"Mediterranean" Diet Doesn't Mean Pasta and Pizza

I genuinely appreciate the efforts that people put out in the world to try to help people eat better and live a healthier life.  In my brief period of blogging I’ve already had some cases of things I’ve written been taken in ways I couldn’t have possibly imagined.  I therefore don’t want to be hypercritical in one of those “There’s Someone Wrong On the Internet!" kind of ways.  That being said, I’ve been driven crazy trying to find sources to lay out a legitimate Mediterranean diet.  I’ve managed to cobble together a bunch of recipes and ideas from a few books but I still get a little tweaked when I see yet another article on a “Mediterranean Diet” which is really just telling people to go eat big bowls of pasta and pizza…oh I’m sorry, flat bread. This Huffington Post article by Debbie Gisonni is the latest one to have me shaking my head.

Debbie is a Sicilian writer and owner of a relaxation center in California and wanted to write something which tied together her roots with the fact that May is Mediterranean Diet Month (yes the article isn’t new, just new to me). Growing up in a family with a modest income her family ate old world style: lots of vegetables (I could imagine a lot grown by themselves in summer), baked fishes, bean soups, tons of fresh herbs all washed down with a bit of wine.  They didn’t have a lot of money so didn’t eat a lot of meat. These features align well with what I see in the write-ups of legitimate Mediterranean diets of populations with greater longevity than average (so called Blue Zone areas).  So far so good, I was actually really craving the tastes of the foods she was talking about.  Unfortunately it quickly goes off the rails.

A common thing that you want to do when trying to introduce someone to a new way of eating is to make it approachable.  If you want someone to try sushi, it’s probably best not to start them off with the unagi (sea urchin) or raw giant clam.  If you want someone to try eating a Norsk diet, don’t start off with lutefisk.  In attempt to do this with the Mediterranean Diet, Debbie presents a pasta recipe.  That in and of itself isn’t really a problem.  People throughout the Mediterranean obviously eat pasta.  In a properly balanced whole foods Mediterranean Diet pasta will still turn out, it’s just not going to be the cornerstone of the diet.  The problem is what is in the recipe she chose.  Well actually what was missing.

Her incredibly simple, and honestly quite delicious sounding, recipe calls for nothing more than half a head of garlic, a bunch of olive oil, some seasoning, some grated Parmesan and a pound of pasta.  In no time you will have what seems to me to be a very delicious sauce that harkens back to some of what I also ate growing up.  The problem is there is nothing “Mediterranean Diet” about it.  It is certainly aligned with recipes from the region, but you could say the same for almond cookies, panna cotta and Eggplant Parmesan.  All delicious and tasty, but not the heart of a “Mediterranean Diet”.  Where were the vegetables and fresh herbs that were from her childhood.  To keep it approachable she could have kept it a pasta dish and just suggested some types of vegetables to add to the dish, like zucchini.  In fact I’d suggest perhaps offering a zucchini stew (spelled variably as Jambota, Giambotta or Ciambotta) which would be far closer to the Mediterranean Diet principles and still be approachable and tasty (albeit not as much as garlic, olive oil and pasta with freshly grated cheese on top).