Exactly what is the Mediterranean Diet anyway?

The Mediterranean is a huge body of water bordering many countries with just as many food traditions. Defining the “Mediterranean Diet” is more than tricky. Check out this quote:

In Europe and the United States, the so-called Mediterranean diet — rich in olive oil, whole grains, fish, fruits and vegetables and wine — is a multibillion-dollar global brand, encompassing everything from hummus to package trips to Italy, where “enogastronomic tourism” rakes in as much as five billion euros a year. Studies at Harvard and elsewhere correlate the Mediterranean diet with lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and depression. In America, health gurus like Mehmet Oz exhort followers to “eat like a Greek.” But according to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Mediterranean people have some of the worst diets in Europe, and the Greeks are the fattest: about 75 percent of the Greek population is overweight. So if the Mediterranean diet is not what people in the Mediterranean eat, then what is it?

Hmmm… interesting thought, eh?

The Mediterranean diet was always a composite. Spaniards love pork; Egyptians, as a rule, do not. In some regions, people made pesto with lard, not olive oil. “There is no such thing called the Mediterranean diet; there are Mediterranean diets,” says Rami Zurayk, an agriculture professor at the American University in Beirut. “They share some commonalities — there is a lot of fruits and vegetables, there is a lot of fresh produce in them, they are eaten in small dishes, there is less meat in them. These are common characteristics, but there are many different Mediterranean diets.”

The healthy versions of these diets do have one other thing in common: they are what the Italians called “cucina povera,” the “food of the poor.” In Ancel Keys’s day, Mediterraneans ate lentils instead of meat because they had no choice. “A lot of it is to do with poverty, not geography,” says Sami Zubaida, a leading scholar on food and culture.

Lentils instead of meat? Sounds plant based to me. This is a fascinating read. Thanks to Jeff Novick for the heads up.

Check it out here.

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