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From Panda to Plate to Podium


It’s time for the Olympics, a month long festival of human achievement. They are being held in one of the most bio diverse regions of the world. While we are spell bound by both the games and the location we need to stop and think about the fuel driving these athletes and supporters, how it impacts on the world and ourselves.

WWF-Brazil has been leading, for the last three years, an initiative called Rio Food Vision  that brings together over 30 partners to promote a sustainable food sourcing for the Olympics. Its mission is:

“Unite the efforts by the various sectors of society in order to promote sustainable and healthy food supply for the participants in the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, leaving a significant legacy in terms of improving the food sector in Brazil.”

Its goal is to use the Games as a catalyst for the improvement of the food sector – ensuring access to healthy and sustainable products, ethical, safe and varied origin.

Jose runs through the streets of Acre proudly holding the Olympic torch © Ariso Jardim, Acre GovJose runs through the streets of Acre proudly holding the Olympic torch © Ariso Jardim, Acre Gov

The Food Vision hopes to be an inspiration for governments, public institutions, businesses, civil society, and the general public – to build a legacy for healthy and sustainable food for the state of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil.

What does it cover?

The Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games will produce 14 million meals. All underpinned by the need to ensure the food is healthy, sustainable, safe and keeping with the principles of the Games. There are eight principles behind the vision and they cover food safety, traditional Brazilian foods, the need to source locally where possible and the food must be nutritious and balanced. It covers production and consumption with Principle 7 clearly identifying the environment.

Principle 7: Adhere to Rio 2016 sustainability commitments and strive to go above and beyond, achieving our aspirations for exemplary environmental consciousness.

Sustainable sourcing, the Amazon and the Cerrado and beyond.

The vision takes a systemic approach. As part of this how the food is sourced is vital. The Rio Sustainable Food Vision’s objectives are:

•  io provide Rio 2016 with a framework to source and supply healthy and sustainable food;

• to engage with stakeholders and the Government to strengthen the legacy of Rio 2016 by cultivating interest in sustainable food in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil.

The official Olympic policy for food and beverage demands, where possible and available, the purchasing of certified products. The main difficulty is that the Olympics will serve 14 million meals, and  it will not be possible to source  this amount whatever  of certified ingredients. However, it is important to have this commitment and to build on it to create demand and set in a benchmark for future competitions.

In Brazil you can clearly see the impacts of agriculture throughout the country. This is seen most famously in the Amazon. It spans the borders of eight countries. If the Amazon biome were a country, it would be the seventh largest in the world.

Areal shot of the Amazon © Andre Bartschi - WWF-CanonAreal shot of the Amazon © Andre Bartschi – WWF-Canon

WWF, with Sky Rainforest Rescue, worked in the Acre state of north-west Brazil to help save over 1 billion trees from deforestation. This is an area the size of Belgium and is home to jaguars, pink dolphins and scarlet macaws. This project  supported the Rio Food Vision as the progam recognised the importance of sustainable diets are part of any effort to tackle deforestation.

The impact has been even greater in the Cerrado, due to soy production, so we can eat cheap meat and dairy, whilst the Atlantic Forest has lost most of its orginal cover.
Cattle ranching and soy are the main causes of deforestation in Brazil and many family rely on these industries as sources of income.. The challenge  is how to produce food legally and using best environmental practice, whilst securing enough income to support families and provide nutritious food.

Sustainable diets and the food served at the Olympics area part of the solution,providing markets for new and  sustainably sourced foods. We do not expect everybody to become vegetarian to help save the rainforest but if people made small changes like eating more plants, it could all make a difference

Sustainable diets in Brazil meet Livewell

In 2014 Brazil updated its dietary guidelines and it is safe to say they are the first country to advocate a sustainable diet. The advice includes the usual important and oft ignored recommendations regarding the importance of eating vegetables and whole cereals, and of reducing consumption of foods rich in fats, salt and added sugars.

The guidelines have a Brazilian twist. They categorise food according to their level of processing. They state that more processing usually means more added fats, salts, sugar, and fewer whole foods. This undermines health objectives and it  generally entails more packaging and energy, which carries environmental costs.

Brazil nut collecting © Michael Gunther / WWF-UKBrazil nut collecting © Michael Gunther / WWF-UK

They even come up with a set of principles, which are broadly in line with WWF’s Livewell principles. With a clear message around the need to eat more plants, enjoy food, eat less processed foods and even be wary of marketing and advertising.

The 10 principles

1. Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet (like LiveWell it is about eating a great variety of foods,  mainly of plant origin including – cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, vegetables, fruits, nuts, milk, eggs, meat – and diversity within each type.)
2. Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations
3. Limit consumption of processed foods
4. Avoid consumption of ultra-processed foods
5. Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company
6. Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods
7. Develop, exercise and share cooking skills
8. Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life
9.Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals
10. Be wary of food advertising and marketing

The only things missing are references to moderating your meat consumption, which is probably tricky for Brazil, and wasting less food.  On the whole it says the same things as WWF’s Livewell work and this advice is key when providing food for an Olympian.

Jaguar in the Pantanal © Anthony B.Rath_WWFJaguar in the Pantanal © Anthony B.Rath_WWF


Success at the Olympics will lead to a legacy that builds on London 2012 and will benefit the games and Brazil . The government understands the need for sustainable diets, a food policy and sustainable sourcing. This is more than can be said for many other countries.

Enjoy the Olympics, support WWF’s work in Brazil, adopt a jaguar , engage with Livewell , eat more plants and think about food.

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