Why we should be celebrating British food during the Olympics
Alastair Grant, AP, Press Association Images
Our high streets are becoming filled with America-style takeaway outlets.
Judging by your recent comments in our recent Social Voices feature, McDonald's monopoly on the fried potato product (the chip) was the catering equivalent of lighting the blue touch paper and retiring. But is the reaction a flash in the (chip) pan or a sign of bigger problems?
Last year, I was in Florida for a travel feature. A fellow writer - an American - declared that "you can't get a decent club sandwich in London." My hackles rose on two counts: a) yes, you can; and b) why should you be able to anyway? You wouldn't expect to find one in Thailand or Italy so why expect one in the UK? Why are we expected to celebrate every other food culture - and usually instead of our own?
She eventually found the "decent" club sandwich she desired - highly processed cheese and artificially coloured, reconstituted meats on rubbish bread. It wasn't "decent" she wanted, you see, it was the sandwich her mum used to make her when she was eight.
Consumers have a role
I was reminded of that incident last week, when the love for comfort foods, our ongoing obsession with American food and the lack of pride in British fare came under scrutiny in Chris Pople's piece on the great McDonald's Olympic chip farce.
"British food had a justifiably terrible reputation but in recent years we've turned a corner..."
At the point of writing this, Chris' article has had 773 comments, 1,000+ Facebook likes and 283 shares. The comments, as comments always do, range from the vaguely coherent to the brilliantly argued. Some missed the point - this monopoly only applies to the Olympic Village, not your local chippy - but several clear themes emerged:
We don't celebrate British food sufficiently; we're too influenced by US eating habits; and consumers have a role in exercising good decision-making and/or boycotting.
Alastair Grant, AP, Press Association Images
Our recent Social Voices piece was one of the most talked-about features ever.
It's hard to disagree. British food had a justifiably terrible reputation but in recent years we've turned a corner. Unfortunately, as far as many are concerned - both abroad and at home - British food is still something to sneer at. They're wrong. The people abroad can be forgiven, not so those in the UK. Have some pride! Cynicism is a boring, if fashionable, stance - as evidenced by how many Brits have wanted the Olympics to fail from day one rather than revel in the fact that this fantastic international event is being held here.
We have excellent food across the UK. Fact. Our cheese, meat, game and fruit and veg are amazing. We make brilliant pies, our beers are superb, even the wines are improving - it's a larder to be proud of. What's more, as a "melting pot" of cultures, we've absorbed incredible flavours from around the world. It's a rare high street that doesn't have a Chinese, Indian or Thai restaurant (probably all three) plus other cuisines - and chicken tikka is now, effectively, our national dish.
"Have we gone too far in our worship of classic American fare? I think so, yes.."
Have we gone too far in our worship of classic American fare? I think so, yes. First it was burgers, this year fried chicken and hot dogs are the fashion. Maybe such food is inherently cool - thanks Hollywood - but wouldn't it be grand if, before every city in the UK had a purveyor of a well-crafted (and yes, utterly delicious) slab of ground beef in a bun, they also had brilliant fish and chips, pie and mash and/or other local delicacies?
So why aren't we celebrating those at the Olympic Village, I hear you cry. Er, we are. It's just a lot more fun to moan about how McDonald's has the entire place sewn up - although there is an obvious irony in a fast food company being involved in a sporting event, as weightexpectations.com nutritionist Ros Astaire points out.
"A medium portion of McDonald's french fries contains approximately 450 calories of which around 200 calories amount to fat. They also contain a high amount of added salt - 290 milligrams." Like many readers, Ros advocates the boycotting of french fries at the Olympics - "which, surely, is about health, fitness and wellbeing?" - and thinks the agreement is "a total disgrace."
Unsurprisingly, McDonald's has a different take on its involvement - an involvement that dates back 40 years. "Sponsorship is essential to the successful staging of the Olympics and Paralympics," explains a company spokesperson. "The Games is the biggest catering operation in the world and there aren't many businesses that can rise to this challenge and do so in any country that the Olympics choose to visit.
Matt Dunham, AP, Press Association Images
Staff gather in a McDonald's serving area in the athlete's dining hall at the Olympic and Paralympic athlete's village in London.
"We are a proud partner of the London 2012 Games and spend over £320 million each year on our UK supply chain. We'll be serving 100% British beef, pork, chicken, free-range eggs, potatoes, organic milk and more at our Olympic Park restaurants - using the same supply chain that we have in place across all our UK restaurants."
"The Games is the biggest catering operation in the world and there aren't many businesses that can rise to this challenge..."
Interestingly, despite our readers varied allegations of backhanders to MPs and members of the London Organising Committee (Locog), the McDonald's sponsorship comes via the International Olympic Committee (IOC). While McDonald's is the only branded food retailer in the Olympic Park, they anticipate serving only around 10% of meals at the Park. The rest will be supplied by other vendors assembled by Locog.
Not all doom and gloom
"I've been encouraged by a lot of the food I've seen going into the Olympics," food writer and founder of the British Street Food Awards, Richard Johnson told us.
"We've been happy to work with Locog since the beginning, and Jan Matthews - who is Head of Catering for London 2012 - was one of our judges. She was actually a guest at the first British Street Food Awards, in Ludlow, and was so impressed by what she saw that she wanted the winner to trade at the Games.
Cafe Môr's beach hut operation will be scaled up for the Olympics.
"With nine million visitors estimated, it did throw up the slight issue of scaling-up, but the winner was Cafe Môr - a beach hut from Pembrokeshire, serving fresh cockles and seaweed from the shore, folded into a homemade flatbread wraps with Welsh back bacon and cream. It's difficult to imagine anything more Welsh and less about monopoly capital. So it's not all doom and gloom."
Locals losing out?
One downside though is explained by Iqbal Wahhab, OBE, the founder of The Cinnamon Club and more recently Roast, the British restaurant at Borough Market. His concern is that the Olympic Village is only part of the experience - and one that comes at a great cost to local businesses.
"Visitors are not going to be experiencing real London."
"To focus on the right to eat chips is to miss the wider point," he told us. "Years ago I warned ministers and the mayor that Londoners and especially east Londoners would be missing out on the opportunity to share and benefit from the many culinary cultures on the footsteps of the Olympic Park - whether that's in the form of pie and mash or jollof rice. Visitors are not going to be experiencing real London. Games organisers are keen that visitors to the park are shifted straight back into central London so it's not the humble chip that's losing out but the people across the road from the Games."
Catering at London 2012 is not perfect then - but does any event of this scale, with so much need to underwrite costs through sponsorships, satisfy everyone? And has any other event of this scale ever done so much to promote British food?
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the sad thing about the olympic games now is its just a commercial farce washed down by deceitful political parties and lies paid for by the good grace of the hard working taxpayers who ironically cant afford to attend but have to endure the insult constantly being forced upon us and the true meaning of the " games " lost !
PROUD TO BE BRITISH , I WAS ONCE WHEN I SERVED FOR TWELVE YEARS, WE WORE THE FLAG WITH PRIDE, TODAY THE PEOPLE AND LIFESTYLE WE SWORE TO PROTECT ARE JUST SOLD OUT !
THANKYOU YOU SHOULD BE PROUD OF YOURSELVES
Which idiot secured McDonalds as the official supplier of food for the Olympics
McDonalds supply junk food and for a major athletic event like the Olympics is a disgrace
We hear yesterday that the UK has a major problem with obesity levels and only 2 out of 3 people
get enough exercise .The Olympics were aimed to get people active.
It has clearly failed but when you look at our so called leaders the vast majority could not run for a bus
MUST READ. Anyone seen Morgan Spurlocks documentary, Supersize Me? Well take a look on YouTube. He basically only consumes McDonalds for about 20+ days. He was monitored by and independent Dr. The long and the short of it was that after 3+weeks he had eaten so much sugar and fat from that S#it that his body started to shut down. Liver, Kidney functions became so poor that the Dr said it was outrageous and un-believably dangerous. How on earth did McDonalds become sponsors to our Olympics? I’ll tell you how, the greedy government fat cats. MONEY TALKS AND WE EAT S#IT AND DIE!
McDonalds dont do chips! They do fries. When did u last ask for Fish and Fries?. Us Northeners want a proper chip when we come down.
To hey m and others:
(a) McDonald's is a symbol since they have the largest presence. By default, you can include the rest of the crap such as KFC, Burger King and all the rest. Fried and over-salted food, and lots of sugar in drinks and desserts makes these places a prime source of bad eating habits, poor nutritional benefits, future health diseases and an obesity pandemic.
(b) Go to any chippy in London and a small chips costs between £1.40 and £1.80 (your £7.50 price must be at a restaurant with silver service; any pub would be £2.20 to £3.50); you can add salt if you want, the portions are more than twice the weight of a 99p McDonald's portion of French fries, the potatoes are real (and hand-cut) and the amount of oil is most probably less per 100 grams considering that chips have less frying surface exposed to oil because they are cut thicker (from what I could gather on the Internet, chips contain 25% less oil than McDonald's French fries).
McDonalds dont do chips! They do fries. When did u last ask for Fish and Fries?.
The only food which we have here is influanced by America and the fast paced culture which we live in, Mcdonalds is as i agreed by everyone the worst sponsor for the Olympic Games due to the high fat and salt dosage which is in every meal. what ever happened to some of the greatest dishes which england had to offer such as plum duffs, fish and chips, fish pie, gammon roast there are so many to choose from.