Some say French food helped win the Paris climate agreement. In Glasgow, things are different.

The contrast is hard to miss at this summit. On offer: Scotch beef ramen, venison sausage rolls and “neeps and tatties.”,


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Some say French food helped win the Paris climate agreement. In Glasgow, things are different.

Delegates in the restaurant area of the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow last week.Credit…Daniel Leal-Olivas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Nov. 12, 2021, 2:59 p.m. ET

GLASGOW — Conventional wisdom says good food and drink can grease the way to a good deal.

The organizers of the international climate summit in Paris in 2015 took that to heart. Naturally, being French, they claimed their hot baguettes, buttery croissants and poulet a la persillade, washed down with French wine, helped to yield a landmark global accord.

The contrast is hard to miss in Glasgow. On offer here: Scotch beef ramen, venison sausage rolls, and “neeps and tatties.”

And after 13 days of back-to-back sessions, some of the negotiators, working late into the night, have taken matters into their own hands.

A pair of Canadian negotiators on Thursday night were rushing back to their windowless chamber holding boxes of takeout Dough Ball pizza. Some members of the American delegation had resorted to buying bread, peanut butter and jelly at a local market, then assembling sandwiches to sustain them through the summit. An Algerian negotiator was sticking to plain pizza from the on-site restaurant.

“This is under the standards,” Athmane Mehadji, the negotiator from Algeria, opined. “The best dishes are from the Mediterranean Sea.”

It’s hard to say if a strong menu can cook up a good deal.

But a 2016 research paper on gastrodiplomacy did find that eating a meal together improved social interactions between those who dine together, not to mention fewer hierarchical displays of dominance and submissiveness.

“In other words, agreeable behaviors were found to increase during meals, as compared to at other times,” it said.


Turnips and potatoes, called “neeps and tatties,” on offer at the COP26 cafeteria on Friday.Credit…Lisa Friedman/The New York Times

The conference venue has a cafeteria, a bar, and a string of “grab and go” food stands that have been open through dinner time. On Friday, a few of them were open all night, as negotiators prepared to stay indefinitely.

At lunchtime the other day, two observers from Ecuador wandered through the Conwy restaurant, examining the options. They went to the stand calling itself the Scottish Larder. They had never had the Scottish national dish, haggis, before, and didn’t know whether it was vegetarian or not. (Haggis is made from sheep heart, liver and lungs, though the cafeteria offers a vegetarian version as well.)

Paul Hannibal Sevilla Tinajero, a provincial official from Ecuador, eyed the menu board.

“I don’t know either ‘neeps and tatties.’ I don’t know those two words,” he said. (The menu explained it was turnips and potatoes.)

“Might be good?” he asked. He said he was an adventurous eater. But then he settled for the fish and chips, which he said he had tried before.

The U.S. transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, treated himself to haggis for breakfast during his visit to the summit this week and said he liked it. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Instagram to tout Irn-Bru, Scotland’s cherished soft drink. Bubble-gum flavored, it is also known to be a hangover cure.


Cans of Irn-Bru, the Scottish soft drink.Credit…Lisa Friedman/The New York Times

The menu boards at the summit prominently displayed the carbon footprint of each dish. Scotch beef ramen, with pickled root vegetables, had 3.0 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent, while pearl barley and root vegetable hotpot with marinated cabbage came in at 0.1 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent.

There are a lot of root vegetables. Not surprising, because 95 percent of the food served at COP26 is from Britain and, the summit organizers said, “largely sourced from Scotland” and seasonal.

There have been plenty of vegetarian options inside the venue eateries, from tempura broccoli to woodland mushroom risotto and a variety of sandwiches.

Food offerings at climate summits vary widely. The 2019 summit was held in a Madrid convention center with fast food chains on site and little else. The 2014 summit in Lima, Peru, had an outdoor pisco sour bar.

Mohamed Adow, an activist with Power Shift Africa, who has attended several of these international climate summits, rued that the food offerings have not sweetened the diplomacy this year, as was the case in Paris. “A hungry man is an angry man,” he said. “You start with good nutrition to have the deal making you need this process. We haven’t had that here.”

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