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Director-General  Qu Dongyu
A statement by FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu
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More than 2000 years of Mediterranean diet: a Journey from ancient Romans to the UNESCO recognition in 2010. The cultural dimension of food.


Rome, 18 September 2019


Speech by Dr QU Dongyu

FAO Director-General


Ladies and Gentlemen, Excellencies, Honorable Elisabetta Belloni,
I welcome you all to FAO.


  1. Today is not only for FAO. It is definitely for Italy first. We drink here, eat here – we live here. We appreciate all you have done for us. All of you [gestures to audience], ambassadors, representatives from all over the world. We really enjoy life here in Rome, in Italy, and in Europe.
  2. So, food is essential. Not only for people, but also for animals. Animals feed themselves first, and then become food for us. So we have to look at food as a system, as a whole cycle.

  3. Access to healthy diets for all is critical for creating the enabling environment that leads to achieving Agenda 2030. Sustainability and healthy food are the basis for people to have a productive and healthy life. And even  a happy life. Without healthy food, you don’t have a profound reason to be happy.

  4. FAO is highlighting the importance of healthy diets for zero hunger at its birthday, World Food Day, on 16 October. A lot of people know it’s World Food Day, but I am here to highlight that it’s also the official birthday of FAO. It was originally from Canada, and America, from President Roosevelt, to initiate this Organization in 1943. FAO became an official, professional organization of the UN in 1945. We had 42 founding members, now we have 194, 150 countries more.

  5. Thanks to the Italian government’s generosity, we have a lodging in Rome and it allows us to have this meeting here.

  6. Today we celebrate the Mediterranean Diet, a diet that has been enjoyed over countless generations and is now considered, quite rightly, a model for healthy eating. I know people from all over the world enjoy the food and the life in Italy. And the first step is what has made Mediterranean food really, scientifically based, good for health. I think we need to know, and we need to explain to the people who don’t know. That’s the meaning of this Mediterranean food day.

  7. A lot of people eat Mediterranean food every day, but don’t know about its history, what is its nutrition contribution, what is its health contribution. So I think there are a lot of things we have wanted to draw attention to through this important event.

  8. The Mediterranean Diet promotes local food production and consumption patterns. It also encourages sustainable agriculture, and safeguards landscapes. In addition, it has been shown to have a low environmental footprint. That’s more important, because Italy and south Europe in general is not the ideal place for agriculture. Not now; many generations before, because the mountains do not have as much rich soil as you have in Ukraine or Russia who have black soil. But here the soil is not ideal, but the people here have survived so well, there must be something behind this, scientifically, historically, and culturally, that we should learn. So we should pay attention to how have they been able to keep civilizations going on for so many years, for so many generations – in a sustainable way.

  9. Yet, the Mediterranean Diet, like many traditional diets around the world, is being lost to modern eating habits. With more disposable income, less time to prepare family meals, consumers - especially in urban areas - increasingly rely on “easy eating”. Sometimes you need easy eating, but maybe just once in the day? Then you have to take your responsibility to prepare food. Every day, I prepare my own food! Except the lunch – I eat that with all the staff, in the cafeteria.

  10. Population growth, globalization, urbanization and economic pressures are causing changes in our food systems, diets and consumption patterns.

  11. These changes, in turn, give rise to dietary risk factors, which are among the major causes of disease and death for human beings. So, you have to keep your system, your body system, more smoothly balanced – even with your soul. This is something that Asian people understand very well – we have a concrete body and we have a soul. So you have to keep a balance for your soul, so while you are sleeping, you have a good, complete rest.

  12. So food is essential for both the soul and the body.

  13. It is for this reason that efforts and initiatives protecting and supporting traditional healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet, are to be recommended.

  14. FAO recognizes the importance of traditional and indigenous diets. Yesterday I had a talk with the ambassadors from Canada, from the Nordics, and we’ll have a meeting on indigenous food next week. I think all these efforts are very important, in all parts of the world, to highlight their benefits and supporting their protection, before all the indigenous knowledge disappears. We have the historical responsibility to remind ourselves that these things should be treasured for generations to come.

  15. The importance of traditional diets as a central element of cultural heritage is also reflected in the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems that FAO established in 2012. These outstanding landscapes combine agricultural biodiversity, resilient ecosystems and a valuable cultural heritage.  I understand that this afternoon will be dedicated to GIAHS and that there are some beautiful pictures outside of potential GIAHS sites.

  16. So, let’s work together to combine all efforts which are good for beautiful, cultural, traditional heritage, even some where we didn’t realize how important they were. When you’ve lost something - like a friend – when you lose a friend, you appreciate how important your friend is. I appreciate my friendship with you, with people around the world.

  17. Thank you. Enjoy your time.