soda or Sausage, reflecting 7-11 fast food. It must be remembered that in Thailand, the 7-11 franchises are controlled by an agro-conglomerate giant called Charoen Pokphand (CP), which also owns massive industrial pork farms and a major cable TV provider and is the leading producer in Thailand of microwavable quick “dinners”. This kind of corporate control and persuasion of the public, while common in America, is something new for the Kingdom of Thailand.
I have the belief that when you are given a great power — whether it is as leader of the (not)”Free World” or control over the diets of a huge portion of a nation’s citizens — there is an equal amount of responsibility towards those affected that comes with it. We are all here for a just a short period of time, and everyone should leave a positive legacy.
As a consumer in Thailand, even if it is for just a short holiday, I believe people have an obligation to patronize the true cultural eating establishments. Besides helping the nation, it is also good for your own health. Go have a Pad Se Ew Gai cooked by that lovely lady in the sidewalk café for lunch, and stay away from the potato chips and aspartame poisoned sweet drink. And eat a banana.
Breaking News: 03 Feb ’13 – Thailand’s 7-11 Operator Eyes Expansion to China, Neighboring Countries – Wall Street Journal
Here is a video from an American expat in Thailand that thinks the 7-11 store food is great: