Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the first ever Mediterranean Diet Roundtable. It was an effort to discuss the importance but also the application of the Mediterranean Diet in different venues in the US.
The roundtable that took place in New York City, was not the typical symposium that focuses only on the scientific side, but rather a mix of professionals you do not ordinarily see together in an event like this. Chefs, foodservice directors and researchers gathered and presented their Mediterranean Diet perspectives as seen through their field of work.
The vision of Daniela Puglielli founder and creator of this event was to encourage a peer to peer discussion on the topic, bringing it to a practical level.
The audience included doctors, nutritionists along with food industry professionals, international manufacturers and international trade organization representatives.
The session started with Oldways President Sara Baer-Sinnott who presented the journey of the Mediterranean diet in the US. Oldways is the creator of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid that was first presented in the 1990’s and provided Americans with a first glimpse of the Mediterranean Diet.
One of the panels I found interesting and promising was the discussion of food on college campuses. Award winning Ken Toong who is the Executive Director of University of Massachusetts Amherst Auxiliary Enterprises, under the umbrella of UMass dining, is the nation’s largest campus dining operation with over 18,000 students serves 15 world cuisines. His focus is on healthy, local and sustainable foods where they actually help and teach college students to eat healthier. Rafi Taherian, Executive Director of Yale Dining presented wonderful, colorful Mediterranean dishes served to the students. He noted how Mediterranean dishes are simple, colorful and easy to make. He notes that they “seduce with flavor” to encourage students to eat better. While Executive Chef at Davidson College, Craig Mombert prepares over 90% of dishes from scratch using produce from the college farm, and Johnny Curet executive Chef at Rice University serves homemade food incorporating Mediterranean dishes.
Imagine that! Homemade food, Mediterranean dishes, local sustainable produce, olive oil … at college! College cafeterias have come a long way from typical college food I used to have.
So while in colleges the Mediterranean diet is gaining more and more favor among chefs and students, in hospitals and other venues, there needs to be a stronger push that will show the benefits of serving a Mediterranean diet.
Cost, government regulations, and purchasing restrictions seem to limit the extent at which Mediterranean style dishes are served not only to hospital staff but to patients as well. A panel of foodservice directors discussed the challenges of this particular area. The good news is that there are some hospitals in which the clinical dietitians are in fact recommending the Mediterranean diet to their patients, but at this time they are few.
My presentation provided what I would call an “insiders” point of view. As a Greek-American having been raised on the Mediterranean diet while living in a suburb of Chicago, I am proof that you can follow this diet from anywhere in the world. My presentation also focused on the misconceptions consumers but also health professionals have about the diet such as it being expensive or difficult to follow. It is not.
I felt this roundtable was a great step in the right direction. The public is continuously told how great the Mediterranean diet is, but yet not many venues really serve it, and this initiative will show them how and why (sustainable, affordable, healthy, delicious).