The Mediterranean Diet May Be Given UNESCO ‘Heritage’ Status


To the list of chefs, dietitians, and people who want to sell you things who extol the Mediterranean diet, we may be able to add UNESCO.

The Guardian reports that the organization will vote in November to decide if the diet should be added to its “intangible” cultural heritage list, which also includes oral traditions, festivals, and performing arts.

A spokesman for Coldiretti, an Italian farmers’ lobby group, said that the diet is in need of protection in its native countries, particularly Italy, where “parents are still in good shape, but their children are increasingly suffering from obesity. … There has been a complete break in eating habits from one generation to another.” The vote will follow four years of lobbying by Spain, Italy, Morocco, and Greece, whose first proposal was turned down in 2006. In addition to promoting the healthful aspects of the diet, which stresses fresh produce, olive oil, and grilled fish, the countries have stressed the diet’s cultural impact.

If UNESCO votes to afford the diet “intangible” cultural status, it will undoubtedly be a win for these Mediterranean countries, but what will it mean, exactly? What will such status protect? While the organization’s world heritage list can help to preserve ancient religious monuments and old castles, can it really do anything to protect the youth of Italy from American fast-food companies and hours of Internet surfing?

And, for that matter, how will “Mediterranean diet” be defined? Will its definition include the kebabs of Turkey and hummus of Israel and Lebanon? Or the incredible diversity of Italian cooking itself, whose customs and traditions vary widely from region to region?

Also, is UNESCO trying to give France a massive inferiority complex?

[Via The Food Section]

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