The Mediterranean is currently seen mostly as a dividing sea, but culturally diverse countries are still found united within the Mediterranean diet heritage, without for this to distort the identity of each of them.
The Mediterranean diet, acknowledged by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity, is the testimony of the strong conjunction between people, who are living in the same sea, their territories and their ways of life, that today need to be strongly safeguarded from an increasing erosion process and revitalized as a contemporary sustainable and healthy life style. In the Mediterranean there are different food cultures, expressed in the wide variety of foods of the Mediterranean diet, scientifically recognized as one of the healthiest diets in the world. Paradoxically, these existing impressive quantity of scientific publications on the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, did not result in changing current unhealthy and unsustainable food consumption patterns in Mediterranean countries.
Across the Mediterranean region, there is an “inequalitarian drift” in the current relations between Northern Mediterranean countries and Southern-Eastern ones, where many difficulties are encountered due to the existing economic, social and cultural disparities.
In fact, the macroeconomic indicators of the Mediterranean region emphasize the marked heterogeneity among the countries and a growing gap between the advanced economies in the northern shores and the less developed ones in the southern/eastern ones. The Mediterranean is today a region in which growing ecological, economic, social and cultural challenges coexist with unresolved international tensions. Significant discrepancies in development levels between Northern and Eastern countries, together with regional conflicts, raise more challenges for the sustainable future of the Mediterranean areas.
Within the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development debate on the sustainability of food systems, the interest on sustainable diets has grown in recent years, by linking consumption and production. Therefore, the interest on the Mediterranean diet also as a sustainable diet model, with multiple benefits and country-specific variations, has been reawakened.
The underpinning rationale of the Palermo World Conference is that a better understanding of the complexity and multidimensionality of the sustainability of food systems will strengthen the dialogue between North and South countries to address growing challenges for food security, nutrition and sustainability, in the Mediterranean region.
To face these diverse yet interdependent challenges, there is a need for the identification and further strengthening of joint regional strategies and programs, in which the potential of “research, innovation, sharing knowledge and capacity building” should be highlighted as driving forces for the shift towards more sustainable food systems in the region, as essential instruments for supporting the implementation of an inclusive economy in the Mediterranean, delivering on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.