Diets adopted by the Mediterranean populations have been a subject of interest since antiquity, with more recent investigations demonstrating their numerous health benefits. The Rockefeller Foundation’s study in 1940s and the Seven Countries Study in 1950s both highlighted the Cretan diet as a palatable primarily plant-based dietary pattern with distinct differences compared to the western-type diet and a strong link to the maintenance of good health. The local diet of Crete Island is what we know today as the Mediterranean diet, acknowledged as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and proposed as one of the three major health promoting dietary patterns in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The 4-week educational program, Exploring the Origins of the Mediterranean Diet in Crete Island, aims to provide students the opportunity to study the Mediterranean diet in its place of origin, along with sustainable food production and consumption patterns, emphasizing on traditional Mediterranean practices.
- Experiencethe adoption of the Mediterranean diet, and study its history, evolution, principles and health benefits through interactive educational activities in local institutions, libraries, museums and monumental sites under the instruction of local experts.
- Engage with local community members to observe and practice techniques regarding food production, preservation and cooking, to take part in everyday rural activities, and to taste local and traditional Mediterranean recipes.
- Acknowledge the multidimensional role of food systems and become aware of the concept of sustainable development, as a process for meeting human development goals while maintaining the ability of the ecosystem to preserve its natural resources.
- Familiarize with and experience the concept of the Mediterranean lifestyle as a holistic way of living, incorporating not only lifestyle practices but also other social and cultural aspects of life.
- Participate in various outdoor activities, including excursions to places of natural beauty and collective sports activities in nature.
Your Host Country: Greece
The program will take place in Greece, where the Mediterranean lifestyle has been implemented for thousands of years and extensively studied since the first description of the Mediterranean diet in 1950s by Ancel Keys in the context of The Seven Countries Study. Greece is the cradle of Western civilization, and the birth place of democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, Western literature, historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, and Western drama, including both tragedy and comedy. In addition, Greece is the home country of Hippocrates, a physician who lived during Greece’s Classical period, and is traditionally regarded as the father of medicine. His famous quote "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food" is the cornerstone of current integrated and lifestyle medicine. Although small, Greece is huge in its cultural and natural diversity, being a cultural crossroad of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and encompassing landscapes that remain incredibly vivid and of unrivaled beauty; the country provides the opportunity to explore numerous cultural sites, over 5,000 islands and islets scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, and mountainous mainland with a breath-taking scenery.
The program offers a unique opportunity for students to study the Mediterranean diet in its place of origin, along with sustainable food production and consumption patterns, emphasizing on traditional Mediterranean practices. During the 3-week course, some days will be devoted to theoretical lectures and discussion sessions on the scientific and cultural themes of the day combined with workshops, experiential activities or studying. Other days will be devoted entirely to field trips and interactive educational activities, including visits to monumental sites, observation of Cretan lifestyle practices, demonstrations of traditional and modern cultivation and food production procedures and techniques, cooking classes with emphasis on traditional Cretan products, tasting of local Mediterranean recipes, as well as collective sports activities in nature.
Tentative 2017 Syllabus
During the first week, the program’s educational activities will take place in Athens, the capital of Greece, one of the world's oldest cities. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state, a centre for the arts, learning and philosophy, and it is widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy, largely because of its cultural and political impact on the European continent and in particular the Romans. In modern times, Athens is a large cosmopolitan metropolis and central to economic, financial, industrial, maritime, political and cultural life in Greece. While in Athens, students will visit monumental sites and archaeological places and traditional food markets and establishments, as well as experience other opportunities that the city has to provide.
The main body of the program will take place in Crete Island, the largest and most populous of Greek islands. Crete Island forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece, while retaining its own local cultural traits. It was once the centre of the Minoan civilization, which is currently regarded as the earliest recorded civilization in Europe. While in Crete Island, students will explore the remnants of the ancient Minoan civilization, as well as learn about landmark studies carried out in the island, as a means to familiarize with the history and evolution of the Cretan diet and lifestyle. The program will focus on the fundamental principles of the Mediterranean diet through lectures regarding its health benefits, and workshops on the production and nutritional properties of wine and olive oil, both fundamental parts of the Cretan diet. In line with the island’s rich food production sector, lectures and educational activities will address the cultivation of citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables and herbs, and the production of honey, traditional dairy products and spirits. Students will also be exposed to the complex concept of food systems and its association with culture, public health, economy and the environment through the example of the agriculture-based diet and economy of Crete Island as well as the characteristics of environmentally friendly and sustainable food production with emphasis on organic agriculture and livestock applications.
- Become familiar with the concept of the Mediterranean lifestyle (with emphasis on the traditional Cretan lifestyle) as a holistic way of living, its history and its evolution throughout time.
- Become aware of the ancient Greek (Minoan) civilization, recognize its influence on modern European civilizations and be able to identify its differences compared to Western civilizations.
- Recognize the importance of olive oil, wine, fruits, vegetables and herbs in the traditional Cretan diet, become familiar with their cultivation-production-processing techniques, and critically understand their cultural importance, nutritional value and health properties.
- Gain competencies in traditional Cretan lifestyle and cultural practices, such as the design of nutritionally balanced non-meat meals, the application of traditional food production, preservation and cooking techniques, traditional rural activities, folklore dances and lira playing.
- Be able to identify the unique characteristics of the Cretan diet and its differences compared to other dietary patterns adopted around the world (e.g. the Western type diet).
- Obtain the skills to evaluate, compare and properly select foods according to their nutritional value, degree of processing, locality, seasonality and eco-friendliness.
- Critically understand and interpret the available scientific data regarding the beneficial effects of the Cretan diet on health and disease.
- Be able to identify the unique characteristics of organic food production (legislation, production techniques and standards) and its differences compared to conventional food production.
- Acknowledge the multidimensional role of food systems, i.e. environmental (both positive and negative), nutritional (food security and public health), developmental (development of sustainable rural communities) and social (preservation of tradition, family structures and culinary heritage).
- Become aware of the concept of sustainable development, as a process for meeting human development goals while maintaining the ability of the ecosystem to continue to provide the natural resources upon which the economy and society depend.
- Lectures, notes and other files relevant to the course's learning objectives (printed and electronic material).
- Student portfolio (course overview an schedule, summary of learning outcomes, educational tasks, etc.)
- Leaflets relevant to the course's educational and cultural activities (e.g., Athens-Attica Guide and Gastronomy, Ministry of Tourism, Greek National Tourism Organisation).
- Research papers relevant to the course's learning objectives (e.g., Bach-Faig A et al. Mediterranean diet pyramid today. Science and cultural updates. Public Health Nutr. 2011 Dec; 14 (12A): 2274-84.).
- Textbook: Foundations for Healthy Lifestyle, edited by Labros Sidossis.
Students will have a portfolio of evidence in which they will record all the information necessary to demonstrate the completion of the specific objectives and any other relevant information. More specifically, students will describe and evaluate their experiences in Greece, as well as undertake short educational activities associated with the program’s topics, in order to help cover the program’s main learning objectives and assess the knowledge, the skills and the competencies they obtained. The portfolio will be completed through the PAL (Peer Assisted Learning) method. The term PAL essentially means that each student will work in collaboration with at least one other student in order to develop their knowledge and skills.
All students are expected to work in small groups (4-5 students) to prepare a 15-minute presentation related to the course’s learning objectives. Graduate students are also expected to complete an individual written assignment (2000 words) related to the course’s learning objectives. The presentation and written assignment topics will be assigned at the beginning of the course.
Accommodations and Meals
Accommodation and most meals are included in the program’s fees. In Athens, students will stay at a hotel close to the center of the city, while in Crete Island housing will be offered at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania. Meals will be either offered in the selected accommodations or provided by local establishments as part of the program’s educational activities. If students want to purchase extra foods or snacks, there will be opportunities for them to visit local supermarkets (not included in the program’s cost, as applies to any other personal expenses). In all locations, bedding (sheets, pillows, blankets if necessary) will be provided, although students are welcome to bring their own equipment if they prefer.