You’ve probably heard about the “Mediterranean diet” but what you might not know is it isn’t a single cuisine or style of cooking. It is, instead, as varied as the countries that border the inland sea’s magnificent 2,300-mile coastline. You’ve probably heard about the “Mediterranean diet” but what you might not know is it isn’t a single cuisine or style of cooking. It is, instead, as varied as the countries that border the inland sea’s magnificent 2,300-mile coastline. What distinguishes the diet are the types of ingredients that play major roles, as well as the ones—like meat and sweets—that play smaller parts.
“The essence of the diet includes lots of whole grains, plenty of fruit, vegetables, a generous amount of olive oil—which is the number one factor distinctive of this diet—nuts, a little cheese, and fish in abundance,” says Daniela Puglielli, president of Accent PR in Boston, Massachusetts, and founder of the annual conference known as the Mediterranean Diet Roundtable (MDR). “When we speak about the Mediterranean diet, we don't refer exclusively to the cuisine of Italy or Spain or Greece, although those are the most famous ones. Hummus is also a very distinctive food of the Mediterranean.”
Whatever a cuisine’s provenance, says Daniela, foods that make up the diet are known to promote good health. Time and again, researchers have found that eating a diet consistent with Mediterranean traditions can be a recipe for living a longer, more robust life. One study found that those who followed similar diet regimens were 40 percent more likely to live past 70 without major chronic illnesses than those who ate more typical American diets.
And a Mediterranean-style diet might be as good for business as it is for our bodies. Because, as more and more people pay attention to what they eat in their quest to live better and longer, the market for products related to the diet grows.
Perhaps best of all, for those members from outside the region, the concept isn’t fixed solely to that geographic location. “Bush Beans is launching a line of hummus,” notes Daniela.
The foundation of the Mediterranean diet has also inspired menu changes that neither look nor taste like ethnic cuisines, but can still impart many of the benefits.
Daniela gives the example of the food service department of UMass, an enthusiastic participant in the Mediterranean Roundtable. “The University of Massachusetts serves 45,000 meals every day,” says Daniela. “And when the students are fed properly, they perform better.”
In order to introduce more vegetables into the students’ diets, and lower their meat consumption—both principles of the Mediterranean diet—while still serving up the kinds of foods students expect, UMass collaborated with Menus of Change to produce a beef and mushroom “blended burger” that isn’t just more healthful. It’s also juicier and better tasting.
The idea for the Mediterranean Diet Roundtable sprung from Daniela Puglielli’s personal journey. A native of Italy, Daniela grew up eating a classic Mediterranean diet. But she’d noticed that in the years since she moved to the US, an Americanized menu was negatively affecting her waistline. “Then, I’d go to Italy, eat five times more, and lose weight,” she says.
In 2015, she launched the Mediterranean Diet Roundtable as a two-day intensive conference/thinktank to bring together professionals involved in all aspects of the food industry, including policy, production, trade, education, science, packaging, preparation, and promotion.
“It's uncommon to find, in the same conference, a scientific voice, a trade voice, and marketing insight, yet all those elements are characteristic of MDR,” says Daniela. “That's our uniqueness. It's not a scientific conference per se. The scientific background serves as a springboard for all the other components.”
Connecting members of these interdependent but operationally dissimilar groups has made the MDR wildly popular, according to Daniela, attracting participants from the upper echelons of food companies including Premier, Compass, US Food, PFG, Barilla, and Bertolli; food service and dining services from hospitals such as Massachusetts General Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, and Johns Hopkins; and educational institutions such as Yale, NYU, and the University of Massachusetts.
And now, MDR, with the capability to expand well beyond its annual thinktank roots, has joined the Webport Global platform where members can learn, connect, and be inspired every day, says Daniela. Information and connections are what WPG is all about, of course, but with the MDR, members who deal in any way with the food industry will be able to focus on bringing the principles behind the Mediterranean diet into the mix.
Some MDR community discussions will be of interest to virtually all WPG members, such as sourcing, continuity of the supply chain, regulations, and certifications, says Jim Krzywicki, COO of Webport Global. But he also anticipates the sharing of intelligence that isn’t available in one place anywhere else, that will be specific to the community and its various sub-groups. That will make it an incredibly valuable addition to WPG’s network of networks.
“The MDR community will bring thousands of members to the site whose primary focus is the Mediterranean diet,” says Krzywicki. “But they will also be connected to thousands of other people whose primary focus may be just food or importing, exporting, or lifestyle, or other aspects of the health and nutrition business.”
For more information on the Mediterranean Diet Roundtable, please visit: http://mdrproject.com/