IOW - Food, Glorious Food
Updated: Feb 21
As a vegetarian of over 12 years, when I first started going offshore there used to be very few choices for me and pretty much my diet existed of Omelette or chips and salad, and one trip to a shutdown barge I was told “You can have the sauce out of the chicken curry” – with bits of chicken floating in the sauce…. however, things have greatly improved over the years! I remember on another trip, after eating chips for far too many meals, my colleagues tried to suss out how fussy I was “Oh, I’m vegetarian”. They just looked at me, then said “you can tell the camp boss, he’ll make sure you have something more than chips.” It had never occurred to me to speak up before, after all, it’s my choice – as a woman in a predominately male environment, I certainly didn’t want to bring further attention to myself by declaring that I was not a carnivore. But the times have changed. I do speak up now, and on my most recent trip in January 2020 I had 2-3 vegetarian choices every meal, which was amazing, and I didn’t even have to request! During my last trip, I caught up with the Judy Platform Camp Boss, Archie, to chat all things food and why the teams are diversifying their food options…
Food is important. Food gives us energy, it helps our bodies, and our minds, recover, but its more than that. Food is part of many people’s culture, sewed deep within us; we seek comfort, inspiration, aspirations from our daily consumption. Food, for many, is joy - never underestimate the power of a packet of chocolate biscuits to help your work!
If you have dietary needs, this isn’t quite so straight forward.
If you’re worrying about what to eat, or you’re surviving on chips because nothing else fits in with your dietary needs; you’re not concentrating on the job at hand, and this, overtime, can cause physical, mental and wellbeing impacts on your own health, but can also make you a risk to yourself or others at the job site.
Meal choices of course do not always come from dietary requirements or the preference to be healthy. Religious reasons for meal choices are commonplace in society and it’s not uncommon to see Halal or Kosher meat choices on a menu, however, with the current demographic offshore this is less prevalent, and with increased vegetarian options, there is a nutritious workaround.
It can be difficult for those offshore during religious periods, for example, Ramadan. Ramadan is a period of fasting, reflection and prayer observed by Muslims worldwide. From Sunrise to Sunset the period of fasting is observed, this can be a very long day if you are in the Northern Hemisphere with daylight lasting over 12 hours. The fast is traditionally broken with a meal after sundown (called Iftar). If you are working offshore mealtimes are often set which could be difficult to work around. During a recent Ramadan festival, the Camp Boss on Judy set up a table and Iftar to accommodate the Muslim workforce who were offshore during the period.
Archie, of the Judy platform mentioned “A more diverse workforce creates opportunity to try out new meals and present more exciting choices if they’re being eaten, it’s a good thing”. Which sums up nicely changing attitudes within the North Sea.
Depending upon who you ask, the food offshore generally falls into two buckets “amazing” or “slop”. The tone of this tantalising review generally depends upon who you are speaking to, what the chefs are like and which Installation you are on. Co-ordinating meals for anywhere from 9 – 180 people can be a minefield, and traditionally the meal choices Offshore revolved around anything that was deep fried, severed with chips and beans, some form of hot traditional pudding with enough custard to drown your sorrows. Nowadays, people are embracing change, choosing to go the "meat free " a few days a week either for personal or ethical reasons; allergies and other dietary requirements plus with widespread healthy eating campaigns. Organisations have had to adapt too and this has promoted a big culture change with the way the offshore catering crews plan, budget, and present their meals.
The Camp Boss is normally the position who is charge of the Catering and Stewarding crews on most platforms, with menu choice responsibilities sitting between them and the Chefs onboard. With access to their onshore companywide menu systems, they have a large choice of recipes to choose from all of which include a full list of allergens and ingredients so they can confirm for the consumers.
It is meal planning on an industrial scale for the numbers you are servicing but let us not forget the added logistical difficulties that anyone who has worked in the North Sea would be aware of. You can’t just nip to the shop if you’ve forgotten the cumin for the carrot soup! Food is shipped out along with maintenance supplies once a week (for bigger platforms). Organisation and scheduling are critical; diversification of meal planning is therefore key.
There are 3 meal servings per shift, breakfast, lunch, and Dinner, typically with 3 or 4 meal choices per sitting, plus lighter options including cold salad bar, and soups. If you like a sweet treat, there is ALWAYS desert available. Let us also not forget the tea breaks; consisting of a bacon or egg roll in the morning or a “fancy piece” aka traybake in the afternoon, there is also a solid supply of fresh fruit available too. With 24-hour workings this service goes on both days and nights, which takes a small army to coordinate timings and the different types of food required!
During your induction, the Safety Advisor will mention you can speak to the camp boss if you’ve any allergens/dietary requirements. If this is, you I encourage you to Speak Up! There is an option to cater for you, you are not being awkward by saying something. The Camp Boss will ensure that an option is adjusted or an alternative is prepared accordingly.
Although at times change may seem slow or non-existent within the industry, I would argue it’s happening, albeit in a subtle way, through meal choices and the personnel you’re seeing offshore in comparison to just 10 years ago. All of which contribute to more inclusive environment, welcoming to a future diverse workforce, which ultimately leads us to a safer workplace for all.
This piece was written by Katy Crawford, and supported by Sarah Clark as part of the Inclusive Offshore Working project.