In Spanish, it’s called the “Dieta Mediterránea”.
The first word, “dieta”, translates as “diet”. In one sense of the word, it means how and what you eat. That is a little different to the “diet” that everyone talks about in Japan, which means “ways of losing weight”. Of course, if there are diets to lose weight, there are also diets to gain weight, but in this instance, “diet” refers to a lifestyle revolving around what you eat that has long been practiced in a certain region.
It refers to the intake of nutrients required for humans to survive and an approach to culture that centers on what you eat. It starts with gathering ingredients and includes their cooking, preserving, everyday meals with the family, as well as shared meals where you share those occasions with your neighborhood and extended family for celebration. This is not just about what you put in your mouth. It also includes the crockery, the table arrangements, the stroll after the meal, siesta time, and on top of that, even the party where you play music and enjoy dancing to it.
Then there’s the next word, “Mediterráneo”. If you translate this as “Mediterranean Sea” you get “Mediterranean diet”, but “Mediterráneo” didn’t originally refer to the sea. The original Latin word means “center of the land”. Then, because of the location of this sea in the “center”, surrounded by land, “Mar” (“sea” in English) was added and “Mar Mediterráneo” came to be used as the name for the Mediterranean Sea.
If you put “dieta” and “Mediterránea” together, and translate it literally, you get “inland diet”, but that just gives you gobbledygook, and if you take it to mean the culinary culture of inland regions where there is no sea, then you would have no problem in labeling Szechuan cooking, Kentucky cooking, or Tochigi cooking as “Mediterranean diets”.
I could go on, but let’s leave the hair splitting and take a more straightforward approach to the “Mediterranean diet”, which has earned widespread acceptance, though not quite fully. The Mediterranean diet has been listed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage register because this excellent lifestyle revolving around food in various countries around the Mediterranean Sea is healthy. That was in 2013, but more than 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates, considered the father of medicine from ancient Greece and the model for doctors to this day, had already proposed the foundations for the Mediterranean diet, astutely perceiving the principle that both food and medicine heal the body and come from the same source: “Let the food you eat be your medicine. The medicine to keep your body healthy is in fact none other than your food.”
There are various aspects to this diet, but above all, the lead role is played by olive oil. Recently I read the story by our Reporter in Genoa, Patrizia Margherita, about the wonderful olive oil made in Liguria. The diet is based on olive oil because it contains many excellent properties. Or to put it in the eccentric manner of an older guy trying to look young: “What’s the feature item of a stylish diet that’s sustainable, healthy, and environmentally friendly?”
By the way, the cooking oils used in Japanese homes; salad oil, tempura oil, sesame oil, and so on, come from canola seed, soybean, sesame seed, sunflower seed, flax seed, corn, peanuts, and the rest, so they are mostly extracted from plant seeds. Olive oil, however, is what you could call olive “fruit juice”, pressed from the fruit, not the seed, and its health effects are already widely known.
Olives and their oil are one the top agricultural products of Spain and production volume is the highest in the world, so it’s only natural that Spain was the flag bearer for UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage registration. A central figure in registration was Dr. Juan Manuel Ruíz Liso, a great Spanish scholar and author of Encyclopedia of the Mediterranean Diet. He has researched the effect that eating habits and customs have on health among local communities, focusing on “the Mediterranean diet (lifestyle)”, and as the leader in the field in Spain he also rendered his services to the registration of Washoku (“traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese”) as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Spanish extra virgin olive oil
Encyclopedia and Dictionary of the Mediterranean Diet
Dr. Juan Manuel Ruíz Liso
I realize this is a useless addition, but there is another kind of vegetable oil pressed from fruit: palm oil from oil palms. Consumption in Japan ranks second after canola oil*, which means 5 kg are consumed a year per person in the country. We might like to think, “We don’t have any palm oil in our kitchen!”, but it is widely used, in potato chips, cup ramen, curry roux, pastries, and ice cream, even in soap and washing detergent, so it has a major presence in our daily lives.
* Eighty percent of palm oil is pressed from the fruit pulp of oil palms, and 20% is palm kernel oil from the kernel.
Well, that’s it for the word play. There is more to say on the topic of the Mediterranean diet, so I will report on it again at some time in future.