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Moving Goalposts

I returned to South Africa from the UK a month or so before the 2010 World Cup kicked off. Like a lot of South Africans, I had fairly mixed feelings about hosting the football: although much, if not all, of the infrastructure built for the event would turn out to be useful in the future, I and others were perturbed by the amount of money spent on preparations, and, above everything, by Fifa’s increasingly outlandish demands. Not only were small businesses penalised for using copyrighted words and images, but Fifa required special courts to run during the World Cup.

By the opening ceremony, Sepp Blatter was generally known as Septic Bladder. But, in the end and despite him and the (continuing) allegations of corruption levelled at Fifa’s leadership, there was something quite astonishingly wonderful about the World Cup. (John Oliver is particularly good on how it’s possible to love the game, but hate Fifa.) I had begun to suspect that it would be a few weeks of a particular kind of South African madness as I drove to my parents’ to watch the opening ceremony. While waiting at traffic lights, the driver of a hearse leading a funeral procession whipped out his vuvuzela, and blew it at passing traffic.

A supporters' shop in Cape Town's Long Street during the 2010 World Cup.

A supporters’ shop in Cape Town’s Long Street during the 2010 World Cup.

I wonder, though, what the legacy of the Brazil World Cup will be? Even more so than in the case of South Africa, it has shown up Fifa’s disregard for laws and the normal workings of democracy. (Will only countries with dubiously elected or appointed governments, like Qatar and Russia, be able to hold World Cups and Olympic games in the future?)

I think the best example of Fifa’s arrogance was its demand that Brazil lift its ban on drinking in stadiums for the World Cup. Instituted in 2003, this legislation was aimed at reducing violence between rival football clubs. As anyone who’s attended a World Cup match knows, the only beer (actually, ‘beer’) on sale at stadiums is Budweiser, one of Fifa’s official partners. And it was for this reason that Fifa requested that Brazil allow for the sale of beer at stadiums.

Unsurprisingly, very high levels of drunkenness have been reported at matches – so much so that even top ranking Fifa officials have noticed, and wondered if they went too far by not limiting beer sales.

Vuvuzelas for sale in Cape Town during the 2010 World Cup.

Vuvuzelas for sale in Cape Town during the 2010 World Cup.

There has also been an outcry about Fifa’s partnership with Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. The Lancet argued recently:

The visibility and physical presence of these companies and their products is likely to be huge at the World Cup events and side events throughout Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. … Latin America is taking substantial measures to try to introduce healthy food laws to combat childhood obesity. Efforts in countries, including Brazil, have ranged from improving school food options to labelling regulations and advertising restrictions for unhealthy foods. The 2014 World Cup’s food and drink partners and sponsors represent a direct attack on these attempts to better child health.

When it is held in developing nations, the World Cup opens up new markets to Big Food.

The issue here is Fifa’s disregard for sovereignty. Because it refuses to pay taxes to host nations and demands preferential treatment for its partners, these companies have for a fairly long period of time a substantial advantage over not only local competitors, but over governments and organisations attempting to promote healthy eating. In a time of heightened social, political, and economic conflict – and when public health interventions have the potential to save developing nations millions in healthcare costs – it seems to me that the costs of hosting World Cups are beginning to outweigh the benefits.

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Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Food Links, 10.04.2013

The Food and Agriculture Organisation must do more to promote food as a basic human right.

The feminisation of farming.

Processed meat is really not good for you.

Coke – a global product.

Food security cannot be left to the private sector.

The sugar hiding in everyday foods.

A history of eating horsemeat.

The fashion for horsemeat in Paris.

The rise of roadkill cuisine.

Silk teabags are made out of…plastic.

A software engineer has created Soylent (not out of people, though).

Coca Cola, the ‘healthful‘ choice.

A history of food photography.

How food ages in tins.

Kafka’s mushroom and potato soup.

The twenty most important restaurants in the US.

London food bloggers’ favourite food in London.

Vexing: Francois Hollande’s camel was eaten, accidentally.

The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

The comment section for every article ever written on food allergies.

An ambient coffee shop noise generator.

A history of the pestle and mortar.

The kitchens of Havana.

The return of lard and schmaltz.

The wild popularity of Nutella at Columbia University.

Vintage menus.

The joy of garlic.

The return of the Irish Lumper. (Thanks, Feargal!)

Someone has stolen rather a lot of Nutella.

Using an iron to make a toasted cheese sandwich.

Making bourbon in New York.

The importance of umami.

Helpful kitchen tips from 1915.

Odd food jobs in New York.

How to photograph a tossed salad.

Mispronounced food.

Vegetable literacy.

It is the end times: the Milf Diet.

Appalling food ads.

Potato parties.

Food Links, 02.01.2013

Public service announcement: Yesterday, thousands of Capetonians lost their homes in a devastating fire which swept Khayelitsha and Du Noon. Equal Education is collecting non-perishable food, clothing, blankets, and, particularly, baby food and clothing for the victims. Donations can be dropped off at The Bookery (20 Roeland Street).

What food activists should focus on in 2013.

Trish Deseine’s wish list for the new year.

Growing food in the desert.

The strange ingredients of 2012.

Why can’t India feed its people?

Food infographics from 2012.

The declining sales of organic produce.

The legacy of a mission orchard in Tucson, Arizona.

Can soup make Detroit a better city?

On Chicago‘s urban farm district.

The Pig Genome Project and bacon.

Tim Hayward on the vogue for the local.

Why ‘natural‘ snack foods aren’t all that ‘natural’.

How precise do recipes need to be?

Super cheap caviar.

Why does Britain love instant coffee so much?

Fifteen of Africa‘s favourite dishes.

An interview with Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen.

Why preserves are back in fashion.

Coffee as a remedy against the plague.

A sensory wheel for rooibos tea.

Cadbury’s non-melting chocolate.

A silk scarf that looks incredibly like bacon.

Hemingway’s favourite cocktails.

Anatomical pastries.

The New York Times reviews Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork.

Poets‘ favourite recipes.

The pop-up restaurants of Buenos Aires.

Why Coke cost a nickel for seventy years.

Did the Dogme manifesto *really* change Danish cooking?

Martha Stewart, beloved of hipsters.

How food is made to look good on television.

How best to juice a lime.

The rise of eating competitions.

Unusual cooking techniques.

These links are courtesy of my mum:

Treacle‘ from animals?

The International Banana Club Museum.

Medieval stoves.

Why do Japanese politicians wave fish?

A love story in fifteen cookies.

The world’s biggest wholesale fish market – in Tokyo – is to be redesigned.

A Sporting Chance

My expectations of the London Olympics’ opening ceremony were so low that, I suppose, I would have been impressed if it had featured Boris as Boudicca, driving a chariot over the prostate figures of the Locog committee. (Actually, now that I think about it, that would have been fairly entertaining.)

Appalled by the organising committee’s slavishly sycophantic attitude towards its sponsors and their ‘rights’ – which caused them to ban home knitted cushions from being distributed to the Olympic athletes, and to require shops and restaurants to remove Olympic-themed decorations and products – as well the rule that online articles and blog posts may not link to the official 2012 site if they’re critical of the games, the decision to make the official entrance of the Olympic site a shopping mall, and the creation of special lanes for VIP traffic, I wasn’t terribly impressed by the London Olympics.

But watching the opening ceremony last night, I was reduced to a pile of NHS-adoring, Tim Berners-Lee worshipping, British children’s literature-loving goo. Although a reference to the British Empire – other than the arrival of the Windrush – would have been nice, I think that Danny Boyle’s narrative of British history which emphasised the nation’s industrial heritage, its protest and trade union movements, and its pop culture, was fantastic.

As some commentators have noted, this was the opposite of the kind of kings-and-queens-and-great-men history curriculum which Michael Gove wishes schools would teach. Oh and the parachuting Queen and Daniel Craig were pretty damn amazing too.

There was even a fleeting, joking reference to the dire quality of British food during the third part of the ceremony. There was something both apt, but also deeply ironic about this. On the one hand, there has been extensive coverage of Locog’s ludicrous decision to allow manufacturers of junk food – Coke, Cadbury’s, McDonald’s – not only to be official sponsors of a sporting event, but to provide much of the catering. (McDonald’s even tried to ban other suppliers from selling chips on the Olympic site.)

But, on the other, Britain’s food scene has never been in better shape. It has excellent restaurants – and not only at the top end of the scale – and thriving and wonderful farmers’ markets and street food.

It’s this which makes the decision not to open up the catering of the event to London’s food trucks, restaurants, and caterers so tragic. It is true that meals for the athletes and officials staying in the Village have been locally sourced and made from ethically-produced ingredients, and this is really great. But why the rules and regulations which actually make it more difficult for fans and spectators to buy – or bring their own – healthy food?

Of course, the athletes themselves will all be eating carefully calibrated, optimally nutritious food. There’s been a lot of coverage of the difficulties of catering for so many people who eat such a variety of different things. The idea that athletes’ performance is enhanced by what they consume – supplements, food, and drugs (unfortunately) – has become commonplace.

Even my local gym’s café – an outpost of the Kauai health food chain – serves meals which are, apparently, suited for physically active people. I’ve never tried them, partly because the thought of me as an athlete is so utterly nuts. (I’m an enthusiastic, yet deeply appalling, swimmer.)

The notion that food and performance are linked in some way, has a long pedigree. In Ancient Greece, where diets were largely vegetarian, but supplemented occasionally with (usually goat) meat, evidence suggests that athletes at the early Olympics consumed more meat than usual to improve their performance. Ann C. Grandjean explains:

Perhaps the best accounts of athletic diet to survive from antiquity, however, relate to Milo of Croton, a wrestler whose feats of strength became legendary. He was an outstanding figure in the history of Greek athletics and won the wrestling event at five successive Olympics from 532 to 516 B.C. According to Athenaeus and Pausanius, his diet was 9 kg (20 pounds) of meat, 9 kg (20 pounds) of bread and 8.5 L (18 pints) of wine a day. The validity of these reports from antiquity, however, must be suspect. Although Milo was clearly a powerful, large man who possessed a prodigious appetite, basic estimations reveal that if he trained on such a volume of food, Milo would have consumed approximately 57,000 kcal (238,500 kJ) per day.

Eating more protein – although perhaps not quite as much as reported by Milo of Croton’s fans – helps to build muscle, and would have given athletes an advantage over other, leaner competitors.

Another ancient dietary supplement seems to have been alcohol. Trainers provided their athletes with alcoholic drinks before and after training – in much the same way that contemporary athletes may consume sports drinks. But some, more recent sportsmen seem to have gone a little overboard, as Grandjean notes:

as recently as the 1908 Olympics, marathon runners drank cognac to enhance performance, and at least one German 100-km walker reportedly consumed 22 glasses of beer and half a bottle of wine during competition.

Drunken, German walker: I salute you and your ability to walk in a straight line after that much beer.

The London Olympic Village is, though, dry. Even its pub only serves soft drinks. With the coming of the modern games – which coincided with the development of sport and exercise science in the early twentieth century – diets became the subject of scientific enquiry. The professionalization of sport – with athletes more reliant on doing well in order to make a living – only served to increase the significance of this research.

One of the first studies on the link between nutrition and the performance of Olympic athletes was conducted at the 1952 games in Helsinki. The scientist E. Jokl (about whom I know nothing – any help gratefully received) demonstrated that those athletes who consumed fewer carbohydrates tended to do worse than those who ate more. Grandjean comments:

His findings may have been the genesis of the oft-repeated statement that the only nutritional difference between athletes and nonathletes is the need for increased energy intake. Current knowledge of sports nutrition, however, would indicate a more complex relationship.

As research into athletes’ diets has progressed, so fashions for particular supplements and foods have emerged over the course of the twentieth century. Increasing consumption of protein and carbohydrates has become a common way of improving performance. Whereas during the 1950s and 1960s, athletes simply ate more meat, milk, bread, and pasta, since the 1970s, a growing selection of supplements has allowed sportsmen and –women to add more carefully calibrated and targeted forms of protein and carbohydrates to their diets.

Similarly, vitamin supplements have been part of athletes’ diets since the 1930s. Evidence from athletes competing at the 1972 games in Munich demonstrated widespread use of multivitamins, although now, participants tend to choose more carefully those vitamins which produce specific outcomes.

But this history of shifting ideas around athletes’ diets cannot be understood separately from the altogether more shadowy history of doping – of using illicit means of improving one’s performance. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans used stimulants – ranging from dried figs to animal testes – to suppress fatigue and boost performance.

More recently, some of the first examples of doping during the nineteenth century come from cycling (nice to see that some things don’t change), and, more specifically, from long-distance, week-long bicycle races which depended on cyclists’ reserves of strength and stamina. Richard IG Holt, Ioulietta Erotokritou-Mulligan, and Peter H. Sönksen explain:

A variety of performance enhancing mixtures were tried; there are reports of the French using mixtures with caffeine bases, the Belgians using sugar cubes dripped in ether, and others using alcohol-containing cordials, while the sprinters specialised in the use of nitroglycerine. As the race progressed, the athletes increased the amounts of strychnine and cocaine added to their caffeine mixtures. It is perhaps unsurprising that the first doping fatality occurred during such an event, when Arthur Linton, an English cyclist who is alleged to have overdosed on ‘tri-methyl’ (thought to be a compound containing either caffeine or ether), died in 1886 during a 600 km race between Bordeaux and Paris.

Before the introduction of doping regulations, the use of performance enhancing drugs was rife at the modern Olympics:

In 1904, Thomas Hicks, winner of the marathon, took strychnine and brandy several times during the race. At the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1932, Japanese swimmers were said to be ‘pumped full of oxygen’. Anabolic steroids were referred to by the then editor of Track and Field News in 1969 as the ‘breakfast of champions’.

But regulation – the first anti-drugs tests were undertaken at the 1968 Mexico games – didn’t stop athletes from doping – the practice simply went underground. The USSR and East Germany allowed their representatives to take performance enhancing drugs, and an investigation undertaken after Ben Johnson was disqualified for doping at the Seoul games revealed that at least half of the athletes who competed at the 1988 Olympics had taken anabolic steroids. In 1996, some athletes called the summer Olympics in Atlanta the ‘Growth Hormone Games’ and the 2000 Olympics were dubbed the ‘Dirty Games’ after the disqualification of Marion Jones for doping.

At the heart of the issue of doping and the use of supplements, is distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate means of enhancing performance. The idea that taking drugs to make athletes run, swim, or cycle faster, or jump further and higher, is unfair, is a relatively recent one. It’s worth noting that the World Anti-Doping Agency, which is responsible for establishing and maintaining standards for anti-doping work, was formed only in 1999.

What makes anabolic steroids different from consuming high doses of protein, amino acids, or vitamins? Why, indeed, was Caster Semenya deemed to have an unfair advantage at the 2009 IAAF World Championships, but the blade-running Oscar Pistorius is not?

I’m really pleased that both Semenya and Pistorius are participating in the 2012 games – I’m immensely proud that Semenya carried South Africa’s flag into the Olympic stadium – but their experiences, as well as the closely intertwined histories of food supplements and doping in sport, demonstrate that the idea of an ‘unfair advantage’ is a fairly nebulous one.

Further Reading

Elizabeth A. Applegate and Louis E. Grivetti, ‘Search for the Competitive Edge: A History of Dietary Fads and Supplements,’ The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 127, no. 5 (2007), pp. 869S-873S.

Ann C. Grandjean, ‘Diets of Elite Athletes: Has the Discipline of Sports Nutrition Made an Impact?’ The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 127, no. 5 (2007), pp. 874S-877S.

Richard IG Holt, Ioulietta Erotokritou-Mulligan, and Peter H. Sönksen, ‘The History of Doping and Growth Hormone Abuse in Sport,’ Growth Hormone & IGF Research, vol. 19 (2009), pp. 320-326.

Creative Commons License
Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Food Links, 25.07.2012

Demand for food parcels increases in Britain. And photographs of foodbanks – and should foodbanks be doing the work of the state?

On the difficulties of researching child obesity in Latin America.

The exploitation of workers in cheap chicken take-away restaurants in London.

The PLoS series on Big Food.

Climate change is contributing to shrinking crop yields.

The curious case of the poisoned cows.

Preserving potato biodiversity in the Andes.

Why we should all eat more mince.

The odd trend for brain-boosting drinks.

Interesting articles about airline food from my Dad: why airline food tastes so strange, and efforts to make it more tasty.

This is fascinating: the Junior League Cookbook and the making of Southern cuisine.

The Byzantine Omelette‘ by Saki.

Japanese designers and tea houses. (Thanks, Mum!)

What is the future of the cookbook?

Making dim sum in Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan restaurant.

We do we really mean by ‘artisanal‘ food?

How to barbecue without killing the planet.

This American Life on the recipe for Coca-Cola.

The ingredients in Danish rye bread.

An introduction to ‘umami‘.

The origins of southern cuisine in the US.

Vanilla yogurt gives mice glossier coats and larger testicles.

A blog on keeping chickens.

The origins, state, and future of the British breakfast.

How to make cold brew coffee.

A mathematically correct breakfast.

Street food in Palermo.

The art of coffee.

Cakes, cupcakes, and biscuits inspired by…Fifty Shades of Grey. (Truly, there is no hope for humanity.)

The long history of the espresso machine. (Thanks, Dan!)

Why organic wines still struggle to find an audience.

A milk map.

America’s affection for homegrown confectionery.

Molecular cooking to try at home.

An interview with Reuben Riffel.

How much calcium is too much?

Food Links, 18.04.2012

Syllabub revisited and sugar plum theories.

Maslow’s hierarchy of crisps.

The pros and cons of coconut milk.

Redefining Mormon cuisine.

Old fashioned remedies for weight gain.

The ento box.

Why some bus stops may soon smell like baked potatoes.

Cupcakes are ruining everything. (Thanks, Elizabeth!) And the problem with cupcake feminism.

In praise of rice and beans.

It’s all about bacon. (Thanks, Mum!)

The Americanisation of ‘ethnic’ food.

On cold toast.

I’ve a piece on Woodstock in April’s edition of Crush.

A cat eating corn on the cob. For Life Magazine. I know. I know.

Why we should embrace moderation in what we eat.

Menu design in America, 1850-1985.

The end of cheap coffee.

The Grand Canyon bans bottled water – and annoys Coca Cola.

Fennel facts.

On Elizabeth David.

The quickest, easiest way to cook a hot meal without a kitchen.

Gourmet gaming.

Badaude on how to cure a hangover.

The future of chocolate.

The secret to cheaper, greener local beer.

Why are there so few top female chefs?

Seven secrets about baking powder.

Natural and Dutch-process cocoa.

Eric Schlosser on food and class.

Food Links, 22.06.2011

Four ideas to make agriculture more sustainable and improve food security in South Africa.

Feminism + the food movement = femivorism?

Another reason to avoid sugar-laden drinks.

Why India’s food policy ‘reforms’ have done little to reduce hunger and malnutrition.

Tom Philpott surveys recent research and writing on the food crisis.

The food movement in the US has something of an identity crisis.

Consider the milkshake.

On the use of cellulose in processing food.

A celebration of salt.

The effects of climate change on agriculture have driven up commodity prices by around 20%.

‘The reality of America’s food post is far more complicated, and troubling, than is suggested by the romantic image at the heart of our foodie nostalgia.’ This is an excellent article.

The Ecologist provides a very handy guide to food speculation (in case you should ever have to argue against it with a banker).

Conservation International recommends fish farming to feed the world – when it seems that industrial aquaculture is monumentally harmful to the environment.

Lester Brown discusses food and water security in North Africa and the Middle East after the Arab Spring.

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