The Mediterranean Diet Roundtable is an inspirational and networking conference, where scientists and Food Industry leaders discuss dietary trends in America. An elite gathering, the MDR has attracted hundreds of professionals from all over the U.S. and the Mediterranean Countries.
Ready to roll its fourth edition: regarded as one of the most exclusive events in the Food Industry, the MDR will offer once again the possibility of tasting and learning about products distinctive of the Mediterranean Diet, while networking and getting inspired. The two half-day conferences will be held at the prestigious Yale University in New Haven on June 25-26. Total Food Service had an opportunity to speak with Daniela Puglielli of Accent PR, the Mediterranean Diet Roundtable organizer, to learn more about this exciting conference.
Can you share a little info on your background with our readers?
I am a strategic public relations expert, with a Master’s Degree in Communications from the University of Turin (Italy). Because of family choices, we moved to the United States 22 years ago. Since then, I’ve been one of the forces promoting the recognition and appreciation of authentic artisanal producers of wine, travel, fashion and lifestyle, as well as the “Made in Italy” concept.
Can you tell us about Accent PR? What were you doing or whom were you representing at Accent that led to the creation of the Mediterranean Diet Roundtable Conference?
I started my career as a professional pianist before completing my studies in communications. My very own “maestro” and mentors would always ask me to organize concerts, promotions, etc. Therefore, from a very young age I was planning and executing special events, and it became my second nature. After moving to the United States, I noticed a lack of a multidisciplinary approach towards Italian culture. In the food landscape, for example, there has always been a price-driven motive for success, rather than a pursuit or investigation of the real nature and performance of the food products themselves. It became obvious to me that the very essence of Italy was not really accessible to mainstream. Accessibility, therefore, became the focus of my research. I discovered that different ethnic groups (Greek, Turkish, Spanish) were experiencing the same restrictions on cultural exposure as Italy, being confined mostly to their own ethnic groups.
When I realized that the lack of representation also led to bad eating patterns and habits, I decided to do my part in exploring alternatives. I discovered that there was a huge market opportunity for an immense basin of products. Since I’m Italian, it was not necessary for me to “study” the Mediterranean Diet and lifestyle. To Italians, it is the only way to eat and live! The same can be said for other countries in the Mediterranean area. But, I needed a “value,” a perk, a reason to embrace such a culinary journey. The benefits of the Mediterranean Diet are so well documented that it was a “no brainer” to build a concept around it. And today, we have the Mediterranean Diet Roundtable, a thought leadership program that inspires commercial and non-commercial food services, as well as any operator in the food industry, to explore the benefits and products that are typical of the Mediterranean Diet.
The major challenge, however, is to learn the proper manufacturing processes that don’t compromise the actual organoleptic profile of the product, often, commercial treatments, procedures and processes can negatively affect the final product. In the United States, one person out of three is obese or overweight. In ALL of the Mediterranean Countries, this is not the case. To me, the obesity problem, alone, is a strong motivating factor to look at ways to improve this situation. It is good to be able to offer ethical choices that might benefit the end-consumer.
Walk us through the selection of Yale and New Haven as a location for the event? What was the role of the truly visionary Rafi Taherian in the event?
Yale is an Ivy League university and a beacon of leadership and innovation. The dining program is no different, and Rafi is a driving force in the landscape of food service. At the event, he will be the host, but he will also allow us to experience the cuisine, and the choices he and his team made to position Yale Hospitality as a leading dining program.
Can you share some of the highlights of the agenda?
We have outstanding speakers that will provide the vision of what we do: Rafi has already been mentioned. In addition, Dr. David Katz will be a presenter. He is one of the most recognized nutritional experts on the planet, and, while not a “fanatic” of the Mediterranean Diet per se, he is a proponent of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, which is in harmony with our mission. Prof. John Wargo, will discuss the way in which certain choices for producing and packaging food affect the product. Bob Bauer, the president of the American Food Industry Association, will disclose important information about recent FSMA regulations and what importers, distributors, and brokers of products from foreign countries must do to be in compliance with these regulations. Then there will be important insights about the generational consumers’ behavior, provided by food ethnographer June Jo Lee. Also to be presented by Greek experts Prokopios Magiatis and Eleni Melliou are “not-to- be-missed” studies on how to appreciate olive oil and determine its quality. In addition, we will announce a very important joint initiative with the World Trade Center: the launch of a portal for trade! There will be guided tastings and presentations with a “specific country” focus, as well as information on best practices in distribution, presented by Sodexo and Compass among others. It will be a very rich program encompassing a fantastic network!
Who will attend the Mediterranean Diet Roundtable? Is there something for a vendor: food broker/distributor?
We try to keep the attendance between 100 to 120 people. This number, given the importance of the presenters, really provides an opportunity to allow attendees to connect and interact with each other. Researchers, nutritionists, importers, distributors, brokers, people who are looking to launch a career in the food business, insurance companies, franchising concepts, vendors and anybody who wants to learn more about the Mediterranean Diet from leading sources and not from books or from a distance, would benefit from attending.
Where was the Mediterranean Diet Roundtable last year? What were some of the takeaways from last year’s event?
Last year’s conference was in Boston, guests of the University of Massachusetts, ranked #1 dining program for colleges and universities by the Princeton Review. Ken Toong, its Director, and Rafi Taherian continue to be strong supporters of what we are trying to do.
The takeaways are somewhat intangible, since it is more about getting a holistic vision of a certain topic, rather than getting a seminar about learning to manufacture cheese! It is more of a wakeup call, or a mentoring, in order to see the food industry as a kaleidoscope of opportunities, while learning from inspiring leaders and promoting one’s own business or brand. It’s a think tank, a movement, and a learning experience. It’s similar to learning that “a tomato is a fruit but not usually used in a fruit salad”. Those sorts of things!
There is a seminar that will focus with the Science and Sense of the Mediterranean Diet. Who are some of the panelists that will share their thoughts?
Our scientific panel, composed of the legendary Dr. David Katz and other international panelists who share a strong vision about Diet: Dr. Simon Poole (UK) describing his introduction of the Mediterranean Diet in the UK; Prof. Daniele Del Rio (Italy) proposing the application of the Mediterranean Diet in schools, Dr. Christina Economos (Tufts University) discussing programs to prevent childhood obesity. Stellar panelists, as always.
Our eyes were caught by the terms “nutraceutical” / anti-inflammatory. How long have they been talking points? What’s the message behind this?
Nutraceutical is the future. It is about functional foods and how to use the natural properties of certain foods to gain health benefits. It’s becoming a big field! In November, we will be guests of a major nutraceutical conference in Rome, Italy. It is the next step in this industry: come and learn!
What is your goal for The Future of Responsible Food: Challenges and Opportunities?
The Mediterranean Diet is not only healthy and delicious; it is also sustainable. This panel will illustrate the way in which certain choices that producers make, impact/benefit the end-consumer in different ways. While it is not an easy task, it is necessary to make those working in the food industry aware of such choices. By putting together, in the same room, the Food Industry Association, a direct link to the FDA, professors at Yale and other leading universities around the world, giants in the food distribution system such as Sodexo and Compass, it is inevitable that an interaction and collaboration can and will occur. We have nurtured and fostered several collaborations among our very own speakers. These are the effects of the MDR that we hope to achieve.
You have a very special Mediterranean Gala on the agenda. Who will be cooking? What will be on the menu?
This will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the offering of Yale Hospitality. After all, I am a public relations specialist, and a lifestyle event was long overdue.
For more information on the Mediterranean Diet Roundtable, sponsorship opportunities and registration please visit the Mediterranean Diet Roundtable website or call (908) 212 7846.