Editors' note: Each day during the holidays, Crosscut will revisit top stories from the last year in a specific category. Today's focus is Food. This article was originally published August 31, 2012.
If you are what you eat then perhaps we Seattleites are Mediterranean. Leadership trips to other countries have allowed us to build relationships and to borrow good ideas and best practices from around the world. One of the most interesting ideas the program encountered was the Mediterranean diet in Barcelona.
Although the diet first was studied in the 1940s, the Mediterranean diet became part of Barcelona’s economic strategy in the past two decades. Barcelona identified key sectors responsible for driving the city’s economy, and assigned each of these sectors to a governing organization responsible for making things happen in that area. For example, the Barcelona Chamber was responsible for the strategy to promote Barcelona as a world-class center for design. The institutional assignment made the strategy operational. The city did not just want another report on the shelf.
Why is the Mediterranean diet part of an economic strategy? It is, in effect, themed agricultural marketing. The diet is composed of Catalonian products. The institutional assignment to develop and advocate this strategy belongs to the Mediterranean Diet Foundation. The diet consists of whole grains and cereals, fish, fruits, and vegetables, with a little bit of dairy and wine thrown in. It also advocates physical exercise.
Sound familiar? We produce many of the same foods in Washington state. Many of our staples such as apples, salmon, legumes, berries, and vegetables are known for their healthful properties. Also, like Barcelona, agriculture is important to us. It is Washington's second largest export, driving economic activity through our ports, and generating business for trade, logistics, financial and legal firms throughout the state. The brand" Seattle" has gained worldwide cachet because of Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, the University of Washington, and the other globally known institutions located here. Why not create a "Seattle diet"?
Some initial work to that end is already happening. The Trade Alliance contacted Bastyr University and Washington State University, and with their assistance, a flyer was created. Minor promotion was accomplished with no budget. The concept also began a discussion with Swedish Medical Center and others that centered on promoting healthy eating habits and a healthy lifestyle. The discussion was to take the Seattle diet to a new level and develop a promotional campaign for regional, national, and international implementation.
A Seattle diet would promote healthy eating habits and exercise as well as the purchase of products from local farms, thereby assisting our economy. A cookbook could be developed featuring our fruits, vegetables, seafood, grains and other healthy products with recipes from our crop commissions. Promotional materials could be created in foreign languages for distribution to tourism bureaus, international visitors, business delegations, and the nearly 160 farmers markets operating around the state. Restaurants, hospitals, medical institutions, and hotels could all promote the diet. The diet could be featured on cruise ships as a tourist attraction. The diet could also have a web presence.
Projects like this need a champion, as Barcelona has shown. The Trade Development Alliance has worked to build a coalition to bring the concept to reality. The diet would be a cooperative effort between our health community, agricultural sector, and trade and tourism-promotional interests. It would also integrate our agricultural products with the Northwest’s active lifestyle, taking a page from nutrition and exercise science programs at Gonzaga University, Bastyr University, and WSU.
A Seattle diet would also achieve increased awareness of our agricultural industry and its importance to the state. The bridge between the rural and urban parts of the state would be strengthened by a better understanding of their interrelationships. Finally, we would be assisting in the sale of our products to domestic and international markets by applying the Seattle brand.
We envision the president of the Washington State China Relations Council having a business dinner in Shanghai, China by candlelight from the Seven Spirits Beeswax Candle Company. He is served wine with cheese from Jacobs Creamery in Chehalis and Greenbank farm on Whidbey Island. After the lentil soup, the main course is salmon, potatoes, and other Washington vegetables. His dessert is mixed fruit from our orchards. Over Starbucks coffee he cuts a deal to sell hops for a local brewery. He then takes a two-mile jog down the Bund to the hotel.