In mid-November, fast-food giant McDonald’s announced a Jerk Chicken Sandwich among its festive season menu items. Many persons have taken to social media to express their views about the sandwich: some have accused McDonald’s of cultural appropriation while others have heaped praises in support of the sandwich.
Cultural appropriation is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.
The cultural appropriation accusation being levelled at McDonald’s is similar to that British chef Jamie Oliver faced when he launched his “quick-cooking ‘punchy jerk rice’” product in 2018. Dawn Butler, a Member of Parliament then, advised Oliver to sign up for a masterclass from Levi Roots and demanded that he ceased his appropriation from Jamaica.
Jerk cooking, which is native to Jamaica, has become very popular worldwide. The two primary ingredients in a real jerk marinade are Allspice — a spice made from the dried berries of the plant Pimenta dioica — and Scotch bonnet pepper (Capsicum chinense).
McDonald’s Jerk Chicken Sandwich comprises two crispy Chicken Selects topped with a spicy jerk sauce, bacon, pepper jack cheese, onion and lettuce in a sourdough bun. A spokeperson for McDonald’s reportedly said “Our Jerk Chicken Sandwich uses jerk seasoning in its spicy sauce. In the product description, we make it clear that the sauce is the jerk component of the sandwich.”
However, according to McDonald’s website, the spicy jerk sauce, used in their Jerk Chicken Sandwich, is made with tomato paste, Habanero chili puree, caramelized sugar syrup, spices, garlic, ginger, and basil: clearly not the same ingredients used in authentic jerk marinade.
Criticisms of the jerk chicken sandwich
“The chicken is not cooked in the true Jamaican jerk style. Therefore, it is misleading to refer to the sandwich as jerk,” said one person.
“The more I think about it the more I’m bothered by the McDonald’s ‘jErK cHiCkEn’ attempt. It shows me one of two things: 1. They don’t care to respect the culture. “Or 2. They have zero diversity on their team,” tweeted another.
“I love jerk chicken… that ain’t no damn jerk chicken McDonald’s!” wrote another.
Said another, “How’s @McDonaldsUK putting a little jerk sauce or whatever it is in the chicken sandwich and calling it jerk? Enough is enough!”
‘Jerk Chicken Sandwich, yet there is not one McDonalds in Jamaica,’ said another person.
Another added: ‘Disrespect to the fullest. McDonald’s slapped a dead sauce on top of a crispy chicken and called it Jerk Chicken Sandwich, unreal.’
Support for the sandwich
Whilst the criticisms focused primarily on cultural appropriation, supporters praised the sandwich, especially for its taste.
“I promise you the McDonald’s jerk chicken sandwich is the best thing to come out of 2020.”
“Just had a very excited @leepablolewis on the phone cus he just had the jerk chicken burger from McDonald’s. Best he’s ever had in his opinion.”
“Please please please do not get rid of the new jerk chicken sandwich it’s the best thing ever,” one supporter begged McDonald’s.