Sunday, August 17, 2008

Food of Olympia

Sports people, and especially Olympic athletes are very particular about the food they eat. While most people who are moderately active require around 2000 calories per day depending on their weight and their gender, Olympic athletes require a much larger quantity. Experts estimate that most female athletes should get between 2,000 and 3,000 calories daily, while male athletes should get 3,000 to 5,000. However, recent interviews with 8-times medalist Michael Phelps showed that he consumes up to 10,000 calories per day. This sounds extreme, even to some dietitians. But Olympic athletes' nutritional needs do vary widely according to their sports and body sizes, and swimming for long periods of time will naturally burn a lot of calories. Moreover, Phelps, as well as fellow US swimmer Ryan Lochte who won 2 gold medals both admit to be somehow careless about the food quality they eat, and to stock up on fat-rich fast food. Still, many athletes are extra conscious about the quality of their food. This must have posed tremendous problems to the organizers of the Olympics who had to deal with the practical and logistical difficulties in feeding over 10,000 high level athletes during the Beijing games.

The diet the athletes ate in Beijing was, we are told, designed with sports nutrition principles in mind. The company in charge of catering for the Olympics in Beijing apparently developed a menu based on resources provided by the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine.

Since the Olympics were held in China, some traditional Chinese dishes and other Asian-influenced foods were served, including Peking duck and a variety of noodles.

But the menu also featured food from the Mediterranean, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe - a total of over 800 recipes - with a focus on lean meats and fish for protein, and a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

It's not just athletes who ate in the athletes' village. In fact, more than 28,000 athletes, coaches, and staff from all over the world ate the Olympics diet in a dining room the size of three football fields that seats 6,000 at a time.

These required huge quantities of food. Here’s an approximate breakdown of the food needed, as estimated by the catering company: 42,000 kilos of seafood and 243,000 kilos of meat. Approximately 17,000 kilos of pasta and 61,000 kilos of rice. 743,000 potatoes. More than 800,000 eggs. More than 1 million apples, 936,000 bananas, and 312,000 oranges. 684,000 carrots, 20,000 heads of lettuce, nearly 21,000 kilos of onions, and 22,000 kilos of mushrooms. More than 26,000 kilos of cheese. 190,000 loaves of bread and 2,500 kilos of butter.

Producing this large amount of food required planning at least a year ahead. As of 2007, pigs were specially raised in China to feed the athletes at the Beijing Olympics. The pigs were reportedly fed an organic diet and getting daily exercise, which triggered criticism by members of the Chinese civil society.

"I would rather be a pig for the Olympics than a human in a coal mine!" wrote a blogger referring to the reported deaths of thousands of workers in China's mines so far this year.

These words reflect a growing frustration among ordinary Chinese with poor quality food and dangerous or inhumane work environments a frustration that is being expressed with increasing frequency. Many were revolted at the discrimination they perceived as they have to eat dangerous food while the Olympic guests enjoy special treatment.

But things look set to be different in the next Olympics which will take place in London in 2012 where the benefits of local, seasonal and organic food could be showcased while imported food should meet Fairtrade standards. A member of the British organic movement said that in the face of the current obesity crisis organizers "must promote healthy as well as sustainable food". London 2012 said it was committed to a "sustainable food strategy". A report by concerned civil society groups also noted that the Games could help promote sustainable fish consumption. It called on 2012 sponsors Coca-Cola and McDonald's to serve 75% unprocessed, 50% locally sourced and 30% organic food and drink.

The Olympic organizers appear to be committed to delivering “the Greenest Games Ever”, but it remains to be seen whether good will, practicality and financial feasibility will be able to coexist.

This post was compiled from the sources below. Note that the text contains copy-pasted material from the articles below, for which this blogger does NOT claim authorship.

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