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Mediterranean Diet
18/11/2016

"The Mediterranean Diet was in danger of extinction"

Wikispanishfood editorial team

The concept was created in 1995 and the Association for the Development of the Mediterranean Diet was created in 1996, with a view to involving the private sector in this collaborative project. The Foundation was created one year later with a view to involving the public administration. The Foundation needs both the private and public sector.

Later in 1996, the First Conference on the Mediterranean Diet gave rise to the Barcelona Declaration to preserve eating habits, traditional agriculture, culture and the history of Mediterranean Basin towns.

The Mediterranean Diet Foundation is primarily focused on promoting the diet, and a lot of work remains to be done: research, studies on healthy living, and nutrition from the standpoint of production. The scientific expertise must also be disseminated, using new technologies and working together with the media. The Foundation promotes a lifestyle based on the Mediterranean Diet, which is tied not only to the consumption of certain foods, but also to the way in which those countries enjoy and live life.

The Foundation focuses on the must vulnerable sectors, such as young people, schoolchildren and the elderly.

It's governed by a Board of Trustees, comprised of members from privately-owned companies and public administrations, which represents the Mediterranean Diet Foundation. The Board works diligently to achieve the Foundation's objectives.

Since inception, the Foundation has experienced two fundamental phases. The first was prior to 2010, when the Mediterranean Diet was recognized by UNESCO as intangible heritage of humanity. This was a resounding success for Spain and helped ensure the preservation of the Diet, which we can say was in danger of extinction due to changes in consumption habits. As from 2010, the Mediterranean Diet Foundation entered a period of growth, increasing the number of trustees from 8 to 32, and it now includes a scientific committee led by Dr. Estruch who, through various studies, has made it possible to be able to talk about the Diet as a very interesting phenomenon for public health.

What does the Mediterranean Diet represent?

The Mediterranean Diet is a part of our heritage that's in danger. All Mediterranean civilizations have used the diet, intentionally or unknowingly, from Greece until today, and all of them have used the products they've been able to grow, which adapted to the climate and soil conditions.

Columela spoke about the triad of products that represent the Mediterranean and form the basis of the Mediterranean Diet: wine, oil and grains. It's not possible to understand the Mediterranean Diet without these products, nor can we understand ourselves as a society.

In the '50s, a study of seven countries (Italy, the Netherlands, the US, Greece, Japan, Yugoslavia and Finland) revealed a direct relationship between diet and its effect on people's health. It was discovered that coronary heart disease was less frequent in southern Europe. At that time, consumption habits still hadn't deviated from today's Mediterranean Diet.

At present, Dr. Estruch's PREDIMED study has included 7,000 volunteers at risk of coronary heart disease and it is consistently revealed that the Mediterranean Diet, supplemented with olive oil and nuts, reduces the chances of developing cardiovascular illnesses. This is one of the pillars of the Mediterranean Diet Foundation, and it's also easy to convey to people.

From an economic standpoint, the Mediterranean Diet also has an impact on the foodservice segment and on tourism. We are world leaders in terms of olive groves, vineyards and in legume production, because those crops have adapted well to our land.

In recent years, we've relegated consumption and production of legumes to a second plane, in part because the CAP didn't include aid for legumes when we joined the then-EEC. Of the legumes consumed in Spain, 20% are grown here and 80% are imported. Even so, their consumption continues to decline. However, fruits, vegetables and other Mediterranean crops aren't included in the CAP, yet they've been able to adapt.

Food is an industry that cannot be delocalized, especially when you're talking about cooperatives, since it has very close ties to the land and provides added value to the area and the rural environment.

New consumption habits are jeopardizing the Mediterranean Diet, since we're eating out more and we have little time to eat and to cook. For that reason, with a view to maintaining the Mediterranean Diet "alive", it's very important to invest in R&D and to produce pre-prepared ready-to-eat foods that meet consumers' needs, since we're actually lagging in this area.

Reaching the consumer

There are two sectors which are vital for promoting the Mediterranean Diet, even though they're not technically part of the food chain. One is the foodservice industry, which is the "face" of our gastronomy, and the other is tourism, an important sector in Spain that enables us to showcase our culture to the world.

Another tool we have for reaching consumers is guarantors of quality, an area in which interprofessional associations play an important role, such as those operating in the wine and oil segments.

The Mediterranean Diet is much more than food. It's also about healthy habits such as physical activity, which is included in the base of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, and maintaining a sense of community. The Mediterranean Diet is also about preserving the environment and the countryside as well as the production of different varieties, some of them in danger of extinction, which adapt well to the area and the soil.

Internationalization and dissemination

The four pillars on which the Mediterranean Diet Foundation's work is based are training, research, dissemination and communication.

The Foundation's various projects include Paralelo 40, a project aimed at connecting different places located along the 40th parallel which share historical, cultural and gastronomic ties. The scientific committee, led by Dr. Estruch, is working with eight different countries and continues to grow.

In Spain, the Foundation has a registry of products, activities, landscapes, trades and traditions in various regions which aim to document the heritage that has arisen from the Mediterranean lifestyle. To create proximity with consumers, restaurants are using the Mediterranean logo; at present there are more than 50 locals participating in this initiative. That number is expected to continue to grow, and the Foundation's activities are expected to extend to include all regions.

The Foundation has also created the Columela Awards, which will be presented in Toledo in 2017 for the first time. They will recognize producers of three of the most characteristic foods in our diet: oil, grains and wine.

Extract from a speech by Francisco Martínez Arroyo, Regional Minister for Agriculture, the Environment and Rural and President of the Mediterranean Diet Foundation.

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