Mediterranean diet recommended by European Union to UNESCO


(eTN) – The European Union (EU) supported the proposal of the Spanish government to recognize the Mediterranean diet among the World Heritage list of UNESCO. The recommendation must be ratified by the Executive Committee of the Convention on Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, meeting in Nairobi from November 14-19, 2010.

The dossier filed by Spain and Italy in 2007, followed by the accession of Greece and Morocco, is considered to have been successfully concluded. Following the strong satisfaction of the President of Commagri (Commerce and Agriculture) of Europarliament Paolo De Castro, who as a minister in 2007, he filed the application for Italy.

Just like the lagoon of Venice, the Trulli of Alberobello, Machu Picchu, Notre Dame, the Statue of Liberty, or the Great Barrier Reef, the Mediterranean diet has been entered on the UNESCO World Heritage list for its historic value and because this model in lifestyle and food for good health benefits has been scientifically proven.

The Zapatero government initiative has tremendous value for Italy – the country’s symbol of this type of cuisine and where the food culture based on the principles of the Mediterranean diet is mostly rooted with records achieved in the main basic products such as fruit, vegetables, and pasta, as well as the place of honor in the EU for wine and olive oil, respectively, behind France and Spain.

The Mediterranean diet is in fact based on the consumption of foods rich in fiber (cereals, legumes, fruits, and vegetables), olive oil, and fish, and is widely recognized as a healthy and nutritious diet, known to fight cellular aging and cardiovascular disease.

Bread, pasta, fruit, vegetable, olives, and the traditional glass of wine at regular meals enabled Italians to win the record for longevity (also attributed to increased consumption of garlic) with an average life of 77.2 years for men and 82.8 years for women, well above the European average. As stated by the president of the Italian Agriculture Confederation (Coldiretti).

In Europe, the Italians are winners, continued Coldiretti. They hold the rank of being the least fat, with the best fitness among all European citizens, thanks to their food consumption based on the Mediterranean diet, which ensure the best balance between weight and height, calculated in accordance with the body-mass index.

The Italian, with a average height of 1.681 meters, is less than a couple of inches shorter than the European average of 1.699, but Italians have an average weight of 68.7 kilos, well below the EU average of 72.2 kilos, which guarantees the prime ranking of the body-mass index (weight/height) compared with 0.408 to 0.425, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey on health and nutrition of the European Commission.

If the observance of the principles of the Mediterranean diet has saved adults, problems were detected for the new generations so that cases of overweight or obesity affects 36 percent of the boys around ten years of age, the highest value within the European Union where an estimated 400 thousand children every year lose their fitness and over 14 million young people are considered overweight (of which three million of them are obese). Introducing the Mediterranean diet in the list of cultural heritage and intangible heritage of UNESCO is, therefore, also an opportunity for its wider dissemination to the benefit of the health of all citizens.

This is an opportunity to uphold defending the identity and characteristics of the traditional staples of the Mediterranean diet. To meet this end, the following should be compulsory: (a) the indication of the products on the labels; and (b) stopping Italy’s plans to produce olives, grapes, tomatoes, eggplant, strawberries, cherries, citrus, kiwi, and more, using genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which also causes economic damage and irreparable damage to the image of the Made in Italy brand.

The Mediterranean diet has been a part of the cultural, historical, social, territorial, and national environment for many centuries and is closely linked to the lifestyle of the Mediterranean peoples throughout their history. The characteristic products of the Mediterranean diet meets the most emblematic products of “Made in Italy,” and their economic weight in the national food production is extremely high.

“It’s a great success for our country, our food traditions, and our culture,” said the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Giancarlo Galan, adding: “The Mediterranean diet is a sustainable lifestyle based on eating local produce in convivial moments with family or friends. To UNESCO, this set of food practices, knowledge, and traditional skills passed down from generation to generation, is something unique and must be safeguarded and enhanced. The positive assessment of UNESCO shows that at [an] international level, food and agriculture are synonymous with culture and should be valued [the] same to material goods.”

“With this award,” continued Minister Galan, “UNESCO invites us to deal with an archaic concept of culture linked to the materiality of the items and invites us to reflect on that intangible assets, also made up of traditions and practices of food, of which our country can be proud in the world. I wish to thank the experts of the ministry that in recent years have worked with passion and competence and achieved a result as significant.”

The prestigious UNESCO list, which includes intangible items considered unique in the world, consists of 166 elements (including the Tango and Chinese calligraphy) of which there are only two Italians: the Sicilian Puppet Theatre and the sining Sardinian Tenor. The Mediterranean diet, finally approved, is the third Italian element.

The final decision of UNESCO has gratified the Italian politicians involved in the proposal submitted, especially the Minister Giancarlo Galan and the commissioner of food resources to the Apulia region (the undisputed cradle of the Mediterranean diet), Dario Stephen.