While we may all have been somewhat preoccupied over the last few weeks with matters political, a debate has been raging in the foodie world over creeping ‘McDonald’s-isation’. The International Olympic Committee is under heavy fire from independent food retailers including Leon and Iqbal Wahaab of Roast for their decision to allow McDonald’s (one of the main sponsors) to be the exclusive ‘meal brand’ at the 2012 London Olympics. Other food chains, of whatever cultural origin, will be unable to sell on Olympic sites without changing their packaging and removing their brand.
Take a moment to ponder the incredible lack of logic in this decision. One of the main sponsors and the principal food retailer at the greatest global sporting event, to be held in our very own capital city, is an American fast food chain, lambasted for its contribution to the world obesity epidemic. At a time when we should surely be encouraging, amongst other things, outdoors sporting achievement, health and fitness and – hello? – the great diverse melting pot that is British cuisine in the 21st century, the IOC has seen fit to welcome visitors from across the globe to said cuisine and capital city through the golden arches. No doubt they’ll be providing the entrance portals through which we will lumber.
And it’s not as if the IOC were struggling to find competitors. Sustain submitted a 36-page report on the reasons the food supplied at the Games should be local, sustainable and diverse. Independent food chains are a thriving sector of the UK food industry – Leon, founded by a somewhat unsurprisingly outraged Henry Dimbleby – are a case in point, supplying fast food sourced, produced and sold in an ethical and healthy fashion.
Let’s not forget, however, that food chains fulfil a number of requirements. They cater for those needing food on the run, needing something hot and filling, without much cash to splash around. They provide a gastronomic landmark in unfamiliar territory (how many of us have resorted to a McD’s in a foreign country just because it’s too much like hard work to find that quintessential casa della mamma?), a meeting and office space, a quick fix before and after other activities… But they’re about anything but the food. The Subway chain is one of the fastest-growing franchises in the world, the largest global single-brand chain with nearly 33,000 (and counting) branches in 91 countries. And don’t tell us it’s because their meatball sub is second to none. It’s familiar, cheap, comfort food at its quickest and everyone knows exactly what they’re getting.
So what’s your take on take-out food at the Olympics? Does it matter that one of the greatest dominant forces in the global food market has stomped its golden boot all over our home-grown talent? Or are the Games actually about the sport and the athletes and without such sponsorship (bearing in mind Coca-Cola has exclusive ‘drink branding’) the Games would not be going ahead, so let’s be grateful? Are you intending to go the Games and will you be taking a packed lunch or succumbing to the inevitable? Do we support Green or go for Gold?