Italy is known for many things – the wine, the history, and home to the Vatican. But what Italy really wants to be known for is the food – specifically, the Mediterranean Diet.
According to recent reports, Italy has aggressively been pushing for the Mediterranean Diet to be officially recognized by Unesco, the UN’s culture and education agency, claiming that the diet reduces the risk of illnesses, including heart disease and cancer, and boosts life expectancy.
Unesco has recognized historical monuments and natural features, ie Stonehenge and the Great Barrier Reef, by giving them World Heritage status. However, just two years ago, the agency introduced the intangible heritage list, a status that has been granted to nearly 180 cultural treasures, including folk songs, endangered languages, religious rituals and traditional crafts.
The traditional Mediterranean Diet, which is supported by Italy, Greece, Spain, and Morocco, revolves around fresh fruit and vegetables, unrefined cereals, unsaturated fats like olive oil, and limited quantities of meat, dairy, and sugar. If the four countries are successful, they will be required to actively promote and protect traditional cooking methods and ingredients specific to the diet. Some say this status and subsequent promotion may be just the thing Italy and the other Mediterranean countries need to combat a growing obesity problem caused by people moving away from traditional diets and leading more sedentary lives and eating more prepackaged food.
Although Unesco has made no decision on the status of the Mediterranean Diet, Italian officials are fairly confident the diet will become part of the distinguished list.
“For Unesco this, along with the traditional knowledge passed down from generation to generation, is something unique in the world and worth safeguarding,” said Giancarlo Galan, Italy’s agricultural minister.
Unesco is scheduled to rule on the issue in November, but will have 58 total applicants to review for the intangible heritage list. And Italy is not the only country lobbying for its food to receive unique status. The French also have been lobbying hard to be recognized by Unesco, claiming their cuisine is the best gastronomy in the world.