The Mediterranean diet is not only healthy for humans, but also for the environment and for biodiversity. This was the main message at an event held at FAO headquarters with the aim of raising awareness on how the Mediterranean diet can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Last week's event - the third in the series of the initiative on "Mediterranean Diet's Principles for Agenda 2030" - was organized by the Government of Italy, in cooperation with Coldiretti (Italy's the largest farmers organization) and with Fondazione UniVerde.
Based on the regular consumption of olive oil, a rich diversity of plant-based foods (cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes), and moderate amounts of fish and meat, the Mediterranean diet is widely recognized for its multiple health benefits and for its low environmental footprint.
However, noted Maria Helena Semedo, FAO's Deputy Director General for Climate and Natural Resources, "this traditional way of eating is increasingly giving way to changing habits and lifestyles - from diverse and balanced meals to more monotonous meals high in fats, sugar and salt."
The result, warned Semedo, are cumulative negative consequences both on human health - with a drastic rise in obesity and overweight as well as in non-communicable diseases - and on the environment, through intensive degradation of natural resources, including loss in biodiversity for food and agriculture.
To tackle this negative trend, the Mediterranean and other traditional diets need to be preserved and promoted, while their contribution to biodiversity conservation, women's empowerment, urban-rural linkages, food loss and waste management must be further studied and highlighted.
FAO can play a crucial role in this, stressed Semedo, for example by scaling-up lessons learned from the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Sites (GIAHS), FAO's initiative recognizing landscapes of outstanding beauty combining agricultural biodiversity, resilient ecosystems and a valuable cultural heritage. Last year, for example, saw two Italian landscapes - the Soave traditional Vineyards and the Olive Groves of the Slopes between Assisi and Spoleto - added to the list.
By connecting with governments, farmers and consumers, FAO can raise awareness on the conservation and sustainable use of neglected and underutilized crops, while also support the integration of biodiversity across all economic and agricultural sectors.
Semedo invited partners to work closely together and to take advance of the various opportunities taking place in 2020, such as FAO's 75th anniversary, the UN Decade of Nutrition, the 10th anniversary of the declaration of the Mediterranean Diet as intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO.