How to host a party
Every good host knows the secret to a successful event is that the guests are entertained, and that they are well fed and watered. At London 2012, the spectacle of competition will provide the entertainment, but what about the food?
Feeding the massive numbers attending the Olympics is the biggest peacetime catering operation in the world. In the Olympic Village alone, the amount of food required is enormous. This year’s Olympians and their entourages will consume:
- 25,000 loaves of bread
- 75,000 litres of milk
- more than 100 tonnes of meat
- over 330 tonnes of fruit and vegetables.
With participants from all over the world, different tastes, cultural requirements, and dietary restrictions need to be taken into consideration. The athletes’ communal dining room has to offer a 24-hour smorgasbord, with dishes to suit every diet, from the carbo-loaders to the calorie restrictors. Michael Phelps, who holds the record for most gold Olympic medals (14), is renowned for his 12,000 calorie diet – which, as the video below shows, is a lot of food.
And then, there are the spectators – nearly 9 million of them. They’ll be in the event venues for long stretches of time, reliant on the food and drink at the concession stands to sustain them, since bringing your own food is not allowed. At Beijing 2008, spectators and media were not shy in expressing their disappointment in concession stand food. Although the food was inexpensive, a lack of local food choices, stands running out of food, and the inability to get a substantial meal inside a venue were among the main complaints.
Catering the Games is a hugely complex task, several steps above putting out a few packets of crisps and a tray of sausage rolls and hoping for the best. For London 2012, expectations are high. Shaun McCarthy, chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, is keen that London do a much better job than Beijing on the food front.
I would like to see the 2012 catering offer reflect the current diversity and history of London… I look forward to something more appetising than box meal, pie, sausage and egg. – Shaun McCarthy
Sustainability is the buzz-word for London 2012, and the sustainability of food – what we eat, how we produce and distribute it, and how the food we eat affects us and our environment – has been a growing concern worldwide. In December 2009, the London 2012 organising committee (LOCOG) released its Food Vision for the Games:
For starters we’ll have a tastier, healthier, greener Games
Enhance everyone’s experience. Celebrate the great diversity and quality of British food and drink.
Deliver at affordable prices - London 2012, Olympic Food Vision
The vision for sustainable food at London 2012 encompasses both environmental and economic sustainability. Organisers want the food at the Games to be local where possible, produced using ethical and environmentally mindful practices, and to promote human and environmental health.
Caterers for the Games were announced in early 2011. As part of awarding contracts, potential caterers had to demonstrate how they would be able to meet the benchmark and aspirational standards set out in the Food Vision, which point them towards sustainable choices for sourcing and use of products. Produce is to be procured from sustainable sources – for example all the fish should be from sustainable stocks, all the tea and coffee fairtrade, and all the eggs free range.
The long lead time gives the caterers room to make the necessary changes to their supply chains to meet the standards. As well as the supply side, the Games Caterers will be asked to minimise waste, both food waste and packaging. They’ve been asked to design menus that facilitate the use of whole animals, to think carefully about portion sizes and to reduce, reuse and recycle food packaging.
For some, the standards don’t go far enough. While the eggs will be free range, the same is not true of the poultry. The minimum standard for the 31 tonnes of poultry that will be used in the Olympic Village is Red Tractor assurance, meaning that it meets the minimum animal welfare and health and safety standards, which may not mean a free range product. Jenny Jones, a member of the Green Party in the UK, has stated:
It is exasperating that the 2012 strategy has failed so badly in animal welfare standards. It is important to specify, as an absolute minimum, that all chicken at the Games are free range or RSPCA Freedom Food certified.
Good food for good health
In addition to standards about sourcing products, organisers are promoting the theme of good food for good health, encouraging caterers to adopt the Healthier Catering Commitment for London. Caterers are urged to reduce the amounts of fat, sugar and salt in their offerings, and build meal options around wholegrain foods, fruit and vegetables. This emphasis on healthy food accompanies the promotion of healthy lifestyles and sport, which is very complementary to the Olympic ethos.
For all this talk of healthier food and the promotion of healthy lifestyles, there remains a disjunction between the proposed messaging and the corporate sponsors of the Games, which include McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and Cadbury. It is anticipated that 20% of all the meals eaten at the Games will be served under the sign of the golden arches, and construction of the largest McDonalds in the world is planned for Olympic Park. All the drinks for sale in the venues will be a Coca-Cola brand. Every ice cream and chocolate bar available will be made by Cadbury. All three organisations have faced criticism for selling products that can be associated with unhealthy lifestyles.
And yet, without corporate sponsorship, it would be impossible to stage the Olympics. Of the approximately £9.3 billion that it will cost to put on the Games, organisers are aiming to get £700 million from corporate sponsorship. Both Coca-Cola and McDonalds are Tier 1 sponsors, meaning that they have each contributed about £40 million. Cadbury, a Tier 2 sponsor, has paid somewhere in the region of £20 million. Acknowledging the sustainability mandate of the games (and responding to popular feedback), all three have also made commitments to improving sustainability in their businesses. McDonalds, for example, uses free range eggs, and organic milk in all their UK businesses, and uses only sustainable fish. Coca-Cola is focussing on reducing the impact of packaging and has committed to a 15% reduction in carbon emissions by 2015. Cadbury has also committed to a carbon emission reduction (50% by 2020) and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk brand is certified Fairtrade.
Regardless of how you may feel as an individual about big food, fast food and soft drinks, when such large organisations make changes, it can make a real difference for the market. Such actions can popularise and raise awareness for sustainable choices, helping them to gain more mainstream acceptance.
Perhaps it is these changes to the sponsors’ business models, and the dissemination of the sustainability message into the mainstream which will have the long lasting effect on food sustainability that the Games aim for. Organisers are hoping that the massive scale of change required for the Games will have a meaningful impact for the future of British catering and food production. They’re hoping the sustainability standards implemented for the Games will stay in place, and that farmers and food producers who use sustainable methods continue to have a market for their products beyond the final ceremonies. Various organisations are seeking to leverage off the emphasis on sustainable food at the Olympics to start discussions and initiatives bolstering food security in London, such as increasing the number of available allotments.
It remains to be seen whether London 2012 will live up to the aspirations set out in its Food Vision. Will the punters be able to get something other than a pie and chips? Perhaps not. In January 2012, the food available at the London Prepares Gymnastics at the O2 Arena was described as:
Over-large portions of over-priced junk food of the kind you get at modern cinemas. Burgers and hotdogs. Chips. Onion-rings. Popcorn (£3.70 for a two-person carton). Fizzy drinks (£14.50 for a family of four – medium-size, not large, nothing smaller available).
The only concession to healthy eating my undercover reporters detected were smoothies – at £2.50 a pop. – Neil Faulkner, Yale Books Blog
Let’s hope the landscape has improved by the time the Opening Ceremony rolls around.