WOMEN AND THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET. BEYOND EMPOWERMENT
When talking of ‘Diet’, food comes to mind. Nevertheless, the Mediterranean Diet is much more than just food . It identifies a culture, a system of values which nestles in families. Here women are true spokesmen of the Mediterranean Diet.
UNESCO reads: ‘The Mediterranean diet involves a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food. Eating together is the foundation of the cultural identity and continuity of communities throughout the Mediterranean basin. It is a moment of social exchange and communication, an affirmation and renewal of family, group or community identity. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes values of hospitality, neighbourliness, intercultural dialogue and creativity, and a way of life guided by respect for diversity. It plays a vital role in cultural spaces, festivals and celebrations, bringing together people of all ages, conditions and social classes. It includes the craftsmanship and production of traditional receptacles for the transport, preservation and consumption of food, including ceramic plates and glasses. Women play an important role in transmitting knowledge of the Mediterranean diet: they safeguard its techniques, respect seasonal rhythms and festive events, and transmit the values of the element to new generations. Markets also play a key role as spaces for cultivating and transmitting the Mediterranean diet during the daily practice of exchange, agreement and mutual respect’
A lot of the Mediterranean approach to life is funded on the way of making food. Food has a lot to do with social aggregations, local traditions, celebrations and patron’s feasts, during which all houses smell with sweets and delicious traditional recipes: babbà, test’I muort, nacatole, are just few examples of conservative and innovative Mediterranean Diet sweet recipes.
In 2012 UNICEF conducted a survey about how children are fed in Italy and about how mothers influence their choices. A very interesting result came up: mothers with good education and scholarization avoided to buy junk food (sweets, snacks, etc) preferring to spend more for better quality and healthy food. Even when being working mothers, they would choose good products and interact with children when traditions and local celebrations become a topic. On the contrary, not-working and not-scholarized mothers (especially with economic problems) would choose junk food, both because less expensive and because less informed about how to choose.
Nevertheless, women play a great role in keeping traditions alive, by cooking and by providing food for their families. They look after the children, teach them about their family’s history, help girls and boys to grow up by focusing on specific roles in society. They tell ‘the roots’ and breed the ‘feeling that I belong…’. Southern Mediterranean women are often ‘hidden’ directors in social life. Sometimes in an overwhelming way, they breed sons (not daughters…!) as princes and sons consider their mothers as queens!
When coming to the Mediterranean hospitality industry, women are expected to be main characters: many of them are real good hotel managers, hard workers (often more than men) strongly supportive of the local sense of place. No matter social pressure and antique beliefs about their role, they are true activists in protecting local customs and habits and in sharing them with their guests. When it comes to home and food, when it comes to local traditions and cultural heritage, women are usually better performers. By nature. Beyond empowerment.
(graphics by Valia Barriello, Andrea Marchetti, Martina Ranieli)