Judith Klinger
June 2, 2016

The Mediterranean Diet was officially declared an “Intangible Cultural Heritage” by UNESCO in 2013. The media immediately seized on that tidbit to declare that this miraculous 'diet' could prevent heart disease, cancer, help you live longer, make your skin youthful and absolutely improve your sex life. Whatever health benefit you could possibly desire is tucked away somewhere in the marketing of the “Mediterranean Diet”.

We recently made our annual pilgrimage from New York back to Italy, and I’m going to categorically state you cannot eat in ‘the Mediterranean way’ unless you actually live near the Mediterranean. I swear, immediately upon landing in Rome’s god awful Fiumicino airport, our diet improved. As long as you count a good cappuccino as part of the Med Diet.

The next day we went grocery shopping to fill our empty kitchen.

The sheer variety of vegetables, at an affordable prices, was like being let loose in the candy store. We’re at the tail end of spring peas and fava season, and sadly the artichokes were over. But there was raddichio, green beans, multiple kinds of onions, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers and even some decent tomatoes already coming out of Sicily that made my heart sing.

Fresh eggs

We’re also back in the land of fresh eggs.

There is no comparison whatsoever between fresh eggs and U.S. ‘cage free’ eggs. These fresh eggs come in all different sizes, the yokes are varying shades of warm marigold, and the flavor is robust. Our friend Quinto just gave us a bagful of eggs. Here, they are a welcome and respected gift. Can you imagine going to dinner at a friend’s house in the States & handing them a carton of eggs as a gift??

Zuppa del Verziere
Zuppa del Verziere

I pour olive oil on everything, with abandon. There are multiple bottles in my kitchen, with very different flavors. Some come from our friend’s trees, which makes them even more of a treat to use. And yes, they can be ‘expensive’, but not mind-boggling, just mindfully expensive.

Lentils, farro, and beans are an everyday occurrence. Not a food trend.

Our neighbor Sergio served a big red bean the other day, and it literally tasted like it had soft mashed potatoes inside. It was delicious!

The Mediterranean diet involves a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food.-UNESCO

And there is fish. Not as much as before, and it costs more, but fresh and delicious. I couldn’t wait to eat those tiny fish that are either fried whole or grilled.

You would need to be a very rich person to eat like this in the States.

If you could even find the products and produce.  I’m not simply singing the praises of Italian ingredients; I’m arguing that you cannot export this ‘diet’. That’s because it’s not a diet, it is very much a life style and does not marry well with the abundance of season-less prepared and convenience foods that are taking over the supermarket offerings. And the Mediterranean diet in the winter months is as lean as you would expect: lots of potatoes and grains and a paucity of fresh vegetables.

Which is not to say you shouldn’t try to eat fresh and healthy (whatever healthy means), but it is saying that if you want to eat Mediterranean then you need to live close by. It’s as simple as that.

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