The Mediterranean Diet Roundtable (MDR) rolled with success its fourth edition at the prestigious Yale University on June 25-26. Despite international trade uncertainty and recent critiques to some studies, the Mediterranean Diet’s benefits in terms of being healthy, delicious and sustainable are undeniable, as is the science supporting it. There is no doubt that, in our quest for an improved quality of life, the Mediterranean Diet reigns supreme.
Food and sustainability, environment and education, trade and policy: these were some of the topics discussed at the MDR 2018 Yale event. The different sessions, centered on a simple question: why the Mediterranean Diet has become so important in the United States today? “Because it is healthy, it is delicious and seductive. The list of the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage includes the Mediterranean Diet as its main value proposition,” said Rafi Taherian, AVP Yale Hospitality, during his welcome remarks, adding “Colleges and universities are important places where the food education has to take place. Here at Yale we believe in a community-based healthy food. We serve about 4 million meals every year, 14500 meals per day, educating palates as well as minds.”
The market for Mediterranean inspired food is growing, as shown by the encouraging statistics presented: since 2013, the purchased amount of legumes is increased by 65%, of grain by 150%, of olive oil by 72%, of pasta by 18%. “Our studies highlighted that this diet is one of the best in the world,” said Dr. David Katz, internationally acclaimed nutrition expert, leader of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “The secret of the Mediterranean Diet is to combine healthy elements in a balanced way,” he added. “This diet in America is going further and further, nobody can ignore this fact. We have a lot of work to do, but we are following the right path.”
Education was a central point at MDR 2018. Even in Europe, most individuals are unfamiliar with the specifics of the Mediterranean Diet.
“I dream a world where, even in London, people know the answer to the question ‘What is a polyphenol?’” said U.K. scholar, Simon Poole, adding “The roundtable is a great metaphor to make clear that we need to deliver these best practices outside of the academic world, to the population.”
“We need more community engagement, a new policy for the products and to keep pushing for educational activities in schools,” added Daniele Del Rio, Italian researcher at Parma University, explaining how the Italian schools are working on this topic, adding, “We have to stop thinking that punitive taxation of junk food is the constructive. Education is the answer.”
In addition to the powerful presentations provided by Professors Prokopios Magiatis and Dr. Eleni Mellioue, exploring the science behind the benefits of extra virgin olive oil, Professor John Wargo, of Yale University, highlighted the important and sometimes dramatic relationships between “responsible food” and environmental sensitivity. To close the first day of MDR 2018, four delegates from the United Nations Missions presented a governmental perspective on the Importance of the Mediterranean Diet to society, culture and state. Pablo Saavedra (Spain), Ambassador Inigo Lambertini (Italy), Ambassador Dionyssios Kalamvrezos (Greece), and Mr. Menelaos Menelaou (Cyprus) discussed why, from many points of view, the Mediterranean Diet lies at the heart of their societies. “We need to preserve our cultural heritage. The Mediterranean Diet is representative of who we are in the world and inside of our country,” explained Italian Ambassador Inigo Lambertini. “It is so important to coordinate the commercial and the legislative ends of our work. They are interlaced, and one cannot ignore the other.”
The second day of MDR 2018 was rich in trade and marketing insights. A solid panel, moderated by Ken Toong, Director of programs at the University of Massachusetts, a leading food service program in the country, illustrated how the Mediterranean cuisine offers health and authenticity, and brings great opportunity to food service operators. Huge industry icons such as Sodexo, Compass and U-Mass presented how their companies are being inspired in practical ways by the Mediterranean Diet to offer healthy, sustainable and delicious food to their respective audiences. An important insight was provided by Bob Bauer, president of the American Food industry. He explained the recent Food Safety Modernization Act, one of the biggest changes to U.S. food law in more than 70 years, which has been impacting every sector of the food industry. To understand trends, June Jo Lee gave an inspiring presentation about generational consumer behavior, with particular emphasis on future generation of eaters, their desires and aspirations, and how they want to participate in their food futures and cultures. After a brief presentation provided by Dr. Dina Rose, about engaging children in learning healthy eating habits, the event concluded with a prospective about the future of the MDR, which has been envisioned as a valuable trade portal in collaboration with the World Trade Center, presented by Jim Krzywicki.
As an integral part of the MDR, there were different tasting sessions. Chef Chris Kube led the first Flavor Exploration about the Mediterranean herbs and spices, followed by Larissa Irachetta, Director of Quality at Deoleo, in collaboration with the North American Olive Oil Association. Larissa, an award winning olive oil sommelier, guided the audience to discover the different qualities and nuances of precious olive oils, a cardinal ingredient in the Mediterranean cuisine.
The entire experience of MDR 2018 was informative and educational, but also a full immersion into the lifestyle of the Mediterranean concept. Yale Hospitality lived up to its tremendous reputation and displayed well its legendary capability of creating amazing culinary experiences, thanks to a collaborative team effort led by Rafi Taherian and Adam Millman. From the choice of the finest ingredients, the elegant menu choices, the exquisite décor, to the setting of Murray College, every aspect coalesced beautifully to create a truly memorable experience.
The MDR 2018 event has been made possible also thanks to the generous support of Bertolli Olive Oil, Barilla, Grana Padano, Agrino, PFG Springfield, Bonolio, Victory Garden, and Mediterranean Pita.
To learn more about the MDR concept and learn about upcoming meetings, please visit their website.