Not Just a Meal
Sylvie Bigar / January 2011
Culinary traditions have joined the ranks of UNESCO protected heritage. Sylvie Bigar reports.
À table! Now you may throw your guilt to the mistral when you sit down to eat with your family and friends, whether it's for Oncle Marcel's 85th birthday or le 14 Juillet. The French gastronomic meal is now officially protected as an "Intangible Cultural Heritage" by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Since 2003 UNESCO has been designating cultural icons such as flamenco and acupuncture for protection, but in November they put their imprimatur on cuisine for the first time, singling out Michoacán Mexican cuisine and the Mediterranean diet along with the French gastronomic meal.
According to UNESCO, the traditional French meal starts with an apéritif and ends with liqueurs. In between, "at least four successive courses," appetizer, meat or fish with vegetables, cheese course (bien sûr), and dessert, all paired with wine. These repasts, often several hours long, bring generations together, passing along the classical French tradition.
Traditional Mexican cuisine, namely the regional Michoacán model based on corn, beans, and chile pepper, also made the list. Speaking to BBC Mundo, Gloria López Morales of Mexico's National Council of Culture and Arts, explained that at play here was the protection of an ancestral way of life. In the communities of Central and Western Mexico, the process from cultivation to the dinner table happens as a collective endeavor, in the fields and at the stove. Filled with centuries-old symbolism, Mexican cuisine is as rich as its soil and an important witness to the history of the New World.
The Mediterranean diet will also be looked after for future generations to savor. This way of life doesn't just encompass the olive oil–laden offerings found in Italy, Spain, Greece, and Morocco, the four countries that banded together to propose this intangible item. Communal meals, yes, but also activities and crafts linked to fishing and farming, as well as the tales and legends that derive from this ancestral culture.
"National traditions and customs are alive and constantly evolving," says Cecile Duvelle, UNESCO chief of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Section. "We do not wish to just protect them and place them into a museum, but to safeguard them by alerting and rallying the international community on their behalf." In the future, Duvelle expects to see many more countries proposing food related items. And we'll be right there with her, ready to taste and applaud.