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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

So, ev­ery­one’s on a diet. The party pies are on the hips, a sum­mer of spritzers is tax­ing the liver and cho­co­late eggs are loom­ing. Of course we’re on di­ets and the di­ets are as wacky as ever be­cause your diet is part of your per­sonal brand, just ask Pete Evans.

But there’s a peren­nial — the Mediter­ranean diet. It’s so pop­u­lar it pops up on Google search even be­fore the Mediter­ranean Sea. And what does Google tell you about the sea that be­came an eat­ing plan?

Well, the lat­est is that it re­lieves de­pres­sion, helps kids with ADHD and stops your brain from shrink­ing. That’s just this year’s news on it, and that’s apart from the older claims that it helps heart health, fights di­a­betes, mod­er­ates choles­terol, re­duces in­flam­ma­tion, fights Is­lamic State, low­ers the risk of can­cer and kills free rad­i­cals (they sound cool but, like Is­lamic State, they’re bad). Oh yes, you live longer too.

This diet is magic. It’s a big, fat pill that dou­bles as a body of wa­ter.

But they’re miss­ing some­thing when they tell us to eat more veg­eta­bles, fruit, fish, nuts and olive oil with a splashy, splashy of red wine. This is not just about a shop­ping list of foods. It’s as much about the cul­ture as the calo­ries.

Con­sider how those Mediter­ranean peo­ple ac­tu­ally con­sume their diet. First, the food is grown lo­cally — of­ten out the back door. It’s also sea­sonal, so there’s no freez­ing, pre­serv­ing chem­i­cals or vac­uum-sealed pack­ag­ing. If it’s not just out of the ground, it’s not on the plate.

They also eat the sort of foods they’ve al­ways eaten. No, they’re not hung up on mim­ick­ing their Pa­leo an­ces­tors but they have been eat­ing the same foods for cen­turies and some­thing in hu­mans likes fa­mil­iar foods, not least be­cause you don’t have to buy new cook­books.

Now con­sider how they eat. They eat with friends and fam­ily, help­ing with prepa­ra­tions, gos­sip­ing about neigh­bours and whinge­ing about Germany. This food is pep­pered with con­vivi­al­ity.

And think of how long they take to eat it. They take hours — a lit­tle aper­i­tivo, a small first course, a hearty main and maybe some canoodling along the way. This is not some­thing hot and greasy wolfed down while you’re stuck in traf­fic. No, it’s slow food. It’s so slow it takes half the work­ing day (which is part of the at­trac­tion).

Now, this might ex­plain why peeps in Italy, Greece and so on get healthy, but how much of that trans­lates when you come home from the GP with a list of ap­proved Mediter­ranean foods and an or­der to get your gut in or­der?

Well, you’ll prob­a­bly start eat­ing dif­fer­ently. You will have to source fresh ingredients, so you’ll learn who sells the best pro­duce and you’ll get to know them be­cause you’ll be back to­mor­row. Then you’ll learn how to cook like an Ital­ian, so you’ll chop, mar­i­nate, pre­serve, sea­son and mince, and all the time you will be tast­ing but you won’t be snack­ing. Af­ter all, you’re not go­ing to wolf down an un­washed radish while you wait for Bor­lotti beans to soften.

And be­cause you have to spend more time cook­ing, you’ll want to share it with friends or fam­ily; and be­cause it feels sort of spe­cial, you might open a bot­tle of wine — not a quaf­fer but a wine wor­thy of shar­ing with Cae­sar.

So, what hap­pens when we switch to the Mediter­ranean diet is we change our whole way of eat­ing. When we give up fast food for slow food, we also give up fast eat­ing for slow eat­ing. When we spend time with food, we de­velop re­spect for it — where it came from, how it be­haves and how many hours it can oc­cupy. And when we spend time with fam­ily and friends, well, we learn who our real friends are.

But the most ob­vi­ous take­away from this diet is that you spend so much time pre­par­ing it for some­thing wor­thy of an In­sta­gram shot that you won’t have time to snack or lie in front of the TV or search on­line for your next Euro­pean hol­i­day. The diet has be­come your day and, along the way, it’s con­sumed your leisure, re­ar­ranged your pri­or­i­ties and eaten into your pro­duc­tiv­ity. Wel­come to the Mediter­ranean, a great sea, magic diet and a lifestyle like a hol­i­day — shame about the economy. gmail.com

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