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McSamoa’s….or, Polynesians Got Back

Apia McDonald's

I’m going to combine the Samoa and American Samoa McDonald’s entry because they aren’t interesting enough to do separately.

As far as I can tell, there is only one restaurant in each county. The Samoa McDonald’s is right in town a block off Beach St. and the American Samoa restaurant is out near the airport. It is quite aways from Pago Pago.

Neither restaurant had anything special on the menu. They were mostly paired down versions of an American menu. The signage at both restaurants looked identical indicating there might be some sort of connection between the two.

The place mat on the tray in the American Samoa restaurant was in English and Spanish. I estimate the population of Spanish speakers in American Samoa to be somewhere close to zero. I’m sure they got leftovers from the mainland.

In Samoa, they had NO DIET COKE!! They only had Fanta, Coke and Sprite. WTF. I think this is a national disgrace and really makes the nation of Samoa look bad. If I were the leader of Samoa, I would start an investigation immediately.

I don’t know how many more McDonald’s I’ll be seeing over the next month. I’m guessing Tonga might have one and I know Fiji has one I didn’t get to, but otherwise, most of the places I’ll be visiting are really small. Probably too small for McDonald’s.

*Edit* Looks like I’m right. Here is a list of countries with McDonald’s. This list is more complete than the McDonald’s website which doesn’t list Samoa.

Considering I’m not going to be seeing any more restaurants in Polynesia, I think this is as good a time as any to address something which is sort of the elephant in the room (no pun intended) if you travel around the region.

What is the elephant? Polynesians are fat.

This isn’t just my opinion. I’m from Wisconsin and we got our share of fat people, but the islands make Wisconsin look like a bulimia convention. Hawaii, Rarotonga, Samoa, and to a limited extent the Maori and Tahitians all had obesity problems. From everything I understand, its just as much of a problem north of here. It will be interesting to see if it is a problem in Tokelau, given how isolated they are.

I don’t think you can just write this problem off to things like fast food. In Rarotonga, there were no fast food restaurants. (well, there was a place called Raro Fried Chicken. The thing I remember about it was that wild chickens would roam around outside the restaurant. I found it hilarious that they milled about while their kin were being served up inside)

I think the reason for polynesian obesity is two fold. One cause is behind obesity in all humans and the other is unique to polynesia.

To understand why polynesians are overweight, you need to realize that for most of human history, the daily concern for most people was getting enough calories for survival. Food was serious stuff. You hunted, you fished, you picked berries, and eventually you farmed. This was all done for the goal of just surviving. In the case of polynesia, think about what the typical polynesian diet consisted of prior to the arrival of Europeans: taro root, cassava root, breadfruit, coconut, fish and they might have brought some chickens. That’s about it. They had to eek out a survival on a small patch of land with little room or good land to grow crops. Getting enough food was a big deal. This was an issue for everyone in the world, but it was a particular problem if you lived on a small island.

Fast forward to 2007 and we have pretty much solved the problem of food. Famines usually only occur in rare cases when you have civil wars or other armed groups preventing the supply of food. Obesity is now a bigger problem than malnutrition in even the poorest countries. We have basically infinite calories at our disposal but have kept our primal desire to clean our plates, have as big of portions as possible, and eat as much as we can. In a very real sense, the “crisis” of obesity is a testament to our ability to conquer the problem of eating enough food…..with an obvious downside of course. That is why there are McDonald’s in Samoa.

The diet of polynesians has also changed dramatically, more than it has in other places. I’ll address this in detail when I pass through the nation of Nauru, which provides one of the best examples on Earth of what happens when you dramatically change the diet of a population.

Everything I’ve described above applies to everyone on Earth. The only difference in polynesia has been the degree.

There is something however unique to polynesia that has compounded the problem: Darwinian Natural Selection.

Go look at a map of the Pacific Ocean and try to get an idea of the size of the area compared to something you are familiar with, like the continental United States. It’s huge. It’s enormous. And it was all settled before the arrival of Europeans. Bands of people in outrigger canoes with no compasses, maps, or even the North Star in the south, managed to migrate thousands of miles from SE Asia all the way to Easter Island and Hawaii. It really is a much more impressive accomplishment I think than anything Europeans managed to pull off in their large sailing ships. Only Captain Bligh came close to that sort of navigation when he was tossed out of the HMS Bounty and made it all the way to Fiji in a rowboat.

Imagine being on one of these boats. They’re not big. Its a big canoe with all the food and water you’ll get. We know about the survivors, but there had to be countless boats that never made it to an island. Maybe they didn’t take enough supplies. Maybe their navigation wasn’t quite good enough and they missed an island by 10 miles. Some people probably died on the boat and had to be thrown over while the rest managed to make it to dry land.

In a long ocean voyage like that, who do you think has a better chance of survival: the fat ones or the skinny ones? The answer of course is, the fat ones.

The process of expansion throughout the Pacific may very well have been a selection tool for people who had a predisposition to store body fat.

I’d like to know if anyone has done a study on this. In particular, you should see a greater propensity to store body fat as you travel east from Asia. Hawaiians should be fattest and Melanesians should be the skinniest. You’d also need to factor in things like standard of living, diets and other stuff which might make the study impossible, but it would be interesting.

I should also add, that at least here in Samoa, guys that aren’t fat are still big. As in linebacker big. There is a reason why Samoa has a uniquely large representation in the world of American Football, wrestling, ruby and weightlifting for its size.

  • 13 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. Nancy says:

    Good to have continous training to upgrade skill levels of Managers and Supervisors, who in turn should teach the rest of the staff on customer service and associated skill levels. My only advise is for McDonalds to improve the food and keep it consistent, sometimes the fries are a little soggy, the order is wrong, and the waiting time is beyond McDonald’s policy. Otherwise, keep up the good work and have those girls smile when serving people at ALL times. If they had a bad day pls don’t stand at the window, no one want to look at a frowning non-smiling face

  2. tony kidd says:

    By your theory Maori and Easter Islanders should be the fattest as they are the furtherest Easty and south? I cant say it is the case in NZ, and 1 McDs in Samoa doesnt make any difference to the dietary intake of a whole country.

    • Gary says:

      It isn’t the McDonald’s per se. It is western food. Talking about McDonald’s is just a vehicle to talk about the bigger problem.

  3. Revz says:

    I’m an afakasi (half cast) Samoan and Cook Island, and our poly people back home are definitely smaller than the ones living in the states, Australia and NZ. Like the rest of you say, it’s due to the western influences/ways. We do have our skinny p.i’s, but poly people in general tend to be bigger than someone of European descent. Fat or not, our builds are totally different. To be skinny in a p.i community could mean you’re sick or poor. Big is beautiful and it’s the “norm” in p.i communities. I dont dismiss the fact that p.i’s have a higher risk of getting diabetes and are more susceptible to obesity but that involves many different factors contributing to that.

  4. steve says:

    I think it is a pacific culture mentality that a wealthy person is big and a skinny person is poor. Most royal family members in the past have huge body frames. It shows power and authority. Fat people back in the days did not have health problems they have today because they eat healthy food unlike the greasy hamburgers served in the fast food restaurants. The lifestyles of Samoans today have changed from what it was in the past. Most Samoans do not have the time to work in the plantation because they are working at their 8 hours a day job. So by the time they get home ,it is easy to stop at McDonalds for a fast meal. I think you will see this also in the inner cities of America. There are more fat people in the inner cities than in the suburbs. Samoans are call the Navigators because of their far distance voyage across the pacific. You can speculate on the trial and error risk that might have occurred during these voyages as one could say about the long European voyages to prove the world is not flat or the mighty all male viking exploration in search of new land.

  5. kiana says:

    i agree, the amount of fat samoans on the island compared to the ones living in the mianland are way different. The ones back on the island are hella smaller than the ones here.its the western world.samoans are big, even when they have no fat, the only argument i have with the fat samoan girls is, the guys dont really look at the outside when it comes to attracting them, they care whats on the inside, thats y girls dont really care.but ya, we do have higher risk for health disease but seriously the polynesians on the mainland, are way bigger than the ones living on the island, so there cant be anything wrong with the island, its all the influence of the western world.

  6. chris says:

    im half black and samoan an im big im mean big like muscular big but i can't loose my gut for some reason and my dad is samoan and he is more lean

  7. Gary says:

    The anecdotal evidence of non-obese Polynesians doesn’t disprove that there is in fact a problem with obesity.

    I don’t even think I’m making a very controversial statement actually. Most of the places I’ve been have had to put programs in place to fight obesity and diabetes. The World Health Organization has recognized as also recognized it as a problem.

    The US and the UK also have high rates of obesity. The fact they also have athletes doesn’t disprove the fact.

  8. fibi says:

    I think youre wrong bout polynesians being fat. If I can remember there are a lot of Polynesians out there playing sport for countries like New Zealand and anywhere else and theyre not fat….so get it right get it tight!

  9. Gary says:

    I have no doubt whatsoever that Samoans outside of Samoa are fatter.

    Nonetheless, there is a predisposition for Samoans, and all Polynesians in general, for obesity and diabetes.

    ..and Samoans are still big even when they’re not fat. Look at how well represented they are in rugby compared to the size of the population.

  10. Liana says:

    I am also Samoan and I agree with Sebastian, there are definitely alot more fat Samoans outside of Samoa than on the island itself. Unfortunately the introduction of the western fast and convenient lifestyle has had major effects of th people there. when I recently visited home, I found that my relatives who lived in the remote villages were very lean as opposed to family who lived closer to the main city.

  11. Sebastian says:

    I’m Samoan, I tend to see more fat Samoans out of Samoa than there is in Samoa alone….hmmm, its the western world i tell ya!

  12. Stephen Hope says:

    There is another reason for this as well, also related to natural selection. The Polynesians like fat people. It is one of the few places in the world where “what fat calves you have” can be a compliment to a lady. This is gradually changing, but not quickly.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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