Director-General  QU Dongyu
A statement by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu

2nd Mediterranean Diet Event

27 November 2019


Madame BELLONI, Secretary General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy,

Mister RUOCCO, Secretary General, Ministry of Health of Italy


Ladies and Gentlemen.

I welcome you to the Second Event on the Mediterranean Diet. This is part of our strong collaboration with the Government of Italy.

Last time I said already that we are living here, eating here, and enjoying the fresh air of Rome. So we have to do something special with our host country, with passion, responsibility.

Next year, it will be the 10th anniversary of the declaration of the Mediterranean Diet as intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO.

This event today is part of a series of seminars focusing on different aspects of the Mediterranean Diet in preparation for the celebration next year.

Next year, we will have a celebration for the 75th anniversary of FAO, it will not be only one day or one week. We will have many visible activities on food for the system and health, cultural heritage of course, and consumption.

Just last evening, we had big events, thanks to Member Countries, with the approval by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste and the International Tea Day. This is something really important for us, we can start thinking how to celebrate these two days, two events, which are our priority to promote the SDGs. 

The first seminar on the Mediterranean Diet held in September was about the cultural dimension of food. Today’s event will focus on the nutritional aspects of the Mediterranean diet and other traditional diets from around the world. It brings FAO together with member countries. We can build a more inclusive and cooperative relationship with our Member Countries and in certain subjects. This time it is food and nutrition, traditional food and nutrition, including indigenous, which includes the knowledge of our ancestors and a cultural sense of generations.

Traditional and indigenous diets contain the wisdom of our ancestors and the cultural essence of generations. They are healthy diets, Years and years we learned from our ancestors. That is our historical handover. We have no rights to stop, no rights to do nothing. That will go naturally. We have to do something to make a difference. 

Mediterranean diet research, for example, revealed that it can lower cholesterol, prevent heart diseases and diabetes. It is good, I lost four or five kilos since I came here about four months today. Of course, some people say it is because I work hard, but actually I eat much less than in China. At lunch I ate much less oil. It is good, I feel more energetic. While you are in Rome do as the Romans do, but not many people do that. You have to change and integrate yourself with the Roman way of life. Slow down, less fat, less oil, more vegetables. It is still hard for me to eat dinner so late, we have to finish dinner earlier and have time to digest.

Similar health benefits are known from other diets such as the New Nordic Diet and the traditional Japanese Diet and the south part of Chinese diet. We have many different diets in China, but the one from the south is very light. The one from the north is very salty and heavy, especially in Mongolia, as there is no vitamins and fruit.

The global importance of healthy diets is reflected in Sustainable Development Goal Number 2, which puts emphasis on improved nutrition, as it is key to human health and economic development.

Promoting and protecting healthy diets and making them available, accessible and affordable is critical for having a fulfilled and happy life.

But the reality today is a different one: Population growth, globalization, urbanization and economic pressures are changing our diets and consumption patterns.

One more reason, I should say, is that youth are eating much more fast food. They have lost their Chinese culture, family in the south. Always we talk about being happy to phone your grandma, now your grandma is still there, but I strongly encourage the younger generation to cook two or three times a week, it is very enjoyable. I have cooked for more than 34 years, when I came to Beijing. So you can find some kind of joy in it. Yesterday, I had a talk with the President of Italy, and we talked about food.

Due to the fast pace of life, many households do not cook anymore. Restaurant meals and street foods are now replacing home cooked family meals.

So we need a balance. Even the famous Mediterranean diet is losing its touch with the youth of today. I have learned that all the famous Italian food, leftover food for the next meal, leftovers are mixed up and made into soup, it’s a culture.

We have to join our efforts in ensuring that traditional diets regain their importance and well-deserved position in the people’s mind.

Excellencies, distringuished guests,

FAO is committed to the elimination of hunger and malnutrition in all its forms. Traditional and indigenous healthy diets play an important role in this effort.

But how to update this traditional knowledge and food? We have to standardise the transition of indigenous knowledge, for younger generations to follow. You cannot each time ask your grandmother, no it’s impossible. So you can put an app, on the website, with a diet of indigenous food, there are indigenous and Mediterranean diets on the website, people can make copies from their own experience.

For example, FAO is supporting countries around the world to develop Food-based Dietary Guidelines, so governments can advise their citizens on healthy eating that is suitable to their local context.

We aim to ensure that food not only feeds the people but also nourishes them. We are actively involved in this.

FAO and WHO have just released Guiding Principles on Sustainable Healthy Diets. These principles support countries in their efforts of promoting healthy diets.

Promoting traditional healthy diets is important for advancing our efforts towards a food system that respects the environment, culture and well-being of people.

Our food systems today are not supporting healthy eating patterns!

Transforming our food systems is essential in ensuring healthy diets. This is why we are strong supporters of the UN Secretary General s call for a Food Systems Summit in 2021. As a professional organisation of the UN, we have to play the leader. Of the new requirements of society, efforts must include consumers, producers, politicians and all key players that deal with the food. That is the most important public good for society, not only for farmers, no matter if you’re a SG, DG, farmer, any people on this planet, you have to have nutritious food. So how to transform food systems to diversify – that is our real challenge. Depends of different ages, regions, development stage of people. Some people need to pay too much for medicine, need to shift it to pay more on food. We are very grateful for the full support expressed by Italy to our efforts in that regard. We have to work together to make beautiful things.

Italy’s support was expressed by Prime Minister Conte during the World Food Day Celebrations last month and confirmed again by the President of the Republic Matarella yesterday at my meeting with him.

We must work together and ensure that sustainable healthy diets are affordable to all, especially to the most vulnerable people. That is a layer of civilisation, that the most vulnerable have affordable, nutritious food.

Let us aim big and do concrete!

I wish you fruitful discussions and thank you for your attention and any suggestion surrounding food systems. You are most welcome.