The Social and Cultural Value of the Mediterranean Diet: Conviviality

One of the core values of the Mediterranean Diet, a value recognized by UNESCO as part of the Mediterranean lifestyle, is conviviality.

Eating together is as important today as it was in the time of the ancient Greeks, when they gathered together in the symposium to eat. In fact it is no coincidence that one of the great works from Plato, a masterpiece of Western thought, is called ‘The Symposium”, and reflects on the sharing of nourishment. Plutarch, another Greek philosopher, said that we do not come to the table to eat; we come to the table to eat together.

This phrase has been repeated throughout history, but has never been more needed than today, when the frantic pace of modern life has replaced any consideration for this. We often eat alone quickly, facing the wall or the TV and thinking only of the things we must accomplish next.

In such scenarios even if we are eating the most nutritionally complete meal possible we cannot be fully nourished because we are lacking the fundamental element of social connection, sharing and giving, because food after all is a gift. We are also lacking hospitality, another core value of the Mediterranean lifestyle.

In the ancient Greek world, and even the Latin world though in a different way, hospitality was sacred because within every guest there could be a god hiding. In many myths, Zeus or other gods would appear as a guest or beggar and those that chased them away would be punished sorely, while those who treated them well and received them as brothers would be rewarded.

Hospitality is a fundamental value of the Mediterranean Diet as it is an opportunity for conviviality and social interaction. It has religious value as well, as Christ says in the Gospel, “I am a foreigner, I have come from afar and you have welcomed me”, while in other passages he refers to hospitality as ‘the yeast of life’, and ‘the salt of life’.

These are the intangible nutrients that are added to the act of eating and receiving nourishment. Conviviality and hospitality are the virtues of the Mediterranean Diet that UNESCO has rightly identified and protected. Now it is up to us to cultivate these values into our daily lives, improving personal relationships where possible and honoring our time together. Only when we are able to live the paradigm of the Mediterranean Diet will the message UNESCO has put forth be truly received. This challenge offers an opportunity to approach the future in a healthy, sustainable and respectful way.

Let us close by remembering the golden rule of the Mediterranean Diet: Never hesitate to add another place at the table.