Is Spain's diet a world treasure?

Spain is leading a bid, to persuade the UN education and culture body UNESCO to put the Mediterranean diet on the world heritage list.

by: Reuters: Sarah Morris | 03 Jun 2008

In Madrid's popular Santa Ana square, tourists can't get enough of plates of sliced mature Manchego cheese, cold meats and cured ham, and of course rings of fried, battered squid.

But what's on offer – served with hunks of white baguette – isn't so appetizing for vegetarians or anyone looking for the five daily portions of fruit and vegetables many nutritionists recommend for healthy living.

"I love the food here but it's not exactly your five-a-day," said Susie Goodall, a 28-year-old British immigration consultant enjoying a glass of red wine in one of the square's bars.

The Spanish government, however, says what it describes as the Mediterranean diet is so good, so healthy and historical it should be promoted throughout the world.

It is leading a bid – joined by Italy, Greece and Morocco – to persuade the UN education and culture body UNESCO to put the Mediterranean diet on the world heritage list.

If Spain gets its way, the Mediterranean diet could join the intangible cultural heritage list, alongside the Festival of the Dead in Mexico and the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. It would also provide another way of marketing, even more profitably, Spanish products such as olive oil, ham and wine.

Defining the Mediterranean diet
Organisations promote the Mediterranean diet which is typically defined as one with polyunsaturated fats like olive oil rather than butter and margarine, lots of pulses, vegetables, and unrefined cereals, some fish, moderate amounts of dairy products and low amounts of meat and sugar.

In Spain, though, meat is on the table in abundance. At lunchtime, blackboards outside bars and restaurants across the country announce set menus to feed hungry workers.

Favourites are fried pork chops, beef steaks or chicken breasts, usually served with chips and a miniature salad garnish. Fish is usually fried rather than the baked dishes featured in so many Mediterranean cookbooks the world over.

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