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Lesson 2.1: The Mediterranean Diet


Lesson 2.1: The Mediterranean Diet


Topic 1: Geography, Technology and Food Culture (Humans & the Environment, Humans and Other Humans)


The lesson describes the so-called Mediterranean Diet, its history and significance in the modern era, and traces the history and geography of the foods and culture of which it is made, beginning with the defining role played by olive, date, grape, legume and grain cultivation as well as sources of protein such as seafood and domesticated animals (goats, sheep, cattle). Other foods that were indigenous or introduced into the Mediterranean region such as fruits and vegetables can be introduced through further research into regional recipes. This lesson will also expand on the theme of overlapping and diverse regions of the Mediterranean and how they contributed over time to its ways of life and culture, trade within and beyond the region, and its world-historical influence.


Susan Douglass


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies




2014 Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


1-2 class periods if done as collective learning activity


• Students will be able to identify and describe major components of the Mediterranean diet in terms of plant and animal products, such as olives, grapes, dates, legumes, seafood, fruits such as citrus and pomegranate, and locate their areas of origin and cultivation on a map of the region.

• They will relate the history of olive, date, and grape cultivation and the neolithic beginnings of agriculture and animal husbandry.

• They will explain the modern history and nutritional significance of the Mediterranean diet (UNESCO heritage program, health benefits).

• They will describe the regions where typically Mediterranean foods grow, and how their cultivation affects modes of life in the region (agriculture and irrigation, fishing, transhumance, etc.)


• Student handout 2.1.1 The Mediterranean Diet (may also bring up slideshare at

• Student handouts 2.1.2 (olive tree); 2.1.3 (date palm); 2.1.4 (grapevine); 2.1.5 (domesticated grains & legumes); 2.1.6 (fruits & nuts); 2.1.7 (seafood); 2.1.8 (animals); Student handout 2.1.9 is for notetaking on each food.

• Internet search engine or reference books for additional research.

• Physical map of Afroeurasia or North Africa, Southwest Asia and Europe, and refer to maps on the limits of the olive, date, grapevine from handouts.

• Optional: atlas maps of vegetation, climate, elevation, rainfall, etc.

Lesson Plan Text

1. Introduce the lesson by asking students what they know about the components of a good diet, the ideal proportion of food groups, and its effects on the health of individuals. Conversely, ask students about a poor diet and its effects on our health. Show selected slides from Student Handout 2.1.1 (Original source: slides 1, 4, and 18-26 from ). Discuss why this diet became a modern concern after it was identified by Dr. Ancel Keys in 1945, and why UNESCO named it an Intangible Cultural Heritage of several Mediterranean countries in 2010, and why it came to public attention in the late 20th century (widespread understanding of public health concerns such as obesity, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes). Have students evaluate their own diets as a pre-research activity, and perhaps assign students to keep a food diary of their own intake for the week against which to compare what they learn about the Mediterranean diet.

2. Assign each pair or group of students to learn about and research a different element of the Mediterranean diet from Student handouts 2.1.2-2.1.8 and using Student Handout 2.1.9 as a research guide and reporting/presentation framework. At the end of the research period, groups will present what they learned to the group in a creative and entertaining format. Assessment and discussion focuses on how these foods make up a desireable diet (nutritional contribution of each, special characteristics) and why it has become popular as a modern way to improve health. How does the Mediterranean diet compare with students’ individual food diaries?

3. For the historical, cultural and geography component of the lesson, compare the maps on where these foods grow (e.g. limits of the olive tree, date palm), what products were derived for human benefit, and what ways of life their production entailed (dry or irrigated farming, pastoral nomadism, transhumance, associated crafts and technologies (e.g. olive & wine press, grain milling, preservation such as drying and salting, hydraulic technologies, horticultural skills like grafting of trees). Which of these components of the Mediterranean diet stimulated trade, and why (e.g. wine, olive oil for food & light, grain as staple, dates as food for caravan travel), which were suitable for short-and long-distance trade.

4. A key element of the lesson is to appreciate the importance of adjoining regions and a wider “Mediterranean.” For example, they should be able to compare the items that are native to the region and those that were brought into it, as well as those (for example, the package of domesticated grains and animals that arrived from Southwest Asia) and were then disseminated around the Mediterranean and into neighboring regions—and ultimately, around the world (through trade, such as spices, rice, cotton, coffee, then through the Columbian Exchange, and finally through globalization as a contemporary process—of which the Mediterranean Diet is an example).

5. As they learn about trade in the Mediterranean, students can refer to what they know about these foods and trace their significance in trade and the economy of the region over time, and what role they play as global food items today.

6. Optional activity: Provide samples (realia) of olives, dates, barley, various pulses, wheat, fruits, and samples of wool fiber. Alternatively, students may bring in recipes using the items they studied to be collected into a class handout. Teachers can lead a tasting of the plain items or – if there is time and willingness – plan a classroom Mediterranean potluck banquet.

7. Extension: there is a very interesting article on Russian research into the genetics of domesticated animals at See also Table of Domestication of plants and animals with original sources at



Susan Douglass, “Lesson 2.1: The Mediterranean Diet,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed August 3, 2020,