I was born and live in Athens, Greece. In Greece and in the Mediterranean cultures in general, eating is regarded as something over and above the psychological need for energy and survival and represents a daily opportunity for social exchange and communication.
In 2010, UNESCO acknowledged the Mediterranean diet as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, described as follows: “The Mediterranean diet, from the Greek work ‘dieta’, which means a way of life, or lifestyle. It is a set of skills, knowledge, rituals and traditions ranging from the landscape to the table. Ιt offers a simple cuisine, rich in colors, aromas, tastes and memories which support the spirit of those who lived in harmony with nature. The Mediterranean people have always seen this in their land, their lives. Most of the products of their diet come from the soil; their diet is characterized by a high consumption of fruits, vegetables and grains, along with a moderate intake of meat, oil and wine. Eating together is the foundation of the cultural identity and continuity throughout the Mediterranean basin.”(Dermini et al., 2016). The Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet and is not only the set but also the cultural model, incorporating the whole food chain in the way that foods are selected, produced, processed and distributed to the consumers.
Sharing food in the company of family and friends around the table represents social support and a sense of community. The pleasure associated with the conviviality of meals affects food behavior and in return, health status. Also, culinary activities such as cooking, or crafts associated with food, are the basis for the social reproduction of identity and culture.
When people eat alone, they eat too quickly, often to avoid the discomfort of unwanted emotions or thoughts. Eating alone is associated with negative impacts on both body and mind. Feelings of happiness and relaxation have been widely reported when eating involves interaction. Social interaction is important not just for the pleasure it brings, but also for the impact on the type of food consumed.
In a mindful eating workshop, I asked the participants to bring a favorite food. Although in most cases people usually bring sweets (usually chocolate) or a variety of salty snacks, there was an exception. In this workshop, one person brought with her, bread. At the end of the workshop, she came to me and kindly offered to me a piece of that bread, saying: “Τhis is a special bread created from whole-wheat flour and many kinds of seeds. The flour was created by a lovely friend of mine, who has passed away”.
Through such simple behavior, the whole concept of mindful eating was revealed: nourishment of the ingredients, the intimacy with the process and the people, the compassionate way of sharing with others. Every single bite is a moment of re-connection with our needs, and with others. Every bite happens in the present moment, but also includes the past and the future.
Τhe deep essence of our lives depends on the depth of our relationship with others. This is an important part of the Mediterranean way of living. It is an expression of sociability and a connection between villages and individuals, an integrative element of communities within nature and history.
The Mediterranean diet is the art of eating well, the art of living well. Every single bite could be possibly transformed into a journey from the heart to the earth and back.
So, what do you think? …Can a piece of bread bring peace to our lives?… Have you ever wondered why the words Mediterranean and meditation have a common “med” root? … Could the acronym “MED” stand for mindful eating diet?
Konstantinos Zervos. Greece
Dernini, S., Berry, E. M., Serra-Majem, L., La Vecchia, C., Capone, R., Medina, F. X., Aranceta-Bartrina, J., et al. (2017). Med Diet 4.0: the Mediterranean diet with four sustainable benefits. Public Health Nutrition, 20(7), 1322–1330. Cambridge University Press.
Lorraine Brown, John Edwards, Heather Hartwell, (2013) “Eating and emotion: focusing on the lunchtime meal”, British Food Journal, Vol. 115 Issue: 2, pp.196-208, https://doi.org/10.1108/00070701311302186