, Gloucester, MA


February 20, 2013

Keeping Mediterranean food culture alive

Remember the Mediterranean Diet? Do you still eat like a Greek widow or have you stashed all that away with Atkins and South Beach?

In 1993, Oldways Preservation Trust launched a symposium with the Harvard School of Public Health, declaring the Mediterranean Diet the optimal diet for good health. We were still living with no-fat Puritanism then; it was the age of the Snack Well’s, that monster unleashed by the USDA when in 1977 the U.S. Senate changed the warning on its Dietary Goals to, “for good health, reduce fat.” All fat. Even the good ones. (Gifford Dun. A symposium: Dietary Fats, Eating Guidelines, and Public Policy. The American Journal of Medicine, Volume 113/ supplement 9B)

The Mediterranean Diet, as put forth by Oldways and Harvard, reclaimed not just a healthy way of eating but a healthy way of living, one that celebrated good food, particularly fresh vegetables, fruits, olive oil and fish, and one that wasn’t shackled to fat content.

Dun Gifford founded Oldways the year he launched the Mediterranean Diet. By all accounts, Gifford was an uber-charismatic man who lived many lives: He survived the Andrea Doria sinking as a child, was legislative assistant to Edward Kennedy, and campaign coordinator for Robert Kennedy. Gifford was beside Robert Kennedy in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen when Kennedy was shot, and was one of the group who wrestled down Sirhan-Sirhan.

In the 1980s, few people described themselves as foodies; glassblowing and pottery were artisanal, not food. But Gifford had traveled extensively in Greece, Italy and Spain, and was part-owner of the Harvest restaurant in Cambridge. He became passionate about the beautiful food he had experienced in his Mediterranean travels, and convinced of its cultural merits. Gifford was determined to defeat the 1980s’ trend that made dining an unpalatable, exhaustive game of fat hide-and-seek. He wanted to revive not only the nutrition, but the culture these foods symbolized: slow, respectful meals among friends, wine included.

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