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Sustaining intercultural dialogue through a better understanding of Mediterranean food

BY MOHAMMED TAFRAOUTI *

 The Moroccan Club for Environment and Development, in collaboration with the Mediterranean Information Office for Environment, Culture and Sustainable Development (MIO-ECSDE) and Anna Lindh, recently organized a virtual scientific seminar, which discussed the prospects for promoting intercultural dialogue through a good understanding of food in the  Mediterranean region.


The Forum provided an opportunity to present the various cultural characteristics and food cultural heritage shared by the Mediterranean countries in the framework of the project «Sustaining intercultural dialogue through a better understanding of Mediterranean food ” (SIDUMEF).
The Forum was moderated by Mr.Youssef Khayyat, Secretary of the Moroccan Club for Environment and Development, highlighting the importance of the Forum’s focus.

The Mediterranean diet is included in UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.  Mediterranean food and diet have remained, over years, as exchange “ products “ between cultures, And it has always become a bridge for communication and cross-fertilization of civilizations.  However, most educational resources deal with health aspects, but ignoring the intercultural dialogue aspect.

 There are efforts made to create a new open educational resources in order to promote awareness among teachers, youth and citizens about the tangible and intangible heritage of the Mediterranean diet.  This can be achieved through improving others’ perceptions by exploring different food cultures in addition to the common responsibilities of sustainable consumption and production.

 In Morocco the sacredness of food sharing that becomes a deal that imoses a closer relationship between food-sharers and becomes what is called “salt sharing “ as an intangible heritage and a social construct of relationships, that shouldn’t be violated for any reason.

Before the crawling of the fast food and the invasion of food from abroad  (tacos, panini…) Moroccan families didn’t waste food or throw it in the garbage , but instead the Moroccan mother used to prepare a fatty meal at the end of each week that the neighbors, parents and family members would wrap on the table, to enjoy the bowl called “Tarda” or “Tambsalt” and it’s including the rest of the dry bread divided into bites that are moistened with broth containing several healthy spices, cooked with onions, tomatoes and other ingredients..

And Moroccans also remember a delicious meal consisting  dry bread cut in the form of rectangles and then placed in a bowl filled with milk mixed with eggs , and after the bread is moisturized well in the mixture , they fried it in the oil to be eaten after adding some sugar on the top.

 The forum also created an opportunity to present the various cultural peculiarities and the culture and food heritage in common , between the countries on both sides of the Mediterranean , in the framework of the project  ” sustaining intercultural dialogue through a better understanding of Mediterranean food “ (SIDUMEF) .

Dr. Khaled Ghanem, the Professor of Organic Agriculture and Head of the Department of Environment and Biodynamic Agriculture at Al-Azhar University in Egypt, stated in an introductory intervention on “The Mediterranean Diet” that the diet is a healthy food style that integrates the basics of healthy meals among other components that characterize the traditional cooking style of countries on the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean Sea which called by historians “the cradle of society”, because all the history of the ancient world happened within its geographical boundaries, adds Dr. Khaled Ghanem .

And he also added that the Mediterranean diet is a globally-appreciated dietary model that belongs to social and regional culture, and environmental history and it is closely related to the lifestyle of the Mediterranean peoples throughout their history. He also said that the Mediterranean diet depends on three types of foods, such as vines, olives and grains , Those are described by  The American food  researcher Ferband Braudel as the eternal trinity, which is the basis of traditional agriculture and diets. The Mediterranean diet system, in general, did not remain static throughout its history as it was affected by migrations , and in all cases it focused on vineyards, grains and olives, as well as vegetables, fruits and fish.

 The general principles of the Mediterranean diet are based on exercising with brisk walking or cycling 30 minutes a day, which can enhance the activity of the heart and blood vessels, which is a sufficient period to restore the shape of the body. In addition, the food behavior comprises mainly fruits, vegetables and legumes  as well as healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil. Moreover  the addition of herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods and some nuts The source of animal proteins, consists of fish or shellfish at least twice a week with limited consumption of red meat.

Dr. Ghanem elaborated on the Mediterranean nutrition and the Mediterranean food pyramid, then the daily, weekly and monthly Mediterranean nutrition. The daily nutrition witnessed cereals as the main source of carbohydrates in the Mediterranean diet.

 It incorporates beans, nuts, grains and seeds in the daily routine. Bread is made from grains which is a basic and important food for the inhabitants of the ancient Mediterranean and it’s considered synonymous with food for life. The Egyptians still called it “aish” which means life. They were the first to build ovens and The murals mention 50 types of bread and pastries produced by the ancientEgyptians. Dr. Ghanem pointed out to eat fresh fruits and vegetables every day because Fruits and vegetables contains also important sources of fiber, antioxidants and vitamins. An amount of fruit or a handful of nuts are also healthy options for an afternoon snack.

 Dr. Khaled considered olive oil as one of the main fats in the Mediterranean diet’s food pyramid that contains antioxidants and Vitamin E. An excellent source of calcium in the Mediterranean diet is from Yogurt and cheese, ideally be low in fat. And for water 6 glasses should be consumed daily.

 Dr. Ghanem confirms that Fish is the mainstay of nutrition, as well as poultry, and the main sources of animal products in the Mediterranean diet that are excellent sources of protein. People  consume oily fish weekly, such as tuna, mackerel, salmon, trout, herring and sardines. Because oily fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.

The consumption of eggs should be limited to less than 4 per week because egg yolks are high in cholesterol, also sweets, white bread, biscuits, bread, and any refined carbohydrates  should be avoided.

It is advised that sweets should not be consumed more than a few times a week, because they contain unsaturated fatty acids.And Regarding monthly nutrition Dr. Ghanem recommended Consuming red meat in moderation and avoiding pork, especially bacon, sausages and other processed or high-fat meats, as one of the problems of red meat is that red meat can cause gout.

 Dr. Ghanem called for adopting a Mediterranean daily food model based on the philosophy of the food pyramid that contains Same food categories but calls for fewer carbohydrates because modern life is more sedentary.

 From the new Mediterranean Food Pyramid, the Mediterranean Diet meal plan will be breakfast of oatmeal with walnuts and then a snack of fruits, followed by lunch of a green salad with olives, chickpeas and cucumbers and a snack of nuts and then dinner of cod with Vegetables and couscous.

Dr. Mohamed Fatouhi, a research professor and president of the Moroccan Club for Environment and Development, said that the Mediterranean region knows a lot of diversity in various fields, but it witnesses a kind of unity common cultures, even if the dishes differ , and he mentioned that “We should sustain  this heritage to promote dialogue between cultures and a bridge between the peoples of the region.”

The reason for this is that mediteraanean diet has many health, social and economic dimensions, which requires a deep understanding between cultures. Education on health and education on food are part of sustainable education. The Mediterranean cuisine, although it differs from one country to another, has some common characteristics , It is a key to balanced nutrition and healthy food, but it is also a mean to family cohesion and well-being, festivity, generosity and many other values ​​that characterize the Mediterranean region.

 Food is also characterized by different ingredients and a kind of active exchange, biological diversity, scenes and cultures. Through food it is possible to know the history and historical development of the Mediterranean region. Cooking and eating in the Mediterranean region is a socializing topic of major importance. The bond that unites the peoples of the region .

Dr. Fattouhi called on civil society and the educated elite to expand on this shared feature for greater cohesion between the peoples of the region and to overcome any gap or artificial divide for the sake of promoting cultural dialogue and influence the food policies and trends in the Mediterranean region..

Dr. Fattouhi defined the context of the project on the intercultural dialogue through foodand nutrition in the Mediterranean region, which is reflected in the promotion of sustainable education and through scientific research and teaching. He also called for joint efforst to develop and implement regional cooperation mechanisms as the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development aiming at guiding national strategies and stimulating regional cooperation in the context of the implementation of SDG2 to eradicate hunger and poverty., He finally  referred to the Green Generation policy in Morocco that aims to develop agriculture in Morocco for food security and the protection of biodiversity and natural resources .

The project is in the framework of developing cooperation and cultural dialogue between the various components of civil society in the Mediterranean region and between research institutions and the private sector., It seeks to develop tangible and intangible cultural heritage and link it to various environment, climate change and biodiversity dimensions.

One of the components of the project is the development of educational guidelines, which is a scientific product and investigates the diet in the Mediterranean region for distance education and learning. It will be available to all those interested users in the Mediterranean region.

The researcher Safaa Al-Hayer, reviewed the contents of the guide that was developed within the framework of the Intercultural Dialogue through Food Mediterranean project, which aims to increase knowledge, skills, dialogue and exchange on the  common intangible cultural heritage and the Mediterranean food wealth, especially among youth, teachers and the media and non-governmental organizations. This project component is  part of the activities carried out by civil society to promote education for sustainable development in the Mediterranean region , The educational guide contains three components classified through descriptive cards, including history, origin and presentation of Mediterranean dishes made from different components of the diet.

It is noteworthy that the forum witnessed an important and intense participation of an interested elite representing various non-governmental organizations, students, researchers, teachers and media professionals. The forum witnessed an extensive discussion in which the participants  exchanged on the different visions and perceptions about food, local and Mediterranean cultures, consumer meals and diverse and common dishes that constitute a cultural and societal wealth that requires more attention and investigation to explore its full potential to bring Mediterranean nations and communities closer to each other and contributes to peace development, security and friendship between Mediterraneans.

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 *Moroccan environmental writer and journalist

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