The Mediterranean diet does not only refer to the food eaten by the various countries that share the same sea; it also encompasses the unique set of knowledge, recipes, techniques, crops, fishing, animal husbandry, rituals, traditions and sociability that it preserves.
The act of eating defines the everyday life and health of the inhabitants of the basin, from its economy to its festivals both at home and abroad, and as a result it comprises part of its identity and heritage, in the literal sense also, as UNESCO declared it Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013. Catalan cuisine meets all the requirements, which is why it is one of the epicentres of the Mediterranean diet.
Promoting farming, livestock and fisheries
Catalonia's arable land covers 25% of the region and comprises 48,891 agricultural holdings, of which 88% are run by individuals. Most of this land is used for cereals, olives and forage crops, followed by vineyards and nuts in equal proportion, then fruit, rice and citrus fruit. With regard to fisheries, 732 vessels fish in the Mediterranean, anchoring at 34 coastal ports and predominantly catching oily fish, white fish, cephalopods and crustaceans. There are livestock farms across Catalonia's four provinces, breeding bees, poultry and rabbit, dairy cow, beef, sheep and goat, and pig. In sum, the range of Catalonia's main sector provides all of the basic produce enshrined in the Mediterranean diet.
The famed and feared food pyramid is actually a food frequency guide that can change our lifestyle. There is no doubt that the more closely we stick to the proportions, the more we are guaranteed of enjoying a healthy life. Nevertheless, it is not a chimera but rather a reflection of nature's pantry - free from industrial processing, right here in Catalonia. All of these ingredients come from our land and, according to figures from the Regional Ministry of Agriculture, the average time in which they are consumed is close to expert recommendations. Furthermore, in recent years consumption of fruit and vegetables has increased. Extra virgin olive oil, found at the heart of the pyramid, is the common denominator in most dishes, and bread, pasta, rice and other cereals prevail in our weekly menus.
Cooking, handing down and eating together
The way we interact is also decisive in our diet, and the kitchen is a revolutionary place from which to change our surroundings. Cooking together means enjoying a process that has a direct bearing on the economy because it involves carefully choosing ingredients, which takes us to producers, markets and local shops. It also has an anthropological outcome - handing down knowledge from one generation to the next by listening to tips and tales that we will only find at home and which are part and parcel of a family and community heritage that upholds inventiveness, science, flavour and local roots among all those who dealt with meals and, very often, famine. Sitting down at a table, sharing a meal, toasting, thanking the cook, serving and clearing the table are all daily events that underlie the values that UNESCO highlights, such as hospitality, dialogue and respect. This practice of heritage also connects with a people as they enjoy a whole host of traditions and festivals that follow cycles, customs and shared history. The same goes for small meals such as calçotades or aperitifs on Sundays with our families, friends or neighbours, because raising a porró wine pitcher or filling a glass with vermouth (or must) is a Trojan horse that leads us to other foods from the land, strengthens our bonds, and guarantees unity.