McDonald's 'Aussie' item slammed for appropriating Indigenous culture: 'Leaves a bad taste'

A fresh McDonald’s menu item is causing a stir among Indigenous Australians, with the restaurant chain’s use of an ingredient sourced from an Indigenous-significant native plant labelled “cultural appropriation”.

The fast food giant’s newest drink, the Australiano, launched on May 25 and features McCafe’s locally roasted coffee beans mixed with chai flavour and native Australian wattleseed.

McDonald’s Group Brand Manager Lancy Huynch said that McDonald’s was “excited to give Aussie coffee lovers a brew they can proudly put their name to,” adding “our expert baristas looked no further than our own backyard for a defining Aussie ingredient”.

Marketing photo of cup full of McDonald's new Australiano coffee; wattle flowers
Wattleseed - a main ingredient in McDonald's new coffee - has been used by Indigenous Australians for thousands of years for food, medicine and tools. Source: Supplied, Getty Images

However upon the announcement of the coffee’s defining ingredient, some customers were far from impressed, taking to Twitter to ask: “Which First Nations supplier did you source your wattleseed from?” and “Have you acknowledged the significance of wattleseed in Indigenous culture in the marketing of your Australiano?”

Australiano ingredient should be renamed 'Indigenous wattleseed': Expert

Associate Professor Emma Lee from the Swinburne University of Technology, who is a Trawlwulwuy woman from Tebrakunna country, told Yahoo News that McDonald’s using native wattleseed is “cultural appropriation of scale”.

“In drinking an ‘Australiano’, McDonald’s relieves people of thinking about how foods are produced and who gets to benefit from them and instead focuses a playful attention on a manufactured rivalry to an American coffee,” Ms Lee said.

“It’s a branding exercise that shifts attention away from Aboriginal people as owners and custodians of our food resources for 60,000 years and instead appeals to food fashion and novelty.”

Ms Lee is also pushing for McDonald’s to amend their marketing around the new McCafe item to include Indigenous peoples.

“‘Native wattleseed’ does not evoke connections between fire-stick management of country, the songs and ceremony to celebrate the wattle as a critical part of our cultural infrastructure or the histories of forest destruction for Western agriculture, such as wheat and sheep,” she said.

“‘Native wattleseed’ then becomes a signifier for brand differentiation, rather than ‘Indigenous wattleseed’ that might have cultural benefits to Aboriginal people.”

“McDonald's are not the only ones to do this and trade off Aboriginal cultures, ownership, knowledges and proper ways to care for country in the battle over food labelling and provenance, but they are a global chain that has the resources to research the entirety of the issues around wattleseed, not just whether it goes with coffee and branding.

“They have purposely excluded looking at implications for Aboriginal people and our rights because they can and they do not want competing interests to profits, recognition or rights of use. Leaves a very bad taste.”

McDonald's responds to cultural appropriation concerns

A McDonald’s spokesperson has told Yahoo News that “Aussie ingredients are essential to McDonald’s great tasting menu”.

“The Australiano features 100% roasted and ground wattleseed, sourced from Indigenous and Australian farmers and communities across South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Northern Territory,” the spokesperson said.

“Our supplier, Australian Superfoods Co, has a policy of prioritising the sourcing of native produce from Indigenous Australians.

“They work with Indigenous communities to wild harvest produce, as well as with local and Indigenous farmers cultivating native fruits, herbs and seeds, including the wattleseed”.

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