Biggest McDonald’s Ever Coming to the Olympics

As London pledges the greenest Olympics ever, McDonald’s plans a massive temporary restaurant that will serve visitors and athletes alike.

The term “Olympic athlete” evokes visions of lean muscles and powerful bodies: the pinnacle of human physical achievement, performing amazing feats of strength and endurance. We associate these fierce competitors with the utmost in human health, requiring untold hours of training and only the most nourishing foods. So it’s all the more jarring to hear that this year’s Olympics will see the construction of the world’s largest McDonald’s – which will run for only six weeks. And there will be another location in the Olympic Village, where the athletes will live.

From July 27th through September 9th, more than 50,000 Big Macs and 180,000 servings of fries are expected to flow out of a two-story, 32,000-square-foot McDonald’s with 1,500 seats. That’s about half the size of a football field. When the games are over, the oversized fast food restaurant will be torn down. It’s made of recyclable materials, at least – but that doesn’t do much to make up for the fact that McDonald’s represents the opposite of healthy, nourishing, performance-enhancing food.

McDonald’s has been an official sponsor of the Olympics since 1976, and has acted as the games’ official restaurant nine times. Doctors in the UK are less than thrilled about this year’s sponsorship, arguing that shilling fatty mass-produced junk food is sending the wrong message to a nation that’s dealing with ballooning obesity rates. McDonald’s expects to serve at least 300,000 patrons throughout the course of the games, and will be advertising extensively, with its logo plastered all over anything that’s Olympics-related.

The sponsorship means that McDonald’s will be the only branded food that’s sold within London’s Olympic Park, and to the athletes.

“It’s very sad that an event that celebrates the very best of athletic achievements should be sponsored by companies contributing to the obesity problem and unhealthy habits,” Terence Stephenson of the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges told MSNBC. “These brands are using the Olympics to be associated with medals and svelte, fit athletes,” he said. “They don’t want us to think of fat, unhealthy people when we think of their products.”

McDonald’s is clearly aware of the chance to gloss over its well-earned reputation as a major contributor to obesity and other health problems. The massive temporary location and two others planned for the park will give away nine million “activity toys” with Happy Meals, which will measure how many steps and jumps children take throughout each day, and will prominently display nutritional advice throughout the restaurant. Obviously there’s some irony in this, considering that a single meal of a burger, fries and a milkshake can easily exceed half of a grown man’s daily recommended calorie intake, and actual nutrition is severely lacking.

Applicants who want to snag one of the 2,000 jobs that will be available at the three McDonald’s locations for the games will have to go through a competition of their own. McDonald’s is holding Olympics-inspired, X Factor-style auditions to find potential employees with the best burger-schlepping skills.

The presence of this McDonald’s isn’t the only aspect of the Olympic Games that’s raising concerns about environmental and social impacts. Oil giant BP (British Petroleum) is among the major sponsors for 2012, leading organizations like the Commission for a Sustainable London to petition the organizers.

Olympics planners have made sustainability a major theme of this year’s games. In its bid to host the 2012 Olympics, London promised the greenest games ever, reducing or offsetting portion of the  326,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions that the events are expected to generate. It won’t be clear until at least September whether they achieve this goal, though they have made some progress already in areas like green building, public transit and waste reduction.

But no matter how green the London 2012 Olympics ultimately are, will it all be overshadowed by those towering golden arches?

Photo: pointnshoot

Stephanie Rogers

Stephanie Rogers currently resides in North Carolina where she covers a variety of green topics, from sustainability to food.