Accepted Paper:

From the land to the table: nationhood and the Mediterranean diet in Spain  


Richard Pfeilstetter (University of Seville)

Paper short abstract:

The presentation explores the “Mediterranean diet” in the context of the recent intensification of Spanish and Catalonian nationalism. It discusses how Intangible Heritage encourages conflicting political claims ranging from (romantic) national particularism to (naïve) cosmopolitan universalism.

Paper long abstract:

State and regional nationalism in Spain and Catalonia has grown substantially in recent years. The debt and housing crisis, the subsequent rise of mass unemployment and the revelation of widespread corruption among the countries elites might be seen as the main catalyst for this current disintegration. Nevertheless, nationalist positions of both kinds in Spain (different from the Scottish case) are legitimized to a great extent by historical and cultural arguments. This paper discusses the example of the Mediterranean diet recently put on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Promoted principally by the Catalonian agro-industry and the regional government, the element also counts with other support from such entities as the Spanish state, academic medical researchers, an "emblematic" community and other "Mediterranean" nation-states.

Looking at the nomination process and its associated discourses and actors, illustrates how the Convention is a tool for different nationalist constructions, appropriations and uses of cultural markers. On the other hand, the case also shows how the superficial and consensus-driven notions of healthy lifestyle, traditional food, sustainable agriculture, local community or transnational cooperation (imbricated in the element and promoted by the Convention) proportion cultural stereotypes for a variety of institutions and their agendas, from academia over business to state-administration. It is argued that the multivocality of the symbolic resource "Mediterranean diet" in Spain and more generally of Intangible Heritage as defined by UNESCO, encourages conflicting political claims from (romantic) national particularism to (naïve) cosmopolitan universalism.

Panel Heri003
A threat to unification? Europe's nationalizing states and the UNESCO convention on intangible heritage