Where People in the Mediterranean Get Their Food

By Meri Raffetto, Wendy Jo Peterson

Although you may be used to cruising to the grocery store and buying whatever you need, folks on the Mediterranean coast 50 years ago didn’t roll that way. Instead, they depended on what was farmed and fished locally, making culinary specialties by using everything on hand. Those habits may be fading, but they’re still the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, and you can still embrace them by incorporating fresh foods into your meals even if you don’t live near the Mediterranean.

Focusing on farming

In addition to creating travel-worthy beaches, a moderate climate of wet winters and hot summers makes many of the areas along the Mediterranean ideal for agriculture. As a result, people living in the Mediterranean area can grow their own food in gardens and small farms, and many do so. A few areas have this type of climate (similar to the climate of southern coastal California), which makes growing specialized foods like olives and fig trees easier, thus providing ingredients for some of the signature recipes from this region.

Many people in the Mediterranean also abundantly use fresh herbs, spices, onions, and garlic to provide big flavor to their cooking. The table is a partial list of common foods grown on the Mediterranean coast.

Foods Commonly Grown in the Mediterranean

Category Ingredient
Legumes Chickpeas
Lentils
Peas
Fruits Olives
Mandarin oranges
Figs
Grapes
Lemons
Persimmons
Pomegranates
Grains Barley
Corn
Rice
Wheat
Herbs Rosemary
Oregano
Sage
Parsley
Basil
Dill
Thyme
Mint
Fennel
Nuts Almonds
Hazelnuts
Pine nuts
Walnuts
Vegetables Asparagus
Broccoli
Cabbage
Green beans
Garlic
Onions
Eggplant
Tomatoes
Broccoli rabe
Artichokes

Eating seasonally

As a side effect of eating what they grow locally, folks in the Mediterranean also eat seasonally; after all, you can’t eat what you can’t grow. Eating in-season food makes an impact for the following reasons:

  • Seasonal abundance makes you cook more creatively. If you have a plentiful amount of, say, green beans, you want to utilize them in any way possible. Finding different, tasty ways to prepare green beans as a side dish or as part of an entree requires more of a thought process, and more care goes into the food itself.
  • You eat an increased variety of produce throughout the year. On one hand, you may eat a lot of one food while it’s in season, but when that season’s over, you’ll switch to other foods associated with the new time of year. Relying on produce available year-round at the grocery store means you can easily get stuck in a rut of eating the same standbys throughout the year.

    More variety in produce means more variety of health-promoting nutrients that help you prevent disease. Although eating a few different types of fruits and vegetables throughout the year is better than nothing, getting a wide variety is the ultimate goal for good health.

Fishing the Mediterranean Sea

People in the Mediterranean area rely on the nearby sea as a food source. Fish appear in many common traditional recipes, providing a wealth of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. You can add seafood to a few weekly meals and reap the same benefits. The least expensive seafood in the Mediterranean region includes sardines, anchovies, mackerel, squid, and octopus. Mid-priced fish and shellfish include tuna, trout, clams, and mussels. For a pricey, special-occasion meal, options include lobster and red mullet.

During the 1960s, before the area was overfished, a variety of seafood was available in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, fish stocks today are significantly low in the Mediterranean due to overfishing, and many important species, such as tuna, are threatened.