Our Olympic attention may be focused on disciplines like track and field, rhythmic gymnastics and basketball (or, in my case, equestrian) for the next several days, but have you paused to wonder how anyone goes about feeding 18,000 athletes, coaches and team staff from more than 200 diverse countries every day during the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro?
Well, start with a kitchen the size of a football field (and a dining hall the size of two) where more than 2,500 people work 24/7 to serve up an incredible 460,000 pounds of food daily. Those figures are cited by multiple sources, including the Associated Press. At its peak, the Olympic Village dining facility prepares about 60,000 meals per day. Add to that preparing and transporting volumes of food that must be available for athletes, volunteers and accredited guests at venues and support centers. Athletes alone will eat tens of thousands of sandwiches at venues before the games conclude.
Fueling Olympians is a Herculean undertaking, one Terri Moreman has tackled before. She is the associate director of food and nutrition services for the United States Olympic Committee. Moreman leads food service at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She also supports the Olympic Training Centers at Lake Placid, New York, and Chula Vista, California, according to an article by Lisa Arnett at foodservicedirector.com. Moreman has been in the thick of making sure athletes’ get the nutrition they need for the medal hunt.
In addition to overseeing products shipped from the U.S. to Rio, Moreman worked far in advance with U.S. suppliers sponsoring the games and linked up with the brands’ trusted vendors in Brazil.
“We meet with every supplier, we visit every warehouse, we ask about the cleanliness, the traceability. I ask these people more questions than I think they’ve ever been asked before,” Moreman is quoted.
The USOC team also includes two sports dietitians assigned to guide athletes’ feeding at the Olympic Village. Two additional sports dietitians are assigned to competition venues and three training facilities, reported Arnett.
Although the games are officially Aug. 5-21, food service teams arrived in Rio well in advance, some in mid-July, for athletes who relocated to Brazil to train. Every facet of athlete nutrition receives close attention — like post-workout snacks and drinks, for instance. Chocolate milk is probably the No. 1 drink Olympians ask for, Moreman noted.
“They look for yogurt with all kinds of toppings. … We do custom smoothies under a script from a dietitian based on what the group of athletes might need.” Protein bars, dried fruit, nuts and “more bottled water than you can imagine,” are high on the list, Moreman added.
Marcello Cordeiro serves as director of food and beverages at the 2016 Rio games.
“We are doing our best to bring the world to Brazil,” he told Business Insider in May. While many of Brazil’s signature foods are featured in the daily offerings, every effort is made to cater to the all palates. Athletes in the dining hall can choose from five different buffets: Brazilian, Asian, International, Pasta and Pizza, Halal and Kosher. Food for Muslim and Jewish athletes adheres to their specific dietary laws.
Cordeiro and staff conducted numerous food-testings before finalizing menus. Much had to be taken into consideration, including assuring that all food is free of steroids or other ingredients that might cause an athlete to test positive on a doping test.
Food of Brazil
The host country is, of course, showcasing some of its own popular foods in the Olympic Village. Brazilian cuisine varies greatly by region, reflecting many influences. Key ingredients of the basic diet include rice, black beans, farofa (flour from toasted cassava, often sprinkled on top of food) and meats. In Rio, a popular dish is feijoada. It’s a traditional food rooted in African cuisine and made with meat and black beans. Another frequent dish is feijao com arroz, or beans and rice. Tutu a mineira with manioc flour and bean paste is found in all traditional Brazilian restaurants.
Athletes and visitors to the Rio games will no doubt encounter salgadinhos, small savory snacks similar to Spanish tapas, and coxinha, a type of Brazilian chicken croquette. And everyone in the dining hall can sample about 40 varieties of Brazil’s exotic fruits like caju, acai, carambola, caqui, goiaba and maracuja.
The Olympic Village team of chefs and its vast support staff are dedicated to making the summer games’ food service a success. The subsequent Paralympic Games in Rio Sept. 7-18 will warrant the same meticulous care in selection, transportation, storage and preparation, although on a smaller scale.
Food left over is not going to waste. Led by chefs and activists Massimo Bottura and David Hertz, a team will salvage surplus food from the Village to make thousands of daily meals for the needy. The city of Rio de Janeiro donated space for the project. After the Olympics, the rehabilitated empty storefront is expected to become a community hub with food-related programming and cooking classes.
“We want to fight hunger and provide access to good food,” Hertz said in an Aug. 12 article at telegraph.co.uk. He hopes to see the initiative replicated in every city hosting the Olympics in future.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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