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Food, glorious food?
Shaun McCarthy, of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, is in Beijing as part of the official Observer programme. During his visit to the 2008 Games, he will be writing special dispatches for BBC London on the lessons we can learn for 2012.
Kebab vendor wearing a face mask
Food - 20th August 2008
Healthy, quality and sustainable food is a big issue for London and the UK generally. The London Food Commission is active in this area and the ironically entitled Curry Report on Food from Sir Don Curry set out the national perspective.
On the ground, organisations like the London Food Link and the Coriander Club are doing some great work. It is interesting to know what we can learn from Beijing.
Beijing is a huge, cosmopolitan metropolis which 17 million people call "home." The place has become an orgy of consumerism and food is no exception. You can get everything here from the ubiquitous Starbucks, McDonalds and Pizza Hut to top class restaurants serving Chinese regional dishes, western and other eastern cuisine.
You can find street vendors selling little wooden kebabs with tasty treats from chicken to deep fried cockroach (I stuck to the chicken). There are restaurants selling stir fried bullfrog and snake skin but it seems the authorities have banned the sale of dog during the games for fear of offending western sensitivities (but cockroach is still OK).
I even found an oriental kebab stall. The stallholders seem to be obliged to wear face masks, presumably to prevent them from breathing germs on the cockroaches.
I have just returned from lunch in a small place across the road from the hotel, there was no English spoken at all so we had to point to pictures of food on the wall, I ended up with a plate of chilli flavoured cold tripe with rice and a bottle of beer, the bill was less than £5 for two. The tripe was OK actually.
At the Olympic Park
The experience at the Olympic Park could not be more different. Every catering offer is the same, it is a small, PVC clad tent with a Coca-Cola branded menu board offering exactly the same range of delicacies. The box meal looks like a Pot Noodle, egg is a single boiled egg, sausage is a single sausage in a plastic bag and nobody dares to find out what is in the pie.
Edible landscaping, Eden Project. © Jane Durney
Yesterday, my colleagues and I decided to forgo these pleasures and went for the only other sustenance on the park, a Big Mac, eaten alfresco, standing (there is nowhere to sit) in a monsoon downpour. I had no idea how to get the straw out of the plastic dispenser in McDonalds and a charming little Chinese boy of about 6 showed me how to do it with a huge grin across his face. At least I made somebody's day!
London must do better than this, actually it cannot be much worse so we must do much better. I would like to see the 2012 catering offer reflect the current diversity and history of London. Over 300 languages are spoken in London and the Borough of Newham is one of the most diverse on the planet, we can celebrate this diversity through food.
We can also celebrate London's history, the Lee Valley used to be the market garden of London and we should revive this tradition, if we are going to create green space why not grow things we can eat? The Lee Valley Park is an ideal source of local food.
LOCOG are developing their food strategy later this year and I look forward to something more appetising than box meal, pie, sausage and egg.
last updated: 22/08/2008 at 15:42
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