The Mediterranean Diet: The Pathway to UNESCO Recognition

Registering a cultural element in the Representative List of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity involves a lengthy and rather arduous process. Particularly in the initial phases, a great deal of active participation on behalf of the community affiliated with the element nominated is fundamental. Governmental participation is required as well, particularly during negotiations with the intergovernmental committee (the executive body established in the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage) which determines whether an element will be accepted or denied.

The Mediterranean Diet represents a unique situation as it involves several different nations. In 2010, the countries affiliated with the Mediterranean Diet were Italy, Spain, Greece and Morocco, but in 2013 these were expanded in to include Portugal, Croatia and Cyprus. Individual communities within each of these countries have been identified and given the responsibility of safeguarding and promoting the Mediterranean Diet. These communities are as follows: Cilento and Pollica in Italy; Soria in Spain; Koroni in Greece and Chefchaouen in Morocco. To these were then added Tavira in Portugal; the Brač and Hvar Islands in Croatia; and Agros in Cyprus in 2013.

The Mediterranean Diet’s route to becoming an official UNESCO cultural element began in 2007 with a joint statement made by Italy’s then Minister of Agriculture, Paolo De Castro, and his Spanish counterpart, both of whom had decided to dedicate themselves to the Mediterranean Diet’s UNESCO candidacy.

Under Spanish leadership, the first nomination file was completed in 2008 in collaboration with Italy, Greece and Morocco. However, this first attempt was not met favorably by UNESCO’s evaluations committee, whose rejection of the nomination was primarily based on insufficient evidence regarding the Diet’s cultural significance and the absence of specific communities chosen to assume safeguarding responsibility.

The latter of these shortcomings was resolved with the 2010 Chefchaouen Declaration, in which seven emblematic communities were identified. Shortly after this, a second attempt at nominating the Mediterranean Diet, this time under Italian leadership, was successful.

On November 16, 2010 the Intergovernmental Committee in Nairobi unanimously declared the Mediterranean Diet an accepted element of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage program, along with two other candidates: Traditional French Mexican cuisine.

However, the Mediterranean Diet’s UNESCO nomination process did not end in 2010. Additional countries affiliated with a given cultural element may nominate themselves to share the responsibility and benefits that UNESCO recognition brings. In 2011 efforts began in expanding the Mediterranean Diet’s UNESCO status to include Portugal, Croatia and Cyprus. This request was approved in 2013 by the Intergovernmental Committee in Baku, Azerbaijan, and from this point on the Mediterranean Diet as a UNESCO cultural element has been shared by a total of seven countries: Italy, Spain, Greece, Morocco, Portugal, Croatia and Cyprus.