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Monday, March 27, 2023

‘It’s about more than just food’: Mediterranean diet is part of a whole way of life

Lengthy lunch breaks, agency divisions between work and leisure and the occasional deal with enchant meals author who swapped London for a village in southern France

If I look out of my window at 4pm, winter and summer season, in all weathers other than horizontal rain, there might be a gaggle of ladies sitting on the bench, typically on two benches. There could be half a dozen of them or extra, ranging in age from their 60s to their 80s, probably older. There are all the time at the very least a few little canines, very sometimes a husband. In summer season, when the home windows are open, I can hear their laughter, and conversations I wish to assume they’ve picked up each afternoon at 4 since they have been ladies. As futures go, this doesn’t appear to be a foul one.

We moved to this village 17 months in the past, swapping a terraced home in Hackney, east London, for a long-neglected one – sure, that cliche – in Marseillan on the Étang de Thau, a saltwater lagoon in southern France that opens into the Mediterranean.

This month, two separate studies have been revealed lauding the health-giving properties of the Mediterranean weight-reduction plan. The primary appeared within the journal BMC Drugs, utilizing information from greater than 60,000 individuals. It said that this weight-reduction plan – historically wealthy in fruit and veggies, grains, seafood, nuts and wholesome fat – might probably decrease the danger of dementia by virtually 1 / 4.

Oysters from the Étang de Thau saltwater lagoon
The Étang de Thau saltwater lagoon produces 13,000 tonnes of oysters yearly. {Photograph}: Zoonar GmbH/Alamy

The second, primarily based on the work of a crew at Sydney College and revealed within the journal Coronary heart, said that girls who adopted the Mediterranean weight-reduction plan might scale back the danger of early demise by virtually 1 / 4. I’d inform the ladies on the benches however I feel they’re too busy having time to care concerning the numbers.

I’m a meals author, so one of many nice attracts of this nook of France is shut proximity to great elements. The Étang produces 13,000 tonnes of oysters yearly and three,000 tonnes of mussels. In a village of 8,000 inhabitants, there are three greengrocers, 4 bakers, a big butcher and several other small retailers promoting oysters, mussels, and fish from the lagoon.

Vines creep as much as the sting of the village. After I stroll my canines by way of the fields every morning, likelihood is we’re weaving previous the grapes I used so as to add to my Ocado order after I lived in London, within the type of bottles of picpoul.

As every month goes by, it takes me longer to stroll across the Tuesday market. I do know extra individuals now they usually know me. We discuss what’s good – final week, the primary gariguette strawberries, prickly sea urchins, and bundles of asparagus, yours for less than €14.99 (£13).

Everyone seems to be scandalised on the price, sniffing that they’re from Spain, ready for the French asparagus to come back in and the value to come back down. By late spring, we’ll be consuming it every single day.

Then onwards to the summer season, with its artichokes, peas and beans, tomatoes and aubergines, peaches, melons and cherries, one of the best grown close by and picked after they’re completely ripe. And with each new season, I collect new recipes, from the greengrocer, a neighbour, the person within the wine store, one among our builders.

Debora Robertson shopping at a greengrocer in Marseillan
Debora Robertson buying at a greengrocer in Marseillan. {Photograph}: Clara Molden/The Every day Telegraph

It’s not Mediterranean meals, it’s simply meals. It’s not a weight-reduction plan, it’s simply how issues are. Folks eat seasonally right here, on the entire, not simply because it’s higher however as a result of it’s cheaper. Nobody’s measuring out their (native, natural) olive oil in joy-defying teaspoons or weighing their walnuts. Folks’s diets comprise leafy veg and oily fish, after all, however many individuals slice into wealthy cheeses most days, and invariably pair it with good glasses of pink.

On Sundays, the queue to select up truffles from the baker is lengthy and sociable. Right here, on this provincial nook of France at the very least, stability is every little thing. Pouring small pleasures into every day is admired, gluttony or extra is just not.

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It’s about extra than simply meals. Most companies shut at lunchtime for an hour, two hours, three, 4. I’m joking. Nobody closes for simply an hour. In any case these months, I nonetheless get confused about what time the native Spar (cabinets of biscuits, cat meals, pasta and washing up liquid, plus a Twelfth-century wine cave within the again), butcher, greengrocers and bakeries open after lunch.

Virtually every little thing is closed on Sundays. The thought of spending time with your loved ones and mates, or just having time to your self, is sacrosanct. It’s frowned upon to contact individuals about work outdoors of regular work hours. These are a really boundaried individuals.

The local weather helps. We spend plenty of time outdoors. Isolation, for a lot of the torture of previous age, is much less more likely to occur right here. The women on the benches take up their house. If one among them didn’t seem someday, the others would discover, would verify on her. Their every day laughter should be value greater than a ton of wholesome grains.

It’s simple to romanticise Mediterranean village life. It’s actually not all baguettes and brie carried house lovingly in a straw basket. Le quick meals, le restauration rapide, is more and more in style. With greater than 1,500 branches, France stays McDonald’s largest market outdoors the US. Many insist they love McDo for the free wifi (positive, Jean), however the one nearest us typically has giant queues of individuals wanting, controversially, to eat outdoors typical mealtimes, younger individuals on dates and fogeys with babies who don’t wish to sit down for a two-hour lunch.

French girls do get fats. Weight problems is on the rise; 17% of French adults at the moment are overweight, double the variety of 25 years in the past (within the UK, it’s 26%).

However there stays, on this village at the very least, a delicate rhythm of life, an perspective to seizing moments of delight, consuming nicely, resting nicely and cultivating friendships, that’s completely life enhancing and, finally, probably life-prolonging.

Debora Robertson is the creator of Notes From a Small Kitchen Island: Recipes and Tales From the Coronary heart of the House

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