Monday, January 25, 2010

My Olympic Dream

Recently I've been seeing ads on TV promoting one of the 2010 Winter Olympics' major sponsors: McDonald's. I thought long and hard about linking to the McDonald's ads in this post, but I decided to do so not to promote McDonald's, but to let you view the ads yourself and form your own opinion. Click here to view the ads. I hate to sound preachy -- I am just stating my views based on my own reaction to these advertisements.

Major sponsors such as McDonald's and Coca Cola just don't make sense to me when promoting sport. In order to compete well, our athletes must be fueled with healthy food, not fast food and soda, laden in fat and sugar. I often wonder what percentage of the sponsored athlete's diet includes food or drink from their major sponsor. If it was fast-food heavy, I would hazard to guess that their performance might not be at its peak. When I say healthy food, I am talking about "real food" according to the likes of Michael Pollan. Locally grown, organic when possible, grown in the ground or raised naturally.

It is my Olympic Dream to see athletes shooting TV commercials for their future sponsors: farmers. Imagine a speedskater from Calgary, standing in an Alberta farmer's field with the farmer himself. She would talk about how the farmer's grass-fed beef gives her energy, the vegetables help her body stay healthy and the dairy and grains sustain her for many hours of practice.

This is an issue of money, as these corporate giants have the funds to support our athletes, so the athletes need to do their part and promote the sponsor. I just wish the system worked differently and provided a more honest message. Kids today might see these ads and think that a fast food breakfast sandwich will help them be a better hockey player, or a plate of fries will help them improve their snowboarding skills. The impact might not be this direct in the child's thinking, but what I mean is, they will think that fast food is a part of an athlete's lifestyle, which is something I just don't understand. In order to achieve top levels in sport, the body must be fed and nourished with healthy food. I don't have any studies to quote to support this, but I will take a chance that this statement is obvious common knowledge. McDonald's has been known to aim their marketing at children and I fear that this type of ad campaign will provide mixed messages. Kids today will be even more confused about the food they eat and how it relates to their well-being through advertisements such as these.

I also dream that the Olympic Village will offer more healthy choices to athletes while they're at the games. Now, I have never been to the Olympic Village, nor do I have a list of their vendors, however I am going by what I have learned from athletes' own words. For example, I'll never forget seeing Michael Phelps interviewed on late night TV, talking about eating McDonald's in the Olympic Village in Beijing. Now, one might argue that obviously this food didn't affect his performance as he literally blew his competition out of the water; however, it is the principle I am discussing. Perhaps Michael Phelps burned off the calories quickly because of the sheer amount of muscle mass he possesses, I don't know -- I do not claim to be an expert on how fast food affects an athlete's body. I do know a bit about how fast food affects an average person's body -- I think we all do -- and I can't see it having any value to the athlete and their performance.

If we support our local farmers and food producers, perhaps someday this dream of a partnership between elite athletes and local farmers might become a reality. I know this is a big dream, but I think if we all choose consciously, we can affect change and start seeing different ads for Olympic Games in the future. After all, ask any Olympian and they might agree: you have to dream big to achieve your goals.

If anyone has any information on current initiatives that are going on to help create this change, please comment below and let me know! I don't claim to be fully and completely educated on some of the topics I write about -- I can only say that I am a concerned citizen who is always learning and I merely had a strong reaction to these commercials.


  1. Hi Heather - First of all, it was great meeting you at the Fuschia Factory networking event the other day! Secondly, I am so pleased you blogged about this topic! I was just commenting to my friends about the commercials with athletes promoting McDonalds and I have the same feeling on this subject as you do! It's very disappointing indeed! Did you write into the media channels yet? I think you could get some good dialogue going on this!

  2. Thanks, Deborah! Glad to hear I am not the only one who feels this way. I am sending an email your way.

  3. Your last sentence said it all...dream big to achieve your will take a while to change our world to where farmers are appreciated and paid like fast food giants but the effort will be worth the wait. Too long now have we been influenced by slick advertising and convenience foods rather than getting back to basics. I am sure the athletes at Olympic level rarely eat fast foods but solely promote them for the sake of financial support.Their diets focus on proteins, vitamins and mineral to enhance their performances rather than fats, salts and sugars.Good blog.

  4. Thanks, Francie! Lets hope our Olympic athletes are fueling up with local and organic food so they can win lots of medals for Canada!

  5. Heather, I share your concerns. I discussed this issue with my husband a litte while ago, and he wondered who else has the big money needed to provide these kinds of sponsorships. Not many, sadly.

    I would cite another example of this kind of junk food advertising: the Gatorade commercials during the World Junior Hockey Championships. I was sad to hear the boys on the Canadian team extolling the virtues of these sugary drinks during games and practice. As recreational but competitive-level athlete, I know that there are much better sources of energy and that whole foods get the better results than those drinks.

  6. Thanks, Mers -- glad to hear more people are thinking about this!