The Mediterranean diet and the intangible cultural heritage deception.

Just because a few people get together in a closed room representing narrow self interest and agree to redefine the Mediterranean Diet into an intangible cultural heritage does not make it a fact. It is their opinion. This opinion however is not simply part of a private conversation among friends. It is an official designation by UNESCO. This has a very specific and very tangible effect. It turns tradition, heritage and common sense on its head and de-legitimizes the Mediterranean Diet at its core.

The image of the Diet pyramid above represents the adaptation of the basic tenets of the Mediterranean diet to the availability of ingredients and taste preferences in North America. Wine and olive oil maintain their prominent position. This is a very valid and noteworthy attempt to shift the eating habits of North Americans into making more healthy choices. Thank you to the Harvard School of Public Health, for making the Mediterranean diet the most popular and most talked about diet in America.

Change of meaning

UNESCO by redefining the Mediterranean diet as an intangible cultural heritage changes its basic meaning. These two words Mediterranean Diet are very specific on their own right and even more specific when written together as in Mediterranean Diet. They have specific meaning. UNESCO representatives from one small city in Greece (Koroni) and a village in Cyprus (Agros) did not seek other combination of words to symbolize a commonality of food preparation and consumption within the general Mediterranean area and beyond. The description of this intangible asset is so general and watered down that it could and does include countries outside the Mediterranean and could even include countries as far away as China. By a simple common agreement, Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Croatia, Cyprus and Greece were declared as countries that exemplify the Mediterranean Diet as an intangible cultural heritage of the world.

Food is not part of the inntangible Mediterranean diet


I wrote to the Greek representative at the ministry of culture in Athens and I was astounded to be told that food was not part of this Mediterranean Diet intangible designation. Mediterranean is the name of the sea, diet means a selection of food that is supposed to provide nourishment but not always because there are junk food diets, there are muscle building diets there are weight loss diets, starvation diets and on and on….  So, I will agree with UNESCO representatives that diet may be considered as intangible when the word used on its own and it that it does not represent specific foods ingredients.
But when used as a title as they have done it dilutes the meaning of Mediterranean Diet and redefines it as an intangible cultural heritage.

This is a self-declaration with an unknown or shall I say “intangible” reason or logic. It comes down to how a few small cities or villages within these countries view themselves and how the other small villages also agreed. This is the case with Koroni representing Greece and Agros representing Cyprus

When I pressed further I was told that “it seems that you do not have the necessary education in culture, archaeology and social sciences to grasp the concept. You should stick to what you know…” Basically stick to olive oil and leave this to the experts.

Intangible vs the tangible

It does not take a great deal of education to understand that one of these countries has little in common with the Mediterranean Diet and social life. Moroccan culture uses very little olive oil and drinking of wine is forbidden by religious beliefs. Portuguese culture has a closer relationship with the Mediterranean Diet but they are not in the Mediterranean Sea. Austria is closer to the Mediterranean than Portugal. This distorted view of the Mediterranean Diet, is a flagrant disregard for the use of language and grammar. It is also a way to dilute the differences between cultures into an intangible and over-boiled stew in a melting pot whose individual ingredients are no longer recognized or acknowledged….

The basis of the definition of Mediterranean Diet as an intangible cultural heritage has nothing to do with diet or culture. There is a vague definition relating to the social aspect of eating together, of the sharing of food, animal husbandry, knowledge of food preparation being preserved and passed on from one generation to another by women, but is that not the case with the vast majority of traditional cultures on the planet?

We may all be equal but we are not the same

In a rush to find intangible commonalities we surrendering our individual cultural heritage. The Mediterranean Diet is already under attack by the opportunists jumping on the bandwagon of gastronomy and health. It was already being diluted out of existence and UNESCO has made it into an intangible as if to preserve the idea since the substance is already practically destroyed under the weight of the competing kitchen warriors… Making into an intangible asset however, does not preserve it; it guarantees its extinction as a health protecting and health promoting diet and way of cultural experience.

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