The Social and Cultural Sustainability of the Mediterranean Diet

This video lesson focuses on the socio-cultural sustainability of the Mediterranean Diet.

The Mediterranean Diet is a way of life; a complex system of shared knowledge localized in a particular geographic region where biodiversity, food production, nutrition, economy and cultural rituals are closely linked. For its value as a way of life, the Mediterranean Diet was recognized and protected by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010.

The Mediterranean Diet has been identified as a model example of a ‘sustainable diet’. The concept of sustainable diets was the focus of an International Scientific Symposium hosted by the FAO entitled “Biodiversity and Sustainable Diets Against Hunger”, the aim of which was to give an agreed upon definition to the term ‘sustainable diet’.

A sustainable diet, according to the consensus resulting from this symposium, is a diet with a low environmental impact that contributes to food security while being affordable, accessible, nutritionally adequate and optimizing natural and human resources.

So what then is meant by the socio-cultural sustainability of the Mediterranean Diet? It can be understood as the capacity of the social and cultural factors that characterize the Mediterranean lifestyle to maintain their value in a given projection of time.

An international seminar was held at the CHIEAM/IAMB of Bari in November of 2011, addressing this very topic: the sustainability of the Mediterranean Diet. The task of this seminar was to assess the Diet’s sustainability from a methodological point of view with regards to each of the Diet’s four main dimensions: environmental, nutritional, economic and socio-cultural. using the new Pyramid of the Mediterranean Diet (revised in 2010) and taking into account the official definition of a ‘sustainable Diet’.

Regarding the socio-cultural dimension of the Diet, a National Research Council working group was given the task of identifying indicators that could be used to evaluate and measure the socio-cultural significance of the Mediterranean Diet. Four indicators were identified, two of which in the social sphere and two in the cultural sphere. Indicators in the social sphere included the ability of the Mediterranean Diet to bring people together and sustain relationships, and active consumer participation in the preparation of food.

Cultural indicators, on the other hand, included levels of awareness regarding the value of food, and the passing on of knowledge and traditions related to the production of food but also to lifestyle in general from generation to generation. This study of indicators, especially those of social and cultural nature, is in a preliminary phase and will be further developed.