The 2014 FIFA World Cup has seen Brazilian government lavishly spend millions of dollars in an effort to gloss over the nations’ extreme poverty and miserable living conditions. As Brazilians were joining furious street protests and spectators all over the world decided to support their cause by boycotting the championship, one could clearly see the potential of big international occasions to convey important political and social messages. Mundial may well be the biggest sporting event of the year, but not the only one whose social and environmental impacts are worth questioning. The oldest and arguably most prestigious tennis tournament is currently underway with hundreds of thousands of spectators attending the All England Lawn Tennis Club to watch Wimbledon. Unsurprisingly, the amount of food and drinks consumed during the Wimbledon fortnight is anything but insignificant – indeed, food facts and figures revealed by the championship officials are, to say the least, impressive. In the current consumption climate where individual consumers are encouraged to take personal responsibility for the impact of their food decisions, every large-scale public event can be rightly expected to carefully consider its food sourcing choices. In an attempt to reveal the ethics behind this year’s championship, I looked at coffee and bottled water as the top two most sold items as well as strawberries – the Wimbledon’s classic.
The event organizers pride themselves on serving the best quality local strawberries handpicked the day before to ensure freshness (which is supposed to justify the price of £2.5 for ten berries with a splash of cream), but it is the LEAF claim that has drawn my attention. LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) is a UK-based farming charity promoting environmentally responsible agricultural practices. One of its key focus areas is to connect the public and food growers through a national network of demonstration farms that are open to visitors interested in knowing where their food comes from. The LEAF Marque logo distinguishes produce that has been grown with respect to the environment – responsible use of pesticides, preserving wildlife habitats, and waste recycling are some of the pivotal principles upheld by the assurance scheme. What’s most exciting is that LEAF allows you to meet your food grower – the online tracking tool enables consumers to find out exactly where and by whom their LEAF labelled food was produced. Individual portions of strawberries served at the tournament will not of course come with the label, but the fact that all strawberries are LEAF-assured should give ethical consumers piece of mind over the famous Wimbledon-theme treat.
The Championships’ choice of coffee, however, does not live up to the highest ethical standards. The fact that Lavazza, the world’s No 1 single product coffee company, was chosen as the official coffee of the tournament means that for the fourth consecutive year no fair trade beans have cleared a path to the Wimbledon grounds. A quick look on the Ethical Consumer’s guide reveals the brand’s mediocre ethical performance – it is left behind by 17 other coffees that would represent a more responsible choice. To be fair though, Lavazza got the same score as some fair trade coffees and comes just after presumably highly ethical Traidcraft. Although reluctant to join the growing fair trade movement, Lavazza embraces the idea of sustainable production through The ¡Tierra! Project – a joint initiative with the Rainforest Alliance that currently focuses on fostering social and economic development in three coffee growing communities in India, Brazil and Tanzania. However, neither the Tierra nor the Rainforest Alliance logo mean that farmers receive a minimum or guaranteed price for their produce which makes Lavazza’s ethical standards not on a par with the FairTrade certification. Devoted fair trade supporters cannot even bring their own coffees and teas – Thermos flasks have been banned by the Wimbledon officials for security reasons.
Finally, the choice of Evian as The Championships’ official bottled water (which is hardly a sustainable product anyway) also leaves much to be desired when it comes to the brand’s ethical performance. Scoring poor 4.5 out of possible 20 on the Ethical Consumer’s league table, Evian is well-known among mindful shoppers for its irresponsible environmental and social practices (a more detailed guide to the ethics of bottled water here). To sum up, consumption choices imposed on visitors by this year’s championship are not quite as ethical as one might have expected in the country which claims to be “a world leader for Fairtrade” and whose own domestic bottled water brands score incomparably higher on the Ethical Company Index than Danone-owned Evian. Looks like strawberries is the most responsible food choice on the Wimbledon grounds – if you can afford it, of course.