I saw a very interesting story today on the ANSA news agency's English-language website.
Italy is leading a campaign to ask UNESCO, the United Nation's educational and scientific organization, to recognize the Mediterranean diet.
Italy's agriculture Minister Paolo De Castro said Tuesday that Italy intended to join with Spain, Greece and Morocco in lobbying the UN body to add the Mediterranean diet to its World Heritage List.
De Castro was quoted as saying that the "Mediterranean diet is a heritage that should be protected and shared.''
Bravo to that, I say!
According to the minister, the Mediterranean diet has proven health properties because it ends to be low-fat and high-fibre, which helps people to protect themselves against such health problems as arthritis, obesity, diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease. Cereals, olive oil, certain fish, such as anchovy and tuna, and a high fruit and vegetable intake, including tomatoes, broccoli and blackberries, are thought to be among its important features
UNESCO's World Heritage List is best known for recognizing important historic and cultural sites, but apparently in recent years the UN body has opened its register to include ''intangible heritage'', such as endangered languages or vanishing traditions. It's this new opening that could be used to attain a UNESCO designation for the Mediterranean diet.
I think many of us, in discussions on Slow Travel and elsewhere, have noted that when we visit Italy we eat hearty but don't seem to gain weight. I've certainly noticed this after several trips and have often wondered why that is. I think part of it is the fact that in Italy, I seem to do a lot of walking -- more than I do at home. And in hill towns such as Perugia or Siena, the walks can sometimes be pretty steep! However, I do a lot of gym exercise at home as part of my daily routine, so I don't think all the holiday walking is the entire answer.
So I have often wondered if the type of food I eat in Italy makes the difference. It seems much more is fresh, not packaged or preserved. Olive oil is found in so many Italian dishes, yet here at home, I try to avoid fats and use artificial replacements such as low-fat or fat-free salad dressing that have an ingredient list that I can't begin to understand.
I don't know if I could prove my sense that Italian food, and the Mediterranean diet, is more healthy and less apt to turn to fat, would stand up to any scientific scrutiny. But I like to believe it. And it will be interesting if UNESCO feels the same way!