Wednesday, 11 July 2012

UK food gets an Olympian boost

Cheese. In Hackney. Chosen so as not to upset Locog.
I honestly wish that I could start feeling enthused about the forthcoming Olympic Games.

After all, I live in an ‘Olympic borough’ and I love sport.

But the reality is that the nearer we get, the grumpier and more utterly pissed off I’m becoming with the entire thing.

On Monday, on BBC Newsnight, east London cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra reported on the links between processed foods and rising obesity – increasingly a disease of poverty rather than, as it used to be historically, one of wealth.

In another ‘Olympic borough’, which he characterised as ‘a fresh food-free zone’, he found rising levels of obesity and diabetes.

These, the doctor is certain, are related directly to a diet that is almost completely made up of processed food.

And it’s ironic, therefore, that the Olympics Games – supposedly a celebration of health and fitness – are being sponsored by global brands including McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.

In a vastly more nuanced approach than the scattergun tactics of many others in the medical profession, Dr Malhotra said that fats are not the key problem, but the main issue is the sugars that have no nutritional value, but which are present in large amounts in most processed foods.

He also stresses that the argument that a bit of exercise can solve all problems is a fallacy, since “one would have to run for five hours to burn the calories of consuming a chocolate bar, a packet of crisps and a burger and chips washed down with a fizzy drink.”

Personally, I can’t imagine anyone eating that at any time, but that is the sort of diet that some people in the area he was visiting are eating on a regular basis in this fresh food desert.

It’s easy to criticise, but if you have no cooking skills (and regular readers here will understand that this is never a given, even when brought up in a home where fresh food was always on the table) or if, for instance, you live in dismal accommodation with no cooking facilities, then a good diet, based on fresh food, is not always obviously easy.

That’s just two reasons: there are plenty more, including parents who can’t/won’t feed their children properly and, indeed, the myth that people don’t have the time to cook from fresh regularly or can’t afford to do so.

You can read an article on the subject, by Dr Malhotra, here.

It’s followed by a series of statements from the International Olympic Committee, the London Organising Committee and four of the biggest sponsors of these Games.

Which, in effect, boil down to: ‘if we fund a bit of grassrootsy stuff and/or operate a few play schemes for children, that entirely counteracts any negative aspects of what we spend millions promoting. Or at least it allows us to stick a finger up at anyone raising issues about the links between our products and health problems’.

Now bear in mind that these companies (and others, such as Visa) are getting to have monopolies in and around the Games venues. Which leads to farcical situations anyway.

To give you a flavour: in Coventry, where Coventry City FC is hosting some of the football at the Ricoh Arena, the stadium name has had to be removed – and even local street signs for it have had to be changed.

There are apparently instances, up and down the land, of workers running around pasting blank labels over the manufacturer’s name on hand dryers in the toilets, so that corporate sponsors don’t feel threatened.

At the ExCeL Centre in London, a husband-and-wife catering team have been told that, after 12 years operating on site, that they have to tow away and store (at their own expense) their two vans for the duration. There’s no compensation.

I have heard (via The Other Half) that a local furniture maker in Hackney has been told that he cannot open his workshop, which is near the Olympic Park. Why? Because the organisers don’t want ‘unnecessary traffic’.

There are going to be serious limits on the number of vehicles companies such as Thames Water or TV/internet/phone supplier Virgin can have in the entire capital. Hopefully we won’t have a massive burst water pipe, then. And we've had the circular from Virgin that, in effect, announces a reduced service.

And were that not enough, all these companies are, from March gone to November this year, being treated as offshore entities for tax purposes. In other words, they won’t have to pay a penny of UK tax on any earnings in this country during that period.

It’s no wonder they sponsor such events, is it?

I've posted previously about this, but it isn’t getting any better.

Now unfortunately, this seems to be the general pattern at major sports events these days. There were pathetic stories of corporate bullying and the government giving in to such companies and actions during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, for instance.

And in the case of the UK, giving big business a helping hand isn’t new either – or limited to major sporting events.

But what we’re seeing here really does make one question just who the Olympics is for. And there is little that I have seen to suggest that it is for the ordinary Londoner, who has been paying additional local taxes to help pay for it for some years (and will continue to do so for some time yet).

Of course, it’s possibly quite brilliant to get the plebs to pay for their own bread and circuses. And perhaps it will distract people from the recession.

Watch out for the government trying to bury news, though.

And this is without discussing the stories about heavy-handed clamping down on use of the Olympic logo, the word ‘Olympics’, complaints on Twitter, missiles on the top of people’s homes, landlords evicting people so that they can charge more rent for visitors during the Games … and so much more.

On a slightly different note, check out this superb article by classicist Mary Beard on the reality of the ancient Olympics (and the awfulness of Baron de Coubertin’s poetic efforts).

But at the weekend, Beard also blogged about watching the Olympic torch pass by her home early on Sunday morning.

It was accompanied – a point I’d missed in all the ‘official’ media hype – not just by the security bods, but also by assorted sponsors, handing out freebies, from fizzy drinks to flags with the sponsor’s name on them.

I’d love to see Tom Daley win a diving gold. Oscar Pistorious is set to make history, breaking down a further boundary by competing in both Olympics and Paralympics. I know someone whose teenage (just) granddaughter will be swimming in the Paralympics and obviously will be rooting for her.

There are all sorts of things I would like, from a sporting perspective.

But I’m not alone in feeling that, even though, as Beard so delightfully explains, the romantic myths about the Games are just that, this is taking thing just too far to feel much inclined toward an orgy of flag-waving excitement and corporate profiteering.

The latest comments on the corporatisation of the Olympics come from as diverse a range of media as The Telegraph and The Guardian.

No, it really is not just me.

No comments:

Post a Comment