Why “Beyond Zucchini”?

blinded by zucchini

So you’ve probably heard of –and sampled– the Mediterranean cuisine. Zucchini this, eggplant that, an olive here, and a pine nut there.

You’ve also undoubtedly heard about the salubrious health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, with all the rants and ravings of those who swear by it.

Yep, that’s right. Zucchini this, zucchini that. Add in a splash of olive oil, a sprinkle of dried thyme, and maybe even a couple of basil leaves. A perfect stereotypical “Mediterranean” meal.

But think beyond zucchini (please).

True, we do tend to eat zucchini in almost every imaginable way: we grill it with olive oil, we fry it (with olive oil too), we boil our beloved zucchinis too, make a hollow tunnel through them, and cook the insides of our green marrows as omelettes, frittatas, breads, quiches, and even cakes. We also make stews out of them, toss them into our soups, salads, rice, pasta, and sandwiches. We smugly take the liberty of cutting them into any shape we want: crosswise, lengthwise, diagonal, and diced. Some of us are so ardently infatuated with zucchinis that we can’t keep our hands off the budding tree and start plucking the flowers, breading, and frying them (fiori di zucco style). Some also joke about a zucchini-flavored ice cream—which later on materialized into a ghastly truth.

However, Mediterraneans do tend to eat a lot more “fruits of the earth” than zucchini, even vegetarians and pescetarians like us. They also tend to regard food (including zucchini) from many different perspectives: The social, religious, philosophical, health, artistic, economic, and the list goes on. You name it, we have it—all in the name of food.

So our genetic make-up spells: M-E-D-I-T-E-R-R-A-N-E-A-N, originating from an olive-bedecked village in Northern Lebanon. Our culture has bred, and will probably keep on breeding generations of people who simply love to eat. Food is ingrained in every aspect of our culture. Everywhere you look, scenery is equivalent to food: olive trees, weeds, and even flowers are regarded as sources of delicacy. We eat to socialize, we eat as part of our religious rituals, and we eat to cure a cold or other ailments. Simply put, food is of great importance. But there’s more to it than meets the eye: eating is not only about the food—it’s about the cooking and the sensuality of the experience. It is the communion between the sensual and the spiritual aspects of our daily lives. We smell, see, feel, hear, and of course, taste our culinary artefacts. We share them with others to socialize and to create personal bonds. We modify our diets at times of high spiritual significance, such as lent (in our Greek Orthodox tradition), abstaining from any animal products, allowing for more time for reflection on the ethics of food preparation, compassion, and closeness to nature. In other words, our food was both the good and the Godly.

Traditional foods tell tales of long ago, tracing a phylogenic line they were passed down along. The foods that have made it to our tables today have come a long way, with so many of them documented in the Bible and other historical documents. Traditional foods commune our ancestry with the present, sharing the same experience of thousands of years ago today. It is breathing the same aroma from that same lentil dish that was once regarded as a blessing, a product of hard work, and a typical dish at a time when so many of today’s diseases were unheard of.

And what makes our traditional foods (or the foods inspired by tradition) very special is that in their simplicity, they produce amazing health benefits. Reaching out for the ingredients that our much healthier ancestors once consumed, and rethinking them into our busy Modern-day lives

Again, it is not only about the taste, or even the texture. It is an engagement in the spiritual act of grace, of thankfulness. It is an ingestion of Mother Nature’s goodness. It is the journey toward that dish that counts—a preparation of goodness for our loved ones, made with love. And of course, made with our family’s health in mind. And one who cooks with love would never use but the finest ingredients for loved ones, rather than scooping ingredients out of a garbage can. That way, cooking from scratch with wholesome, natural foods, we have full control and take full responsibility for every morsel that enters our children’s mouths.

We have always shared a passion for cooking—passed down onto us from both our grandmothers, our mother—and for food in general. To us, food preparation is a work of both art and heart—it is a gift of love for our loved ones, wrought with great care, attention to detail, and a pure intention to nourish, nurture, and please. Just like an artifact, any dish, no matter how simple, has its aesthetic side, and can always have room for our own special touch. Even preparing something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich in the morning is always worth taking the extra mile and adding a slice of tomato and a pinch of fresh thyme and sesame.

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Categories: Foodosophy, Why Beyond Zucchini?

2 Comments on “Why “Beyond Zucchini”?”

  1. February 23, 2014 at 11:37 am #

    I´m a little skeptical of the benefits of the “Mediterranean diet”. Firstly, there are a lot of countries on the Med, with differing cuisines. Probably most people are thinking about Spain and Italy – in both of which I´ve lived and worked. (Over 20 years in Spain and 10 years in Italy).

    Spain has one of the highest meat consumptions in the world – not at all the once a month that Vanderbilt mention. They do eat far more fish than, say, the UK or Germany. Italy also consumes more meat per capita than the UK or Germany – again, way beyond the once a month idea. Both countries consume more salads, which is a plus-point. However, when we look at the life expectancies, there is little difference between Spain, Italy, the Uk and germany.

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  2. February 24, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    Hi Robert,

    I believe I’ve seen you before in one of the discussions from the Nutrition course? 🙂

    I agree with what you are saying, as I’ve also been to the countries you’ve mentioned, and I’ve seen lots of “Museos del Jamon” at about every corner in Madrid, and cold cut sandwiches and all types of “carne” dishes around Italy. Some aspects of Levantine dishes also include lard (eaten raw), fattened rib dishes alongside dolmas, and rice-stuffed animal organs. If we want to observe the food in “Mediterranean cuisine”, we’d get an endless list of artery-clogging dishes. However, as a term, the “Mediterranean Diet” (not Mediterranean “cuisine”–that would be too vast to make up one category of foods), as used by dietitians and nutritionists (and as touted by Dr.Jamie Pope from Coursera’s “Nutrition, Health, and Lifestyle”) refers to a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and some fish, along with omega-rich oils such as those found in olive oil and walnuts. That would be the oldest, most traditional diet of the villages in the Mediterranean countryside and coastal areas, when the consumption of animal products was very minimal (as it was limited to the nobility and other rich people). The healthy villagers around the Mediterranean countries all consumed some common ingredients such as arugula, olive oil, pomegranates, tomatoes, amaranth leaves, olive oil, walnuts, almonds, lentils, beans, sesame, and numerous types of citrus fruits (to name a few). This is the aspect that we will be focusing on, the healthy, common everyday foods consumed by our ancestors in Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, and other Levantine countries.

    So I guess there’s a fine line between what is meant by the Mediterranean “Cuisine” (such a broad term, and just like any other cuisine in the world, contains the good, the bad, and the ugly) and the Mediterranean “Diet” (a somehow “dietary” term referring to the focus on veggies, whole grains, and some fish–the ones commonly used around the Med countries in areas where longevity is apparent).

    I hope this helps! 🙂

    Roula

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