About building and food

Shaun McCarthy

December 11, 2009   |   Posted by Shaun McCarthy

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There has been much said and written about food related to the Olympics. During my visit to Beijing, I wrote a blog for this website criticising the food offering at the 2008 Games and I was quoted in Building Magazine this year from a presentation at a conference, describing the food as “crap”. This was accurately reported by Building who also chose to ignore everything else that was said during my 45 minute presentation; good to see the media have a grip on the important issues!

During the Games, approximately 14 million meals will be served. The huge challenge to prepare and serve food on this scale is daunting. The challenge to make that food offer safe, healthy, sustainable and affordable is a mountain to climb. LOCOG are in the process of developing their food vision and strategy and the Commission are currently conducting our independent food review, the results of which will appear on this website in early 2010.

One area that tends to be forgotten is that London 2012 is also Europe’s largest construction project. The workforce of the three major Stratford-based construction projects (Olympic Park, Olympic Village, and Stratford City) is expected to peak at around 16,000 in 2010. The ODA is also responsible for construction at off-site venues including Eton Dorney, Broxbourne and Weymouth. The scale of daily catering is not quite like the Games but over the 5 year construction period the number of meals to be served will run to several million. Anybody who has worked on a construction site will know that the industry is not well known for its “cuisine”. Given the ODA’s excellent work in attracting more women and people from diverse backgrounds to site, a “bacon butty” culture in catering does not send the right message of welcome to many members of the workforce. Neither does it address the very real and growing concerns about obesity or the environmental and economic impacts of the food we eat. The Commission addressed this issue with the ODA in 2008 and I am delighted to see some great progress in this area.

I was invited to the Broxbourne site, where the white water canoeing events will take place, by the effervescent Ros Seal. Ros is one of the Health and Safety team but she has undertaken a personal mission to improve food standards with remarkable results. Taking advice from Sustain, she has added questions about health, freshness and sustainability of the food offer to the standard questionnaire on food safety to encourage the caterers on site to improve their standards. Ros is not a woman to argue with and her energetic, no-nonsense and passionate approach to the issue has delivered a real step-change for the industry.

In the small canteen on the Broxbourne site (which, by the way, is not in Broxbourne at all, it is in Waltham Cross) the results are highly visible. A local small business won the catering contract. The proprietor personally sources his meat, fish and vegetables from local markets and has an imaginative menu using low cost cuts of meat and seasonal produce to keep costs down. On the day we visited, the contractor Morrison had paid for the services of a guest chef, Pete Sidwell, and provided free lunches that day. I can vouch for the results personally and, having spent more than enough of my early career working outdoors in the winter, I can confirm that site workers need a hot, sustaining meal to keep out the cold and damp at this time of year. The caterer has won a much bigger contract on the Olympic Park and plans to take the same approach. This is a win/win situation, healthy and fresh food on site, a more contented workforce and more revenue to local businesses supplying and preparing the food.

If LOCOG can replicate this performance we will be in for a treat in 2012.

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