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16/11/2016

"We must restore the dietary patterns we've always had"

Manel González. Journalist

Francisco Martínez Arroyo, Minister for Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Development for the Castile-La Mancha Regional Government, was named President of the Mediterranean Diet Foundation after a unanimous vote by the Board of Trustees. Wikispanishfood discusses the Foundation's short- and medium-term objectives with him.

Manel González.- First, congratulations you on your appointment. It seems that you are truly committed to the Mediterranean Diet, as we've seen with the actions you've been implementing in recent months. What's the reasoning behind that commitment?

Francisco Martínez Arroyo.- It's essentially a commitment by the regional government to the Mediterranean Diet, which is part of our culture and in which all of our agri-food products are represented. In Castile-La Mancha we have a very broad range of products which covers almost the entire Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, and we must shine a light on them. We think it's a good idea for Castile-La Mancha to be part of the Mediterranean Diet Foundation, and of course, for me, it's an honor to be President. We're going to work in favor of companies and the agri-food industry in Castile-La Mancha, and of course for all agri-food companies in Spain, so that they can leverage the demand for the Mediterranean Diet from an economic standpoint, but also in terms of raising awareness about the nutritional and healthy values this diet offers.

M. G.- The Foundation has gone through several phases and seems like it hasn't really got off the ground in recent years. What are you going to do to fix this during your mandate?

F. M. A.- The Foundation is beginning a new and exciting era. The most recent Board of Trustees had the chance to convey the excitement Castile-La Mancha feels in being part of it, and even more so in undertaking its presidency. We're going to focus on promotion, which is what we have to do. Promotion so people get to know the Foundation, so that there are an increasing number of public administrations and companies, so that there are a growing number of actions which have a positive impact on the profitability of Spain's agri-food industry.

M. G.- Who currently comprises the Foundation?

F. M. A.- The Foundation comprises public administrations. At present three regions are trustees: Catalonia, Cantabria and Castile-La Mancha, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment (MAGRAMA), and Designations of Origin, Geographic Indications and personally-owned companies. I believe it's a good mix of companies with quality members and the government. It's a combination that has to have an effect on the agri-food industry's profitability and, in the end, on the future viability of farmers and stockbreeders in Spain.

M. G.- There are other institutions that are also working on this issue, in Andalusia and in other regions. How are you planning on uniting your common interests with a view to working together?

F. M. A.- I think it's important to work as a team. In these situations, you have to have as global an approach as possible; that's what's best for everyone. There are other institutions, such as the Andalusian one, that are working in favor of the Mediterranean Diet and I'm certain that we're going to reach agreements and that we're going to be able to cooperate and leverage synergies.

The Mediterranean Diet Foundation has a national focus, and with that it's important to work for all producers, for all agri-food companies in Spain and, in particular, to address all citizens so they know how to value the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet and that it was recognized by UNESCO.

I believe we have the opportunity to reach more places and to become known not just nationally but also internationally, and to be the global ambassadors for the Mediterranean Diet.

M. G.- Every day we hear people say that the Mediterranean Diet is more than a dietary pattern, it's a way of life. Do you believe that Spaniards follow the diet correctly? What kinds of improvements can be made in this regard?

F. M. A.- I believe there's a lot of room for improvement. In the last few decades, we've lost some of our habits, and we have to restore them. These include former Spanish dietary patterns, such as, for example, moderate consumption of wine. Our consumption is very low and we must increase it, for many reasons, but in particular because wine is a vital part of our Mediterranean Diet and it's part of our culture.

Just like oil, a product that has seen great strides in production in recent decades. We increasingly consume more and better oil, and that's because the sector has known exactly how to organize itself. The Mediterranean Diet Foundation must help these initiatives go above and beyond, and convey the diet's cultural, nutritional and healthy values.

M. G.- What do you believe should be the focus of actions rolled out by the Foundation, and why?

F. M. A.- I believe that all of society has to be aware of everything the Mediterranean Diet offers, but we definitely have to focus especially on young people. We have to teach them and raise awareness among them about the Mediterranean Diet; in the end, they're the consumers of the future. They're going to be adults, buying food for their families, and they will have an impact on whether their children understand what the diet's about and that it represents us as a country and as a European region.

M. G.- What does the new Mediterranean Diet Pyramid look like? What are the most notable changes?

F. M. A.- The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid includes all products related to the diet. It's very representative of who we are culturally and the nutritional values we want the diet to represent.

I would also mention wine, in particular. Wine is included in the Pyramid, with a focus on moderate consumption, which is important for countries where alcohol consumption is not tradition. However, in Spain and in other European Union countries, wine is considered a vital part of the Pyramid.

M. G.- For anyone who believes only coastal regions are contributors, what does Castile-La Mancha represent in the Mediterranean Diet?

F. M. A.- Castile-La Mancha has a lot to offer. There are very few regions in Spain and Europe that can boast about having all of the products included in the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. I would dare to say that nowhere in the world is there a more representative region than Castile-La Mancha.

M. G.- The Foundation announced the 2017 Columela Awards in Toledo. What are they going to recognize?

F. M. A.- The Columela Awards aim to recognize those products that are most committed to the values of the Mediterranean Diet as well as leading companies in the bread, oil and wine segments. This is another project that aims to grow the Foundation.

M. G.- Why is there a seal for Mediterranean restaurants?

F. M. A.- Certification of restaurants with a MedDiet seal provides added value and an international focus on those whose menus are based on real Mediterranean cuisine made with seasonal, local, quality ingredients. According to the regional government, 38 restaurants have already been accredited with this distinct seal in Castile-La Mancha, along with the culinary school. There are 7 in Ciudad Real, 4 in Albacete and 2 in Cuenca. Five more will soon get their seal in Guadalajara.

M. G.- What other projects is the Foundation working on?

F. M. A.-We have come to an agreement with Enrico Lupi, President of the Italian Association of Olive Oil Towns, on a cross-border project that highlights the importance of the Mediterranean Diet. In this regard, Castile-La Mancha is going to be the Spanish region to participate in this project, representing the Mediterranean Diet.

We're going to link farmers' economic activity with the foodservice industry, gastronomy and household consumption and we're going to try to organize it so higher quality products, i.e. those with Designations of Origin and Protected Geographic Indications, use the distinct Mediterranean Diet logo. This is what we're working on. We've started with olive oil DOs, and from there we will extend the project to include other DOs and PGIs.

This diet affects not only the coastal Mediterranean regions, but also countries that are part of the Mediterranean Basin and which, historically, have had ties to other products. There are products which are very important and symbolic. The two most important are probably oil and wine. Castile-La Mancha is the Spanish region with the greatest wine production and the second in Spain and in the world with the largest oil production. This is sufficient evidence to convey what this region represents, and we are very interested in growing its role in the future.

M. G.- What are some of Castile-La Mancha's other major contributions?

F. M. A.- I would also mention the importance of pulses in the Mediterranean Diet, as it is the International Year of Pulses. They're another top product, which represents many countries in the Mediterranean Basin very well and which plays a very important role in the Pyramid.

Castile-La Mancha has a very notable pulse production, for both human and animal consumption. We are one of the regions with the highest production levels. For us, it's a vital crop.

With pulses, oil and wine, we provide the most representative elements of the Mediterranean Diet, all of which are very important from an economic standpoint in the region.

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