Pantelleria has been discovered. This sleepy Sicilian island is suddenly hot thanks to A Bigger Splash.
But Pantelleria was here long before Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes. It’s an ancient island closer to Tunisia than Sicily. Volcanic, windswept Pantelleria seems barren, yet yields an abundance of olives, capers, grapes, tomatoes, citrus, almonds and herbs, the staples — and the jewels — of the Mediterranean Diet. And wow, what a coincidence, it’s International Mediterranean Diet Month.
One of the oldest ways of eating, the Mediterranean Diet remains one of the healthiest and most vegan-friendly, relying on simple indigenous produce rather than meat or dairy. By both tradition and necessity, Mediterranean cuisine makes much from little, but there’s nothing little about the flavors. Big, bold and elemental, Mediterranean cooking is what summer tastes like. It’s one of the most luscious ways to eat, one of easiest cuisines to create at home. You don’t need special kitchen appliances, you don’t need exotic ingredients. The whole foods at its core— whole grains, legumes, local produce, herbs, — are foods that have sustained us, foods we’ve been hard-wired to love for millennia.
There are signs, though, that our wiring may be fraying. Speaking at Oldways‘ Common Ground , Dr. Antonia Trichopolou, one of Mediterranean Diet’s earliest documenters and advocates, reported fewer and fewer people in the Mediterranean continue to eat that way. It’s true in America, too. Ancient traditions and whole foods have given way to hectic modern life and processed food . . . and with them, the illnesses linked to diet and lifestyle choices.
It may be small and remote, but Pantelleria reflects a vast range of with culinary influences including Italian, Arab, Greek and Spanish. It’s the whole Mediterranean Diet in microcosm, just as it’s been for centuries. It was sexy and primal even without Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and a Stones soundtrack. But even Pantelleria isn’t exempt from change, from losing what makes it precious.
The island — and its foodways — are worth preserving the way all ancient treasures are. Because they’re beautiful, unique, they have a story to tell us about place, about history, about timelessness, about ourselves. And the fact that the Mediterranean Diet is deeply delicious and nourishing, cheap, easy and sustainable doesn’t hurt.
The foods and foodways of the Mediterranean have always been hot. Especially during International Mediterranean Diet Month, they deserve a bigger splash.