Posted by: puebloman | May 9, 2009

The Mediterranean Diet

Good eating and longevity were two reasons for coming to live in the Axarquia. Here all the old boys ask “How old do you think I am?”. “Thirty-five?” you reply, resisting the temptation to say “Ninety-four”. Well, it turns out that they all are ancient but still fit and strong. If we are to believe English colour supplements, this is due to the “Mediterranean Diet” – fresh vegetables, virgin olive oil, spring water and other wholesome comestibles promoted by doctors and directors of taste and fashion as the shortest route to eternal life. All these products certainly exist here, along with the finest seafood in the world, much of it from Scotland.

So I was surprised to find that all the villages are full of diabetics. The littlest shop is stuffed with sugar free chocolate and biscuits and the disease is very well established, regarded in the commmunity as almost normal. When you look at what people actually eat as opposed to the “diet”, you start to get the picture. You could be forgiven for thinking that the Mediterranean diet consists of fat, salt and sugar.

Walk into a cake shop for instance. There are cakes with red cream, green cream, brown cream, white cream and they all taste exactly the same. The “cream” is of the sort we used to get in England in the ’50’s – whipped fat and sugar with or without colouring. Real whipped cream is not widely used here. Cows milk and its products are not traditional to this region of goats. Favorite is “squirty” cream that comes in an aerosol and is full of sugar.

Pig fat as an item of diet is highly prized. Christians for a long time menaciously extolled the medicinal value of pig fat over olive oil because pig is Christian and oil is Muslim and Jewish. The other day in the village shop I was offerd a piece of “manteca”. Manteca is like streaky bacon without any lean in it. It was explained that I should slice it thin, fry it til golden, and sprinkle it with salt. Delicious. No, it really is delicious.

If you eat out at lunchtime you will rarely find any vegetables on the table. Although you may detect some cabbage and potato in the first course “potage” or the soup, the second course of fish or meat is served on its own or perhaps with chips.You can order a salad, and sometimes one appears as part of your “Menu del Dia”. In our favourite bar the salad consists of chopped iceberg lettuce with good tomatoes and local olives with a tin of tuna on top. Unusually, it also has chopped crabstick, onion and avocado. However if you have had your heart attack or even if you are only about to have one, its wise to ask the chef to go easy on the salt. Salt features strongly in the batter mix and flouring of the famous Malaga fried fish. Prawns and sardines are usually rolled in salt prior to grilling.

Diet here as everywhere is less a matter of region than of wealth. What does it matter that the Axarquia is the fruit and vegetable basket of Europe? We no longer eat what we grow where we grow it. Poverty can be advantageous given that you have enough to sustain a basic nutritious diet.  Many dietary problems here may come from the relative new found wealth of the region. I am told that vegetables are seen as the food of the poor, so when a family goes out to eat it tends to eat meat or fish. A diet of fat used to fuel a life of hard labour, just as a full English breakfast used to fit the life of a ploughman. All of us who can now borrow the money for a car no longer have to walk or travel by donkey. Old men here will live a long time because they worked hard physically in clean air and didn’t used to get much to eat, not because they ate lettuce.The alcega (chard) harvest

Here in Cutar the passionfruits hang from the vine like bunches of smooth green testicles.

Tomatoes and courgetts are in flower.

This is the chard harvest and I am still pulling the last of the cabbage and the lettuce.

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