Emblematic Communities for the Mediterranean Diet: Their role in preserving the intangible cultural asset of humanity which can be set as a “steam-engine” as well as a catalyst for social and economic development.

The 2010 inscription of the Mediterranean Diet in UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and the later enlargement process in 2013, gave the opportunity to the countries that supported the nomination as well as the Emblematic Communities to communicate their national and local culture to the world.

Agros from Cyprus, Chefchaouen from Morocco, Cilento from Italy, the islands Hvar and Brac from Croatia, Koroni from Greece, Soria from Spain and Tavira from Portugal were not selected at random by the competent ministries of culture and rural development, but chiefly because they are models of local communities in which both the representation of traditional structures of agriculture, customs and local natural food products and all other manifestations of social life are accompanied by a “rich table”.

The term “Mediterranean Diet” expresses the dietary model of the people who live around the Mediterranean basin and is synonymous with healthy eating, longevity and low rates of heart attacks and cancer. This dietary model, based on the Mediterranean trilogy products: wheat, olives and grapes, together with their by-products (flour, olive-oil, wine), constitutes the main features of the Mediterranean countries’ diet and their civilization.

The transnational nomination of the Mediterranean Diet in the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage resulted from the common belief that people living around the Mediterranean basin have developed over the years a food culture with common characteristics. Thus, the Mediterranean Diet was consolidated as an integrated and multidimensional asset, constituted by its local agricultural products, production methods, rural landscape, its climate and its soil, dietary habits, and all manifestations of social life, culture, customs and traditions.

The Mediterranean Diet should and must constitute a core development tool, that expresses a particular and unique way of life and it develops a part of the Greek wealth (historic, social and culture) which shapes it. Relationship between the development and the highlighting of the Mediterranean Diet, as intangible cultural heritage and in relation to the sustainable development should be reconstructed. The challenge nowadays is to connect the aforesaid in such terms and conditions, so as to form a new relation between society and nature.  The Mediterranean Diet is a heritage that is constantly recreated; in other words it is part of the human creative force to exceed its era and to create bridges for the future.   

The recognition of the Mediterranean Diet from UNESCO has certain economic benefits, since:

  1. It gives the opportunity to highlight local crops;
  2. It could function as an effective means for promoting local agricultural products, which compose the basis of the Mediterranean Diet, such as olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes and wine, and
  3. It contributes to the promotion and the economic development of our country. 

The Mediterranean Diet as a cultural asset, primarily, can and should be in the official service of the economic development, in a way that does not trivialize culture but on the contrary enhances it. Denying this fact and attaching to outdated perceptions on this issue, deprives societies from an important development resource and simultaneously leads to obsolescence as well as to destruction of the cultural heritage itself. Secondly, in modern conceptions of economic development, the cultural heritage is recognized as “steam-engine” as well as catalyst of economic and social development. In this case, the challenge is the successful incorporation of the management of the cultural heritage in the economic and social environment with an effective framework for managing the change. Thirdly, international experience is rich in examples where the successful implementation of this new approach – i.e. the economic value of the cultural heritage- reversed the decline and led to economic and social reconstruction.    

The Mediterranean Diet, as part of our cultural heritage, is the “gold egg” and may become an incredible source of wealth. In times of deep economic recession, we have to consider that Europe is much larger and deeper than euro or its internal market. History has taught us that economic crisis came and left. In this context, our cultural heritage and all that we have inherited and the way that we shall bequeath them to future generations, are the same things that remind us of the links which connect our past, our present and our future. Culture is not a luxury, but a blessing that requires enhancement. Now a unique opportunity presents itself to develop culture, connecting it directly to agricultural development and to tourism in order to create a highly dynamic and a complex model of development.

Promoting Mediterranean Diet as an integral element of our common intangible cultural heritage, encouraging intercultural dialogue among the countries that submitted the transnational nomination of the Mediterranean Diet to UNESCO and diffusing the whole project all over the world, will result in the creation of multiple benefits which reflect the growing prospect of our countries.

In conclusion, the people’s connection to their history and their culture, offers them the best opportunity for self awareness, finding their place in the flow of time and determining their own future.

Vicky Inglezou

Director of the Maniatakeion Foundation

Collaborator to the Mayor of the Emblematic Community of Koroni

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