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Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, B.C. Canada

 

February 23, 2006

 

Title: A Dinner Date With The Olympics

 

Producer / Host: Jon Steinman

Transcript: Pat Yama

 

Jon Steinman: And welcome to Deconstructing Dinner, produced in the studios of Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. My name's Jon Steinman.

 

Here on Deconstructing Dinner, we take a deeper look into our daily food choices and discuss the impacts that these choices have on ourselves, our communities, and the planet. For more information on previous broadcasts of this program or to comment on the program itself, you can visit the Deconstructing Dinner website at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.

 

On today's show we take a closer look into the Olympic Games. There's no doubt that many of us have perhaps enjoyed a meal or two in front of an energetic Canadian hockey game or a more relaxed curling match - although given recent news, hopefully none of your dinners led to any cases of food poisoning such as was reported from the Canadian curling team after their loss to Japan.

 

But we will not be discussing food poisoning today, instead we will take a closer look into the messages that those in attendance and those who watch and follow the events are subject to. More importantly though, and in line with this program - Deconstructing Dinner, we will deconstruct the involvement of two of the Olympic Games major worldwide sponsors - McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

 

The initial images that may pop into our heads would probably not associate the products of these two companies with sports and athletics. Seeing a Coca-Cola logo typically evokes images of well - a bottle or can of sugary Coke, and McDonald's - images of Big Macs and salty Fries.

 

But on the flipside, there is of course a trend for companies such as McDonald's to offer healthier options in light of the negative press that the company has received. And in the case of Coca-Cola - one of their more popular products are Powerade sports drinks.

 

So on today's show we will be discussing the nutritional benefits of McDonald's and Coca-Cola products for both athletes and those who aim to lead active lifestyles. But we will also take a look at the mixed messages that these two companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars on in honour of the Olympic Games. We will also revisit a campaign that was launched during the 2000 Sydney Olympics that put both McDonald's and Coca-Cola into the spotlight for their widespread global use of environmentally-unfriendly refrigeration units, and by doing so we will begin to deconstruct our refrigerators themselves, and not necessarily just what we put inside them.

 

To discuss these topics we will be hearing from Jennifer Gibson, a Sport Dietitian with the Vancouver-based SportMedBC. And we will also hear from Warren Nightingale, the Education Content Developer for the Ottawa-based Media Awareness Network.

 

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There is certainly no arguing that the Olympic Games would not exist without the assistance of corporate sponsorship. In fact almost 40% of revenue comes from sponsorship from the companies such as McDonald's and Coca-Cola. Of these sponsors, there are 11 companies that fall under the category of the Olympics official Worldwide Partners who all maintain incredible power throughout the world in associating the values of the Olympics with their products. These 11 companies combined have forked out close to one billion dollars to obtain marketing rights to the Olympics from 2005 and 2008.

 

Their influence has even led to the many reports from the recent 2004 Athens Olympics such as one that appeared in the UK's Sunday Times, that indicated that strict regulations published by Athens 2004 dictated that spectators may be refused admission to events if they are carrying food or drinks made by companies that did not see fit to sponsor the games.

 

This policy is referred to on the official website of the Torino Winter Games, where it's indicated that the IOC (the International Olympic Committee) aims to, and I quote, "spread the message of Brand Protection and safeguard its partners, preserving their rights and the integrity of the Olympic Image." An extension of these efforts also exists in what has been called the "clean venue policy" - one that forbids any promotional communication or commercial messages on the competition fields and in any areas visible to television spectators.

 

In a stroke of irony, on the right-hand side of the very webpage where I retrieved this information on the official Olympic Games website, was a link to a page where website visitors can purchase official logo emblazoned Torino Olympic accessories using only one method of payment - VISA - another worldwide sponsor!

 

soundbite

 

Cycling back to the topic at hand, the two Olympic sponsors that are being deconstructed on today's program are McDonald's and Coca-Cola. The history of these two companies and the Olympics dates back in the case of Coca-Cola to 1928, when Coca-Cola first appeared at the Olympics. The relationship has existed ever since. And jumping ahead, in August 2005, the Coca-Cola Company and the IOC announced the renewal of this partnership till 2020, where Coca-Cola will continue to be the official soft drink of the Olympic Games.

 

One of the signature events that Coca-Cola has now been a part of since the 1996 games in Atlanta, has been the symbolic torch relay that sees participants pass off the torch around the globe until it reaches the games at the symbolic opening ceremonies.

 

But some may find the image startling - seeing people running long distances alongside the red and white Coca-Cola logo. But no where in the world would this startling image be more apparent than in Italy itself, where food and drink take precedence over anything. In fact, the very home of the now-worldwide slow-food movement originated just south of Turin in the town of Bra. And as was the case, the Coca-Cola Olympic Torch relay did not make it into Turin without running into a few protests. In the town of Exilles for example, the parade of Coca-Cola vehicles decided it would be safer to not accompany the torch until later that evening. Even a small neighbourhood association in Rome vowed it would block passage of the Olympic torch because the relay was sponsored by Coca-Cola. In the most extreme event, Elenora Belanda who is Italy's 1500 metre champion runner was working her way through the northern Italian city of Trent, when eight protesters grabbed the torch and ran off. A total of 33 similar incidents actually accompanied the torch between Rome and Turin.

 

In further illustrating the anger some Italians have towards Coca-Cola, the Mayor of the town of Bussoleno - 50km west of Turin, actually banned any Coca-Cola advertisements throughout the community as he saw the company as a threat to the culture of the Susa Valley where the town is located.

 

But most interesting was in just this past November, the Turn City Council voted to ban Coca-Cola products from its offices to protest alleged abuse of workers by the company in Latin America. The Mayor, however, did not allow the enforcement of this ban.

 

The other Olympic sponsor in the spotlight on today's show is McDonald's, and they have not existed in Italy without similar protest as well. It recently came to light that a McDonald's that had opened up in the town of Altamura was forced to close down due to community-based efforts that protested against its presence. In the end, it was said that the famous bread that was found at a local baker was just far too good and was the key reason McDonald's was forced to close. Nevertheless, there remains 330 McDonald's in Italy, 24 of them in the Piedmont region surrounding Turin.

 

But the history of McDonald's and the Olympics dates back to 1968, where according to the company they airlifted hamburgers to athletes competing in Grenoble, France. Their official sponsorship began at the 1976 Games in Montreal, and between 1988 and 1994, McDonald's was the sponsor of National Olympic Committees in several countries around the world. And the company has been a worldwide sponsor of the Olympics since 1996.

 

But McDonald's is heavily involved in sponsoring sports in general, all the way from sponsoring events like the Olympics to even pick-up hockey leagues here in Canada. Even athletes have placed themselves beside the golden arches - well-known names such as Wayne Gretzky, Silken Laumann and Cassie Campbell to name just a few.

 

But the idea of seeing Wayne Gretzky sitting in McDonald's wolfing down a Big Mac and washing it down with a large Coke and some fries, just doesn't quite sit so easily in my mind. Now granted, McDonald's has introduced a range of healthier options that customers and athletes can now choose from.

 

But efforts seem to be rather slim so to speak, in promoting these options during the Olympic Games. For one, here in Canada, McDonald's is offering the Gold Medal Meal. Now this meal is not what one would expect given the name. In fact the Gold Medal Meal, is simply a Big Mac, fries and soft drink. Well, if there's one handy tool on the McDonald's website, it is a nifty little nutrition calculator where visitors can drag and drop menu items and determine what choices are best for them. So I checked out the nutritional values of a McDonald's Olympic Gold Medal Meal, but inconveniently enough, I was forced to add the various nutritional values on my own, as many of the online calculations were actually incorrect - with totals yielding less than what the actual total should have been. But nevertheless, the Gold Medal Meal yields 1420 Calories, 57 grams of fat which is 88% of the recommended daily value and 20 grams of saturated fat.

 

So how does this meal stack up for an athlete? Is this enough fuel to allow Wayne Gretzky to hoist that Stanley Cup above his head? Helping shed some light on this topic I spoke recently with Jennifer Gibson of SportMedBC.

 

SportMedBC is a not-for-profit society, whose focal point is sport medicine and science within the B.C. provincial sport system. SportMedBC is committed to identifying, developing and promoting Best Practices in Sport Health, Sport Safety and Sport Training. Jennifer is a Registered Dietitian with SportMedBC, and I asked her over the phone from her office in Vancouver, whether the Gold Medal Meal is an ideal choice for an Olympic athlete.

 

Jennifer Gibson: The Gold Medal Meal is not the thing I would specifically recommend for any seriously high performing athlete in a pre-competitive state. I think it's pretty obvious that the Big Mac Combo is pretty high in calories and fat and overall not a really well-balanced meal. I think if you compare it to Canada's Food Guide for example, you're missing fruits and vegetables and dairy and calcium sources. And those foods contain bone building and illness kind of fighting vitamins and minerals that athletes definitely need.

 

Usually pre-competition foods, about three to four hours before, consist of a mixed meal that would be three to four food groups that tend to be high in complex carbs, lean protein and low in fat. And I think that in the case of the Gold Medal Meal, if the athlete maybe wiped off the special sauce and had a water instead of Coke, they could probably take away about 500 calories. If they chose a salad instead of fries they could probably knock off another 500 calories as well. So I think that it's something that you could work with as an athlete. I think it would be really unfair to assume that the general public who's obviously been exposed to the negative press about McDonald's and their nutritional values would be kind of naïve enough to assume that a Gold Medal Meal would be something that high performance athlete would consume for training and performance. I know that the proceeds for the Gold Medal Meal are going towards some funds that are helping with athlete development.

 

Jon Steinman: Jennifer explained the McDonald's Gold Medal Meal is not something she would recommend to an athlete. And given the incompatible nature of Olympic Gold Medals and Big Macs, she did point out that Canadians are certainly smart enough to recognize that a Big Mac Meal is not going to get you onto the podium.

 

It would also be nice to think that McDonald's is also smart enough to realize this as well. But I'm not so sure the company does and I'll tell you why.

 

Shortly before the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, The International Olympic Committee and McDonald's launched the Go Active website - designed to encourage active living. On the website is a page devoted to the Olympics. And mention is given to the many athletes that the company will be serving in Turin. And McDonald's says this, that "athletes favourite foods consist of Big Macs, French Fries, Egg McMuffins and Chicken McNuggets." You can check it out at www.goactive.com.

 

soundbite

 

If you're just tuning in we're hearing from Jennifer Gibson of Vancouver-based SportMedBC as she helps shed some light on today's broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner, and the topic of food, drink and the Olympics. Two of 11 Worldwide Sponsors of the Olympics are McDonald's and Coca-Cola. And I recently spoke with Jennifer on the nutritional values represented by the products of these two companies and their connection to sport and athletics.

 

As I continued speaking with her about the Canada-wide Gold Medal Meal promotion, Jennifer shed some more light on this promotion, and she also mentioned how athletes sometimes have little choice but to end up in fast-food restaurants.

 

Jennifer Gibson: There is kind of a connection between the two in that high performance athletes are constantly traveling and on the road for competition. And thus fast food is something that they can't avoid and a lot of times they go to these places because they're familiar foods. A lot of times they don't have access to kitchens to prep their own foods.

 

Jon Steinman: I will note that earlier the contribution to athletes by McDonald's that Jennifer referred to will be going towards the Own the Podium initiative that aims to see as many Canadians as possible on the podium at the 2010 games in Vancouver.

 

So we've spoken of the Big Macs, the Fries and the SuperSize Cokes. But as has been the trend, McDonald's is offering healthier alternatives to the standard McDonald's fare, alternatives that athletes may be more inclined to purchasing. And Jennifer explained.

 

Jennifer Gibson: I think in a way a lot of the public outcry about the high fat and high calories in McDonald's foods in a way has kind of influenced them diversifying their menu a bit. And it's impacted on the variety I guess that they've been able to offer. And to be honest, the transparency that they've now kind of had with their nutritional value for some of their products has made my job a little bit easier because you can try and work around some of the things that come with the meals.

 

Jon Steinman: Jennifer explains how she would educate an athlete walking into a fast-food restaurant.

 

Jennifer Gibson: Well, obviously looking for lighter fare kind of menu choices; looking for fresh foods as much as possible; thinking about - we kind of try to get them back into that kind of elementary thinking about the Food Guide model in their heads. So like I said, if they were to take that Gold Medal Meal, wipe the extra special sauce off that Big Mac, have a salad instead of fries and having water or even some kind of milk with it, they could work with the food. But basically what we try to do is we try to educate them on what are good low fat food options in general and then we can review certain menus for certain fast food places with them and go over choices that would be better - leaner meats and leaner meat sandwiches for example and definitely always choosing salad and fruit instead of fries.

 

Jon Steinman: McDonald's made the big announcement from the media centre in Turin, that they are rolling out their push to keep customers informed, and have now launched new product packaging around the globe that lists nutritional information directly on the packaging itself. They did not say whether or not they will be educating customers on how to read nutrition labels.

 

As I continued my conversation with Jennifer Gibson of SportMedBC, we continued speaking on the healthy alternatives that McDonald's provides the athletes the company has aligned themselves with. Salads are very often an option perceived as an ideal alternative. However, when looking at the nutritional values of many of the salad options, in many cases, these values are not much different than the standard Big Mac or Quarter Pounder. And Jennifer comments.

 

Jennifer Gibson: I think that in many cases the culprit is what is going on the salads. So for example, with the Bacon Ranch salad with warm crispy chicken from McDonald's, the dressing in of itself is adding quite a substantial portion of the fat to the product. I wouldn't recommend just a salad alone to an athlete just because it's very low in carbohydrate and high in fat. And carbohydrates being the body's fuel and energy source are really critical for their performance. So they could use the salad as a base and I would probably recommend that he or she, the athlete would skip the bacon bits, ask for lower fat dressing and then go and try to add two multigrain rolls to make it a balanced meal.

 

So again it can work. It's just being able to have the education to the athlete and kind of guiding them around ways to make it a healthier choice for them.

 

Jon Steinman: We're hearing clips from Jennifer Gibson of SportMedBC here on Deconstructing Dinner. And in taking a closer look at McDonald's involvement at the Olympics, we've discussed that the standard meals at McDonald's are not ideal for athletes or those preparing for physical activity, while, on the other hand, healthier options exist. However, in some cases, these options may appear healthy, yet contain just as poor nutritional value as anything else. As Jennifer explained, the key is understanding how to best take advantage of the items available should an athlete for example be placed into a position of having no choice but to eat fast food.

 

In arriving at this, I thought, what better than to find out what athletes are actually eating at the McDonald's restaurants in the Olympic Village. As McDonald's announced prior to the start of the Olympics, and I quote "During the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, McDonald's will feed more than 15,000 athletes, coaches, officials and media from around the world in our two official Olympic restaurant sites." So why not ask one of the many McDonald's employees who have been sent from various restaurants around the world to work in Turin during the Olympics. This was another marketing initiative by the company, and the employees themselves are able to communicate with the outside world through what has been called the Olympic Champion Crew Blog. For those unfamiliar, a blog, is simply put, an internet-based forum where people can post messages on a given topic. This presented an excellent opportunity to ask one of the McDonald's Olympics crew the questions we're probably all wondering. And so I asked the question, "What are some of the favourite items that athletes are ordering at the Olympics."

 

Now as is the case, all messages that appear on this website have to go through a moderator - someone to skim through the question and approve it to be posted. And I commend the operators of the website because my question appeared no less than five minutes after I sent it. On the other hand, the wording of my question had been changed. And listen to what they changed it to "what seems to be the favourite items purchased?" Any reference to my original question of "what athletes were eating" was removed!

 

You can find this site by visiting www.mcdonalds.com and follow the links to the Olympic Crew Blog.

 

soundbite

 

If you're just tuning in, this is Deconstructing Dinner, where on today's show we are speaking of the Olympic Games and are deconstructing the involvement of two of the games major worldwide sponsors McDonald's and Coca-Cola. I also want to remind listeners that should you want to learn more about today's topic and find links to any references made, you can visit the Deconstructing Dinner website where all broadcasts are archived and links are provided. The address is www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.

 

As was just mentioned, McDonald's had announced they would be feeding thousands of the athletes at the Olympic Games, and given the alteration of my question, this seems to be classified information.

 

But as seems to be the case, there is actually not a McDonald's located in the Olympic Village at Sestriere - the alpine location where many events are taking place and where many athletes are living. Interestingly enough a recent article was published in many major publications indicating that athletes were very disappointed in the cafeteria food available at the Olympic Village in Sestriere. American skier Ted Ligety was quoted as saying "The food here is actually not so good. The highlight this week is that they installed a machine for ice-cream bars." Ligety did not finish his Giant Slalom run.

 

But the interesting comments have been the ones made by athletes in response to the poor quality of the cafeteria food, who follow up many of their comments by indicating they wished there was a McDonald's instead.

 

But moving along, one product we haven't yet looked closer at is Coca-Cola itself, another of the Olympic Games major sponsors, and we don't even have to leave McDonald's to discuss their soft drinks given Coca-Cola is the exclusive supplier to McDonald's restaurants.

 

Coca Cola is the official soft drink of the Olympic Games. So in continuing on with hearing some clips from my conversation with SportMedBC's Jennifer Gibson, I asked her how Coca-Cola stacks up for athletes.

 

Jennifer Gibson: Well definitely Coca-Cola is highly concentrated with sugar. Its carbohydrate content checks in at about 11% which is a bit high. For a lot of sport beverages and sport exercise scientists have identified that 5 to 9% is an optimal range for a sport drink, carbohydrate concentration. And so Coca-Cola has about 11%. When you get up into higher percentages this kind of delays your stomach from emptying and extra water can be dragged into the gut which kind of robs your tissue of body fluid. And some people actually have an upset stomach and things like that when they consume foods during exercise that are too concentrated in carbohydrate.

 

Jon Steinman: Safe to say that sports and Coca-Cola don't mix, However, Jennifer explains one way in which Coca-Cola is used by long distance athletes in older age-categories.

 

Jennifer Gibson: Surprisingly though, there are quite a few athletes that do use Coca-Cola, diluted as a sports drink during endurance and training and as a recovery food. Some researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport in 1997 found out at one of the professional championships in cycling, 6 of the 11 teams there were actually using a bit of diluted Coke in the last half of their high endurance competitions. It was de-fizzed and a bit of water was added. And basically what they were doing was using Coke's carbohydrates to keep their muscles fueled with glycogen. Because as in long endurance sports the body uses its glycogen and blood sugar stores and after about an hour to an hour and a half of exercise, usually that's when we would recommend athletes replenish with some sort of carbohydrate.

 

So, quite a few athletes do try to use some kind of sports beverage. Coke is used by some teams in another way because they believe that the caffeine within it could help to boost their performance as well. I mean I don't think that Coke is a great drink for every day use. I would probably recommend fruit and vegetable juices and milk over Coke because obviously Coke doesn't have any vitamins and minerals in it which our body needs. But I think that if I had an athlete that wouldn't drink anything else and I was concerned about them having adequate carbohydrate intake during and after exercise for recovery, then it can be used but it's not my number one choice.

 

Jon Steinman: More in line with the requirements of sport are the many different brands of sports drinks that are available for athletes. In the case of Coca-Cola, their major brand is Powerade. And Jennifer explains how sports drinks benefit athletics.

 

Jennifer Gibson: How they compare to other Coca-Cola product is that, I mean they wouldn't compare to a Diet Coke for example because Diet Coke has absolutely no calories in it. How it compares to a Powerade, well Powerade and kind of other sports drinks, they do add a bit more in terms of electrolyte replacements and sodium content and things like that. So there is small differences that kind of once diluted in terms of the sugar content, they could be comparable to some other sport drinks. And like I said earlier Coke does have caffeine in it whereas other sports drinks don't so there is another kind of difference there.

 

Jon Steinman: As the focus on our discussion up until this point was how the products of McDonald's and Coca-Cola contribute to sport and athletic performance in light of the two companies major sponsorship of the Olympics, there is a significant difference between the food and nutritional requirements of a high-performance athlete and you and I of the general public. And Jennifer comments.

 

Jennifer Gibson: I think that the average citizen has obviously a lot more choices and has a lot different lifestyle than that of an athlete. They're not running around and training four to six to eight hours a day and thus their body is in a constant state of energy need and kind of food need. So definitely there are different roles that apply I would say for a competitive athlete and the general population. I think that, I mean like I said earlier, I think that the public is definitely aware or becoming more aware of the marketing machines that some of these larger corporations are kind of creating in the news that they're creating. I don't think that the public per se is being all that deceived because I think that they're in general, people know what's good and bad for them.

 

I think there are a multitude of factors that are contributing to why people continue to purchase these products and consume them in excess and there's a whole boat load of different types of factors that contribute to it. But I definitely think that a lot of it has to do with people just wanting something fast and something quick and a lot of the people not taking the time to make healthy nutrition part of their daily lives.

 

Jon Steinman: Jennifer has worked very closely in her past with childhood obesity, and when we think of childhood obesity, the very two companies we're speaking of today are very often the culprits that come to mind. In the case of Coca-Cola, there seems to be conflicting views on whether the high sugar content of soft drinks can be linked to obesity. In one case, reference was made in the book "Fat Land" to a study that concluded that, and I quote "consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks is associated with obesity in children." On the other hand, Coca-Cola states, that and I quote, "there is no clear and consistent association between increased intake of added sugars and Body Mass Index." I asked Jennifer to clarify these conflicting statements.

 

Jennifer Gibson: I know that the research is slowly building itself up. And I mean there was a correlation noticed in a lot of studies but some of the studies that were done were actually retrospective reviews. So they looked at obesity studies and then took pieces of information from those studies to develop the results. I think what the other statement was saying there was no clear consistent association kind of might be pointing to the fact that there hasn't been a study whereby they've taken children and randomly assigned them to a group where they induced obesity on them, obviously because it would unethical to do. But it's kind of the scientists arguing back and forth and obviously depends on whose side you're speaking from as well. If you're speaking from an industry side you're going to deny it. You're not going to "yeah, this is the case."

 

In the case of soft drinks and high sugar drinks, there was a study that came out in '95 that was saying the average teenager was getting 15 to 20 teaspoons a day of added sugar from just soft drinks alone. And the consumption rates among children have doubled in the past decade and then that has also shown a correlation between that intake and childhood obesity. I don't think it's a lone ranger and I think that's something else we have to consider. It's not the only reason there are obviously are other factors. You could probably shoot it right back at the video games industry and try to come up with a study that showed a direct correlation there.

 

But I definitely agree that high sugar juices and beverages do contribute to overall extra calorie intake and obesity in the long run. And from my own practice that was one thing that we kind of started right away was just get rid of the juice, get rid of the soft drinks in the home. Just get rid of it. Because if children are having fruit and not fruit juice they can still get their vitamins and minerals and if they are having soft drink there's nothing in there basically nutritionally that they're benefiting from.

 

Jon Steinman: As Jennifer has mentioned, many other factors have led to obesity and poor nutrition among the North American population, and the food we eat is only one component.

 

In speaking of this, one of the key marketing tools that is being used by both Coca-Cola and McDonald's are their initiatives to promote more active lifestyles. As was mentioned earlier, McDonald's launched their Go Active website to achieve just this. The company acknowledges trends in obesity and poor nutrition and combats this by promoting more active lifestyles.

 

One of the most world renowned figures on food policy issues is Timothy Lang of City University in London, England. And he said this in an article that appeared in the Guardian, and I quote, "It is very convenient for fast food and soft drinks people to sponsor sport, because by doing so they place all the emphasis on activity as the means of avoiding obesity rather than both activity and diet."

 

But as McDonald's states on their Go Active website, and I quote, "It's all about energy balance, not dieting, which can be based on denial and deprivation."

 

Now the average North American lifestyle is becoming busier and busier, and there seems to be fewer and fewer hours to devote to exercise and healthy eating. The prevalence of fast food restaurants has made it more and more difficult for independent restaurants that may offer more nutritious options to survive, and I even came across the term obesogenic environments - in reference to areas where there are barriers to nutrition.

 

I asked Jennifer Gibson if she thinks it's possible to continue on with the trends we see in rising levels of obesity and poor nutrition and then simply balance this out with exercise.

 

Jennifer Gibson: Well if you're eating something that's calorically dense, let's say the Big Mac Combo for on a daily basis, then definitely not. That combo in itself contains over 1400 calories which for some people, depending on their height and weight, is actually what their total caloric intake would be for the day.

 

Jon Steinman: If you're just tuning in, this is Deconstructing Dinner, where on today's show we are speaking of the Olympic Games and are deconstructing the involvement of two of the games major worldwide sponsors McDonald's and Coca-Cola. We are presently hearing clips from a conversation I had with Jennifer Gibson of SportMedBC, and we will shortly be hearing later from Warren Nightingale of the Media Awareness Network. Warren will be sharing some information with us on how parents and teachers can prepare children to better deconstruct the messages they receive from the media. There are certainly mixed messages that come out of the sponsorship of the Olympics by companies such as McDonald's and Coca-Cola. And we will hear from Warren later.

 

But as Jennifer explained, nutritional education is also a key step in helping children and adults make better choices for our health.

 

Jennifer Gibson: I think there's definite need for nutrition education for the public. And I think that there's got to be a partnership between even just employers and government bodies and where people are actively becoming more conscious about the long-term effects that poor nutrition can have on their health. And I think it's kind of one of those things where "if it's not broke don't fix it" kind of syndromes where people who are slightly overweight, they don't feel any different than they did when maybe they were 10 or 15 pounds lighter. And so they're not recognizing what small physiological changes are happening in their body. And so they gain the 10, they gain the 15 pounds and it just starts creeping up over the years and as we get older those habits, especially nutritional habits, they become more ingrained in our behaviour.

 

So, I did some research in the past with childhood obesity and there's a whole cohort of people out there and children that really, I think nutritional education should be targeted to. But on the other end you've got parents who are role models for children who are also in need of that. So I think it's a real problem and I think it's kind of a national problem. And I think it's going to take a multi-level approach to really change peoples' mind frames around it. And as you said earlier, food is everywhere. You can get food anywhere nowadays. You're out at a lumberyard and there's convenient store snacks before you leave. So it's really having people be more aware of what preventative medicine can do for their health in the long run because although they're not experiencing the physiological symptoms or diseases now they're preparing themselves basically to be coming on down the road.

 

Jon Steinman: Jennifer cites some examples of how young athletes here in B.C. are receiving the necessary education on nutrition and sport.

 

Jennifer Gibson: We here at SportMedBC and the total sport nutrition program actually work with a group of athletes that are called TBC. And these are kind of the younger group of athletes that are getting prepared to go to the Canada games. And the Canada games are kind of a mini-Olympics that are held across Canada whereby they invite athletes from each province. And athletes tend to be quite young that go to the Canada games. They can range from pre-teen to teenagers. And our program here, the Total Sport Nutrition program is quite actively involved in nutrition education for each of these teams. And we go out there and each team has about maybe two or three presentations and some intensive work with myself that helps to prepare them for the games and also that helps to educate them about nutrition foundations, not only for them being athletes but for them being healthy children as well.

 

So that's something specifically that we do with a younger population. I would say that more and more with the teams that I'm seeing, parents are really coming to us for guidance around nutrition because the childhood obesity kind of epidemic per se is definitely being heard by parents and they're concerned and they want to know what to do. And something that we really like to kind of drive home with parents is that this isn't just an issue with your child, it's an issue with your family. Parents play a really big role in influencing what children need as they are the primary buyers in the house. So if there's an obese child, lots of times there's an obese parent and it could truly make a difference. It's got to be a family education event than just targeting the children.

 

Jon Steinman: And that was Jennifer Gibson of SportMedBC, a not-for-profit society, whose focal point is sport medicine and science within the B.C. provincial sport system. You can visit their website at www.sportmedbc.com.

 

Going to take a quick musical break, and when we return, we will hear from Warren Nightingale of the Ottawa-based Media Awareness Network.

 

soundbite

 

Welcome back to Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded in the studios of Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. Here on Deconstructing Dinner we discuss our food choices and how these choices impact ourselves, our communities and our environment.

 

That musical intermission was courtesy of Nelson-area resident, Adham Shaikh. As I have not yet mentioned since this program began airing on January 5th, Adham Shaikh is actually the artist behind the Deconstructing Dinner theme music. And this is a better time than any to mention this, because Adham has just recently been nominated for a Juno in the World Music Category for his album Fusion. So congratulations to him, and he certainly deserves it. And you can visit his website at www.sonicturtle.com.

 

Continuing on with today's broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner we've been discussing the role that McDonald's and Coca-Cola have been playing during the Olympic Games in Torino. With the mixed messages that may come out of the association between Big Macs, Coca-Cola and Speed Skating, we were just hearing from Jennifer Gibson of SportMedBC who shed some light on this topic. If you're just tuning in and missed the beginning of the show, you can check out an archived version on the Deconstructing Dinner website at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.

 

As we speak of mixed messages, one of the impacts that associating sport with the products of both McDonald's and Coca-Cola is the influence that these messages may have on children. But the ways in which corporations target children through advertising is certainly not restricted to just the Olympics. However, the Olympics provide a great example of these efforts.

 

To better understand how parents and teachers can better help children interpret these messages, I spoke with Warren Nightingale. Warren is the Education Content Developer with the Media Awareness Network located in Ottawa.

 

The Media Awareness Network is a non-profit organization that has been pioneering the development of media literacy programs since 1996. Members of the organization have backgrounds in education, journalism, mass communications, and cultural policy. They promote media and internet education by producing online programs and resources.

 

I spoke with Warren over the phone from his office in Ottawa, and he commented on the impacts that corporate sponsorship of the Olympics can have.

 

Warren Nightingale: For starters, sponsorship is a major contributor to the Olympics and the viability of the games. However, what does this mean for Canadians who are viewing the events? Well, for starters there's a strong sponsorship presence in advertisement so this along with intense media coverage means there's many messages that are being presented to the viewers of the games. So one impact is the need for us, the viewers, to analyze these messages that inform, entertain us and sell to us, we require to bring our critical thinking skills as we do with all media and it's messages by asking questions about what's there, noticing what's not there and to question what lies behind all these constructed images - the motives, the money, the values, the ownership and to be aware of how these factors influence the content we see.

 

Jon Steinman: Earlier in the show we spoke of the many efforts that Olympic sponsors such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's have made in marketing their products. But what has not been touched on is the direct endorsements that are received by Olympic athletes themselves. In Canada for example, McDonald's has aligned themselves with Cassie Campbell of the Canadian hockey team; Cindy Klassen, Speed Skating; Crispin Lipscomb, Snowboarding and also Brad Martin who's with the Snowboarding team.

 

Warren comments on the effects that athlete endorsements have on the audience and on children, and also sheds some light on why athletes are so willing to associate their names to a product.

 

Warren Nightingale: Well as an educator I think this is such a fantastic topic to explore with students - the impact of endorsements and how it can make a significant impact to amateur athletes. I think to really put it into perspective we should consider while training for the Olympics, Canadian athletes receive roughly approximately $1500 a month and some need to maintain their day jobs. According to See You In Torino fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising money for Olympic athletes, they've said 70% of Canadians amateur athletes live below the poverty line. So we can see how much of an impact these endorsements can make on the individual athletes themselves especially for Olympic athletes whose media spotlight is limited in duration compared to athletes of other major events.

 

The Olympics come once every four years whereas the Super Bowl, NHL playoffs, NBA playoffs are annual events. So there's I think just a lot of pressure for Olympic athletes not only to perform well but also to make the most of their endorsements. And when it comes to sports, children are major league fans. There was a U.S. study conducted a few years back that found that 93% of young people between the ages of 8 and 17 view sports on TV and close to one-third view some kind of sports media daily whether it be TV, video games, magazines, internet, radio, etc.

 

And it's not just the boys who are fans although they consume the greatest amounts of sports media, something like 97% but at 89% the girls aren't far behind. So some of the most enthusiastic and loyal fans are children. And so when an athlete speaks they have a very dedicated and very attentive audience to listen to what they have to say.

 

Jon Steinman: I recently cited a quote by Professor Tim Lang of City University in London, England. In that same article and along a similar note, he also mentioned this, that by targeting sport, manufacturers, and I quote, "get themselves off the public health hook." I asked Warren to comment.

 

Warren Nightingale: Marketing and brand recognition is a very competitive arena. I can see the attraction to sports in particular. Marketers are trying to plant the seeds of brand recognition in children very young and hope that these seeds will grow into lifetime relationships. According to the Centre of New American Dream, babies as young as six months of age can form mental images of corporate logos and mascots. Brand loyalties can be established as early as age two and by the time children head off to school most can recognize hundreds of brand logos. So it's a very competitive arena especially when they can align themselves up with something that is attractive to kids as inherently sports is and the messages that sports have to deliver.

 

Jon Steinman: With all the ways in which companies target children through advertising, some groups have taken it upon themselves to try and reform the very regulations that govern advertising in Canadian media. But the Media Awareness Network, seems to take a different approach, and instead provides resources for parents and teachers to assist children in deconstructing the media. Warren explains some ways in which parents and teachers can do this.

 

Warren Nightingale: One of the easiest and most effective ways is to look for opportunities that invoke discussion. There's so much that we can draw from our daily interaction with media. Much of our media education approach isn't necessarily to have the right answers but rather, try asking the right question. In the classroom I use to call this, teachable moments. Students and children have such a great interest in media and visual technology. They interact with it constantly. They're at home doing their homework on the computer, while they're doing that they're text messaging their friends, they're downloading music while the TVs on in the background. They interact with it on a continual basis. I think there're great opportunities for discussion as well as for encouragement for young people to create their own media. By having young people go through this constructive process will help demystify the media making process to which they will start asking questions when they're viewing media like "why was this particular information used in the way it was" or "why was this technique used" or "what effect does this particular technique have" or "why was this piece of information not included at all."

 

Now if parents and educators are looking for resources, I encourage them to go to the Media Awareness Network's website where they can find background information on media issues, resources for parents on how to discuss these topics with their children. There's research as well for teachers, hundreds of classroom lessons that are free which can be found on our For Teachers section. The address is www.media-awareness.ca. And as well, I greatly encourage teachers to get involved with National Media Education week where they can explore topics of media literacy in the classroom. The Media Awareness Network has partnered up with Canadian Teacher's Federation to launch and promote this event which will take place next fall, November 19th to the 24th. And as far as I know it will be the first one of its kind in Canada.

 

Jon Steinman: With the many methods by which parents and teachers can assist children in deconstructing the media and advertising they are exposed to, it raises the question, how prevalent is this form of education in our public school system. And Warren comments.

 

Warren Nightingale: Well, it's interesting, Canada is considered to be one of the world leaders in media education. Perhaps it has in part to do with the whole idea of being the mouse beside the elephant. I think it's natural that Canadians want to take a more analytical and reflective approach to media culture, that has a great mass coming from the United States. Now, implementing media education in Canadian schools has greatly increased in the last ten years. We have seen it media has finally integrated into the English Language Arts program as another kind of text as well as a stronger presence in our curriculum subjects such as health and social studies. Plus there's also been a more of a shift towards student centre learning which I think sits well with media education as well as sort of an extension of critical thinking skills downward from the secondary level and into elementary curriculum. Although there's probably still a long way to go for full implementation of media literacy in the classrooms, I think there's a strong foundation there and the future's optimistic for media literacy in Canada.

 

Jon Steinman: This is Deconstructing Dinner where we've been discussing the role that McDonald's and Coca-Cola have been playing during the Olympic Games in Torino. With the mixed messages that may come out of the association between Big Macs, Coca-Cola and Gold Medal Hockey Games, we are trying to better understand how children can combat these messages.

 

To do so, we have been hearing clips from a conversation I had with Warren Nightingale of the Media Awareness Network.

 

In wrapping up my conversation with Warren, he referred to his personal experience in illustrating the ways students respond to media literacy education.

 

Warren Nightingale: Myself, I've spent ten years in the classroom. Most of that experience has been working with at-risk kids. We developed an off-campus alternative program in which for me and my greatest success was implementing media literacy into the English classes. If I was to start of my class with reading from a novel or anything I would basically get a lot of wallows from my students. But if I was to bring in a commercial for my students to deconstruct then they would get very excited because they're so saturated with their experience with interactive media that they naturally sort of inherently understand, even though they may not necessarily know it, a lot of the sort of codes and conventions of how media works.

 

And I would basically start off small deconstructing music videos, deconstructing commercials and then asking very simple questions on why was this camera angle used, why was this particular colour used for the sequence and things like that. And I know some kids got very engaged and this is so interesting because as we talked further and one of the things we did in the program was to try as much as possible getting kids creating media, that after awhile they were so excited to come to class and talk about the program they saw the night before and how the sequence of shots basically give a certain influence to them and how that sort of generated conversation with either their friends or their family and things of that nature. So I think bringing real examples into the classroom can really be a spark for a lot of students especially when the children get a chance to create media.

 

Jon Steinman: And that was Warren Nightingale of the Ottawa-based Media Awareness Network - a non-profit organization that has been developing media literacy programs since 1996. You can check out an amazing number of resources and information on their website at www.media-awareness.ca and there will also be a link from the Deconstructing Dinner website.

 

I want to continue on with this topic of arming children with the necessary tools to deconstruct the media they are exposed to. It's a topic that will be referred to often on this program, and will become the focus of an entire broadcast in months to come. As we just heard from comments made by Warren Nightingale, schools in this country still have a long way to go in providing the increasingly-important education. With school systems being a reflection of the very social structures that exist everywhere else, it is safe to say that when information is not adequately making its way to students, then this information is probably not adequately making its way to the general public.

 

And the connection between the Olympic Games and the general public here in British Columbia is more important to us, than to almost any other region in the world. As is the case, we here in B.C. will be host to the Olympic Games in less than four years. And how does this connect to public education and education for the general public. Well the provincial government has now launched a number of initiatives in conjunction with the Vancouver Olympic Games, along with many already-present initiatives now falling under the Olympic banner.

 

In the case of health and food, the Act Now program was launched in March of 2005. Here's a clip from the launch of this event with B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell promoting the start of the program.

 

Gordon Campbell: ActNow B.C. is about saying to individual citizens. Here are some things you can do to have a better quality of life to lead a healthier life. And there're two big ones - thirty minutes a day of physical activity. It doesn't have to be at the gym, it can be walking up and down the stairs in fact at home. It can be taking your dog for a walk. So that's one of the things - physical activity and the other is five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

 

I will be eating the recommended daily level of fruit and vegetables (audience laughter and applause). For those of you who don't know, this is a basket of fruit and vegetables (audience laughs).

 

We know that has an enormous impact, positive effect on your quality of life as well as the pressures it puts on the healthcare system. The Healthy Living Alliance has joined us. That's nine organizations across the province - the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Diabetes Association, Cancer Association. They're all there saying we know what makes a difference. So ActNow was about bringing these groups together and we've launched this, it's been done in Vancouver, Prince George, Campbell River, Comox, Smithers. We're trying to do it all over the province. And again it's not a government program. It's a personal program. It's a personal decision that I'm going to do something today to make my life better in the long term.

 

Our goal over the next ten years is to be recognized for number one the quality of health our people have. We'd like to see a 20% reduction in the amount of obesity, a 20% increase in the amount of physical activity that we have in the province because again, we know people feel better. They learn better. Their lives are better when they are physically active. And so we're trying to encourage people just to do a little bit and if we can do a little bit every day it makes a difference. So there's always energy and there's always enthusiasm. The question is can we make that happen tomorrow and then the next day.

 

So today was about a pretty gentle walk. You don't have to run 10km, you don't have to make the marathon. If those are goals you personally set, great. But really what we're saying to people is think about your lifestyle, think about what you can do. If we can spread that out to the province it's going to be a provincial network across the province of activities will make a huge difference in the long term for everyone that lives here.

 

Jon Steinman: And that was a clip of B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, as he promoted the ActNow initiative here in B.C. But what wasn't mentioned in that clip was how the program has also been launched to make British Columbia the healthiest jurisdiction to ever host an Olympic Games.

 

It is certainly a great goal, but the very reason the program was launched, was as Gordon Campbell stated, to counteract the increasing prevalence of obesity and poor nutrition. And along with lack of exercise, what is another main culprit of obesity and poor nutrition - well fast food, and junk food among others. With McDonald's and Coca-Cola typically being the first companies that come to mind when thinking of the culprits behind obesity and poor nutrition, it presents a conflict - that here is a program that aims to make B.C. the healthiest jurisdiction to ever host the Olympic Games, yet, two of the major worldwide sponsors of the Olympic Games are McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

 

As has been discussed on today's program, children especially are very susceptible to these mixed messages that this dichotomy presents. There have been many programs launched province-wide that aim to educate students in the public school system on healthy eating. The most well-known is the provincial initiative to pull out junk food from all public schools by 2009. As was mentioned on a previous show, the province has also started introducing a twice a week fruit and vegetable snack program for students. So the nutrition-based education and experiential learning is there - it's moving along. And my guest Jennifer Gibson touched on the very importance of this education.

 

But as my other guest Warren Nightingale mentioned, media literacy education is also an important lesson to provide children. When children are being taught to eat healthy and be more active, the images of the McDonald's Gold Medal Big Mac Meal in conjunction with sport and athletics can present a rather conflicting message to the susceptible mind of a child.

 

We will revist this topic on future broadcasts of Deconstructing Dinner.

 

If you are just tuning in, this is Deconstructing Dinner, a weekly program that discusses the impacts of our food choices on ourselves, our communities, and the planet. More info on the program can be found by visiting www.cjly.net/deconstructing dinner.

 

On today's show we are discussing the Olympics, and are deconstructing the role that both McDonald's and Coca-Cola play as worldwide sponsors of the games.

 

We've taken a look at this topic from a nutritional standpoint and from a media standpoint. But the role that these two companies play during the Olympic Games was very much in the spotlight during the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. The 2000 games were launched shortly after the IOC announced that the Olympics would add environment to the core values of the games, along with sport and culture. The Sydney games saw the introduction of many environmentally-friendly technologies. But Greenpeace was not satisfied. They revealed that leading Olympic sponsors McDonald's and Coca-Cola were undermining the official Environmental Guidelines for the world's first Green Games in Sydney. Greenpeace criticized the companies for their use of hydroflurocarbons or HFCs throughout the Olympic site.

 

What are HFCs - well they are chemicals invented as a substitute for CFCs and HCFCs which were proven to be ozone-destroying gases that are being phased out worldwide.

 

HFCs are mainly used in the refrigeration and air conditioning industry. But HFCs are one of the most potent global warming gases ever invented. They are manufactured by the same companies that made CFCs. On average over 20 years, one tonne of HFCs causes 3,300 times more climate change destruction than one tonne of carbon dioxide. In 1997 the United Nations Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change was extended to include HFCs. They identified them as potent greenhouse gases whose emission must be reduced by industrialized countries. According to United Nations projections for the year 2040, the global HFC market could reach 1.35 million tonnes per year - the equivalent of 15% of current fossil fuel emissions - the very emissions causing drastic changes to our climate.

 

In Denmark the Government will phase out HFCs by 2006 and has banned HFCs for commercial refrigeration equipment since 2003. The UK Government for example, wants to phase out HFCs as quickly as possible.

 

So how does this relate to the Olympics, and what made Greenpeace so eager to speak up. Well there were promises to the world community that the Sydney Games would be HFC-free, and companies like Coca-Cola only introduced 100 refrigeration units that were HFC free, and used over a thousand that were not.

 

So what is the alternative? Well in 1992 Greenpeace began a successful campaign to introduce Greenfreeze hydrocarbon technology into mass production for domestic fridges. Since then about 45 million Greenfreeze refrigerators have been manufactured and this Greenfreeze technology uses carbon dioxide as the refrigerant instead of CFCs or HFCs.

 

So this campaign that was launched and in the end it saw Olympic sponsor Coca-Cola meet their demands for a new refrigeration policy to reduce its impact on global climate change.

 

During the 2004 Games in Athens, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Unilever all banded together to form the Refrigerants Naturally initiative, designed to bring industry and groups together to move towards phasing out HFC-dependent refrigeration units worldwide.

 

And to demonstrate their commitment, during the Winter Games in Turin, Coca-Cola has deployed more than 1,000 beverage machines that are using carbon dioxide as a refrigerant, and not the environmentally-unfriendly HFCs. McDonald's has yet to do so.

 

For more information on the Refrigerants Naturally initiative, you can visit www.refridgerantsnaturally.com. And there will also be some more on the Deconstructing Dinner website.

 

ending theme

 

Jon Steinman: That was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded in the studios of Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant tonight Dianne Matenko. All of those affiliated with this station are volunteers, and financial support for this station is received through membership, donations and sponsorship from local businesses and organizations. Should you have any comments about tonight's show or want to learn more about the topics covered, you can visit the Deconstructing Dinner website at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.

 

Till next week…


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