The Mediterranean diet, rich in foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, fish, and olive oil, is often considered the gold standard in healthy and environmentally sustainable eating. But according to a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, it is on the decline in the very region where it originated.
“The Mediterranean region is passing through a ‘nutritional transition,'” according to the report, “in which problems of undernutrition coexist with overweight, obesity, and food-related chronic diseases.” According to the report, population growth, urbanization, and a rise in wealth and living standards have contributed to the “Westernization of food consumption patterns” in the region, including a switch to more animal products and processed foods.
Through a review of recent surveys, the FAO found a pattern of declining adherence to the Mediterranean diet in countries across the region. Undernutrition is affecting southern countries like Albania, Turkey, and Croatia, while rising obesity rates is hitting countries including Greece, Morocco, and Portugal, as people eat less complex carbohydrates, like cereal grains and beans and more saturated lipids through foods like meat, dairy, and sugars.
As these dietary changes have spread, the environmental landscape has also changed: “Ancient vineyards, orchards, and olive groves have been uprooted to make way for large-scale fruit or olive plantations and mixed rotational farming has been replaced by intensive monocultures,” the report says. These shifts negatively impact not only wildlife habitats and water supply, but also the small-scale farmers who once depended on these systems for their livelihoods.