The Chronicle Herald (Metro)
Welcome to the gluten-free, sushi-less Olympic Games
The Tokyo Olympic games are finally upon us. Most of the attention will be given to the athletes, the sports, the empty stands and, of course, COVID. But every Olympics brings the gigantic task of feeding an entire Olympic village, with high-performing human beings coming from all over the world. In Tokyo, it means organizers need to feed 48,000 people every day amid a global pandemic.
Unlike other games, athletes are not allowed to go to restaurants outside the village, so the food offerings need to be tasty, yet comprehensive and appropriate for all diets. There are more than 700 menu options, a record according to organizers. From fresh roti from a clay oven to conchiglie, you can get almost anything in the village. No matter where you are from, you should be able to find what you need at the games. First, diets will be separated into three main groups: Western, Japanese and Asian. The latter will include Vietnamese, Indian and Chinese.
As with every aspect of the pandemic-postponed Olympics, the virus will cast a long shadow on how people are fed. Most meals served during the Olympics will be informal dishes. The main two-storey cafeteria has 3,000 seats, supported by 2,000 staff at peak hours to meet the needs of village tenants. Big delegations like the United States, Russia
and China will have their own facilities. Food is available 24 hours a day in the village, and all of it is free. In fact, seating has been reduced, and athletes must keep mealtimes as short as possible. Since athletes must leave the village within 48 hours of the end of their event, food facilities will likely get less busy as the games move on.
People in the village will have access to staples such as ramen and Udon noodles, accompanied by miso, a wellknown fermented soybean paste that is central to Japanese cuisine. Grilled wagyu beef, okonomiyaki, shamshi and oden will also be available. And of course, the highly coveted bento box will also be available, along with Zaru soba, Sukiyaki, and Takoyaki. All these traditional Japanese dishes are loved by many around the world.
However, due to stringent food safety rules, of all things, sushi will not be available, only canned tuna and cooked shrimp. This will likely come as a disappointment, as sushi is arguably the most well-known Japanese dish for westerners. One can only assume that the last thing Olympic organizers want during a pandemic is a foodborne illness outbreak, so health care services remain ready and on alert for a potential COVID wave.
As with anything foodrelated these days, meals will accommodate just about every religious and dietary restriction. Tokyo will be the first games where an entire glutenfree section is offered.
Beyond the village lies the incredible complexities of making a food supply chain work to feed the Olympic athletes. Supply-chain experts know that 30 per cent of costs and more than 70 per cent of problems in transportation take place in the “last mile”, from warehouses to the Olympic village. And this is Tokyo, one of the most populous cities in the world, where close to 38 million live. Travelling to anywhere in the region can take hours, so to get fresh, safe food it has to be delivered daily to the village. To add to the difficulty, there is also an extra layer of surveillance and quality assurance. Anyone is always one burrito away from losing a medal; therefore, the entire food supply chain needs to be highly secured.
As if COVID was not enough for organizers, Tokyo is expected to experience over 30-degree weather for most of the Olympics. Keeping everyone cool will also be a challenge. Nations will be allowed to bring recovery drinks and snack packs. So at least some aspects of the food regime will be coming from delegations themselves.
Tokyo will be a very different Olympics, and the food facet of the event won't be an exception. At least organizers will not need to figure out how to feed thousands of fans attending events, as there won't be any. Let us hope COVID does not ruin the games, one way or another. It is ironic that many are likely hoping to see more performance-enhancing drug cases than COVID positive tests.