The Mediterranean Diet as UNESCO Cultural Heritage: Lifestyle

On November 16, 2010 The Mediterranean Diet was officially recognized as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.

When we use the term diet today, we speak of ways to lose weight, eliminating certain foods and arriving at a rigorously limited list of permitted foods, having excluded butter, pasta, fried foods etc. The Mediterranean Diet couldn’t be farther from this approach.

It is built on harmony with our body as well as with our fellow man, with those we find around us. Harmony with our environment, never demanding too much from our natural resources but taking what they provide. Eating in a healthy way is certainly part of the Mediterranean Diet, but the Diet in its entirety also includes a great deal of daily physical activity- just as the doctor of today recommend.

The ancient Greeks had this well sorted out: one had to eat well to live well, be happy at the table but never eat too much or exaggerate. Be at ease and gracious while always eating in the company of others, not alone. As Plutarch said, ‘when we sit at the table, we do not sit down to eat but to eat together’.

Additionally, the Greeks certainly would have expected their food to be clean and free from environmental contaminants, coming from the unspoilt and respected environment in which they lived. The Mediterranean Diet has been granted recognition by UNESCO for these ancient ways of living which still characterize parts of the modern Mediterranean.

When we talk about the Mediterranean Diet we should have in mind the true meaning of the word ‘diet’; or ‘diaita’ in ancient Greek which means ‘way of life’ and not just a way of eating. The term ‘diaita’ is in fact rich with meaning and can be found widely used in poetry and in operas, as an often repeated concept. The Greeks would speak of changing diet, but they were certainly not concerned about eliminating fatty foods. Rather they would be seeking a lifestyle change, a change that would bring a deeper meaning to their lives. Secondary meanings of the word ‘diaita’ include ‘place’ and ‘dwelling’, so it also means home or place of belonging; our habitat but also our habits. Furthermore, ‘diet’ also means rules, and was used to indicate a ship’s cabin from which the captain controls the ship’s voyage.

So it can be thought of as the way in which we regulate our conduct in life, the way we ensure our arrival at our next destination and the way we treat others during the journey. In its recognition of the Mediterranean Diet as intangible cultural heritage.

UNESCO has placed value in these concepts and has in a way sent a challenging message to the world imploring us to remember these ancient principles and use good practices in our modern world, respecting one another and the limited resources of our environment.