Papers presented by Xaq Frohlich since 2019

2023 Detroit, MI, United States

"What is the Mediterranean Diet?: Reinventing a Traditional Diet as a Global Health Brand"

Xaq Frohlich, Auburn University


The Mediterranean diet has become big business and a global icon for healthy eating. What was once a traditional diet embedded in local foodways and agrarian practices, today is a heavily promoted healthy lifestyle, public health tool, and regional branding opportunity for diet gurus and food industries alike. This project-in-progress examines how market actors and scientific networks shaped popular understandings of food, diet, and health, and the role this plays in regional identity politics. I will describe how the the Mediterranean diet was “rediscovered” after World War II, first, as a form of culinary tourism, then, through the Seven Countries epidemiological study, as a global public health tool. I discuss the subsequent marketization of the diet, focusing particularly on developments in the United States, Spain, and Italy. Scientists and health gurus promoted the Mediterranean diet through cookbooks and diet advice books as a healthy, yet pleasurable lifestyle. Businesses used it as a regional brand to market certain foods, such as olive oil. This project will illustrate how these activities detached the diet and its foods from local Mediterranean foodways, and transformed it into decontextualized commercial commodities for global exchange.