France goes (a bit) veggie for Olympics

With France slowly weaning itself off its traditional obsession with meat, the top chefs in charge of feeding the sporting masses at the 2024 Olympic Games are emphasising a more vegetarian approach.

France goes (a bit) veggie for Olympics
French chef Akrame Benallal is one of three in charge of catering for the Athletes Village during the Paris 2024 Olympics. Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP

Michelin-starred chef Akrame Benallal serves plenty of steaks, burgers and other meat in his restaurants, but his flagship dish for the Games will be muesli with quinoa.

“When there are 40,000 meals per day, I don’t want anyone to be let down. I want people who eat kosher to eat with me, people who eat halal, the Christians and Buddhists too,” he said.

“It’s vegetables that unite everyone,” he added.

He is one of three award-winning chefs overseeing the French food for the 15,000 athletes of the Olympic Village next summer.

Another is Alexandre Mazzia, a former professional basketball player, who is offering recipes based around chickpeas, peas and smoked beetroot, and smoked fish with chard.

They are working with a big food group, Sodexo Live!, that is running the restaurants and has made it a key objective to reduce the carbon footprint of its menu and use less animal protein.

It claims that a third of the protein across its 500 dishes will come from vegetables, and one of its signature dishes will be a dal of green lentils from the Paris region with skyr (a type of yoghurt), coriander and corn oil.

French people on average consume 113 kilos of meat annually – more than most European countries and almost double the global average – according to Our World in Data.

But with the country committed to cutting its meat consumption for environmental reasons, the Olympics could mark a turning point, said food historian Loic Bienassis.

“Historically, there are no famous French dishes that don’t include meat. To say ‘Let’s do some French cuisine but cut out the meat’ is a major turnaround,” he said.

There will still be plenty of meat in the Olympic Village, of course.

The last of the three top French chefs is Amandine Chaignot, who has chosen guinea fowl with crayfish as her signature meal.

“Clearly, when we think of traditional French cuisine, we think more of ‘steak au poivre’ than quinoa risotto,” she joked.

But vegetables alone cannot meet all the needs of the world’s top sportspeople, said Helene Defrance, a medal-winning sailor and nutritionist who is on the athletes’ commission for 2024.

“Vegetarianism is a big trend… but it’s not something that we can impose on everyone,” she told AFP.

Pulses can be hard to digest and not everyone converts plant proteins effectively, she said.

But as Mazzia points out, their food is more for celebrating after the competition than during the build-up.

“I’m interested in everything related to kilocalories and the like, but that’s not what I’m here for,” he said.

“The important thing during the Games is to stop and take a moment to enjoy something totally different. I hope the athletes come to celebrate their medal victories with me.”

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Paris Olympics organisers deny athletes’ beds are ‘anti-sex’

They may be made of cardboard, but the beds at the athletes' village for this year's Paris Olympics have been chosen for their environmental credentials, not to prevent competitors having sex, organisers said.

Paris Olympics organisers deny athletes' beds are 'anti-sex'

The clarification came after fresh reports that the beds, manufactured by Japanese company Airweave and already used during the Tokyo 2020 Games, were to deter athletes from jumping under the covers together in the City of Love.

“We know the media has had a lot of fun with this story since Tokyo 2020, but for Paris 2024 the choice of these beds for the Olympic and Paralympic Village is primarily linked to a wider ambition to ensure minimal environmental impact and a second life for all equipment,” a spokesman for the Paris Games told AFP.

The bed bases are made from recycled cardboard, but during a demonstration in July last year Airweave founder Motokuni Takaoka jumped on one of them and stressed that they “can support several people on top”.

The Paris Games spokesman underlined that “the quality of the furniture has been rigorously tested to ensure it is robust, comfortable and appropriate for all the athletes who will use it, and who span a very broad range of body types – from gymnasts to judokas”.

The fully modular Airweave beds can be customised to accommodate long and large body sizes, with the mattresses — made out of resin fibre — available with different firmness levels.

After the Games, the bed frames will be recycled while the mattresses and pillows will be donated to schools or associations.

Athletes will sleep in single beds, two or three to a room, in the village, a newly built complex close to the main athletics stadium in a northern suburb of the capital.

A report this week in the New York Post tabloid entitled “‘Anti-sex’ beds have arrived at Paris Olympics” was reported by other media and widely circulated on social media.

Similar claims went viral before the Tokyo Olympics, sometimes fanned by athletes themselves.

To debunk them, Irish gymnast Rhys McClenaghan filmed a video of himself jumping repeatedly on a bed to demonstrate their solidity.

At those Games, during the coronavirus pandemic, organisers, however, urged athletes to “avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact”.

In March, Laurent Dalard, in charge of first aid and health services at Paris 2024, said around 200,000 condoms for men and 20,000 for women will be made available at the athletes’ village during the Games.