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Iconic Rioja Photo Reveals Why Spain Is The Healthiest Nation In The World

Live fast, die old.

From spraying each other with Rioja to bathing in internationally-acclaimed tomatoes, Spaniards sure know how to party. And that’s before you even get to Valencia’s pyromania, Pamplona’s Bull Run or any of the other fiestas that so fascinate and (in some cases) horrify.

When you take animal cruelty out of the equation, however, and focus on the ‘lust for life’ festivals like La Tomatina or Haro’s wine fight (or the street-party aspects of the more gruesome festivals), a difference in attitude between Spaniards and tourists soon becomes apparent: while Keep Cup carrying (and UNICEF volunteering) exchange students baulk at sending thousands of litres of world-renowned wine (and tomatoes) to the gutter, most Spaniards see it as an investment in community health.

Of course, some tourists are totally on board with this, and some Spaniards aren’t, but from my anecdotal experience (as well as interviews with Mercado head chef Jason Dean and Campo Viejo global ambassador Federico Lleonart), Spaniards are – generally speaking – far more skilled at indulging than the rest of us.

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And while they don’t use the best-of-the-best tomatoes, or creme-de-la-vineyard grapes, considering the number of hungry people in the world, the optics still aren’t great. Why does Spain persist then? Bloomberg’s Healthiest Country of 2019 rankings, where Spain now sits at numero uno, as well as one iconic photo from the Haro Wine Fight (in the Rioja region) may hold the answer.

Although wasting tonnes of food and wine is not a good look, from Spain’s position in the quality (and length) of life rankings (and how enamoured tourists tend to find themselves at these festivals), it appears more effective than the 4.2 trillion wellness Crossfit and Kombucha industry which is being embraced by countries like Australia and America, all of which could similarly be going to help people in need.

When you consider all of this, the ‘optics’ of slapping around a bit of wine improves considerably.

To get the down-low on this phenomenon, we spoke to Jason Dean, head chef of Mercado, one of Sydney’s finest Spanish restaurants, and Campo Viejo global ambassador Federico Lleonart, to gauge their opinion on the subtle art of drinking all the wine.

Is Spain’s penchant for gluttony greatly exaggerated? Vastly unappreciated? Supremely wasteful? Or the key to a long and happy life? Here’s what they had to say.

First things first: head chef Jason Dean told us that – despite Australia and America’s ingrained fear of excess (and animal fat) – the Spanish diet of tongue curling jamon and bottomless tempranillo is not as unhealthy as you think.

“The pigs are fed on acorns for such a long time, so they’ve actually got a lot of olive oil in the fat so it’s actually considered to be quite healthy.”

“Most charcuterie is on the leaner side of fats as well,” Jason added. “You can only get a sort of 10% fat margin in a sausage so they are quite high in protein: I don’t think they are super unhealthy.”

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As for the wine: although they drink it a lot more frequently than Aussies, Brits or Americans, Campo Viejo global ambassador Federico Lleonart told us that Spaniards tend to drink more in moderation.

So while in Australia we go from ‘Dry July’ (where Crossfit Crusaders eliminate all indulgence), to Daquiri December (where we all go a bit silly), Spaniards treat life more like a marathon – and drink accordingly.

Head chef Jason also says there are a number of food skills that come into facilitating this lengthly life, particularly when it comes to sourcing fresh produce: “I love the [Spanish] style of grazing and eating – it’s all about produce really.”

“Spend time making a beautiful product and then let it speak for itself.”

Rather than overcomplicating it, Spain is great at “letting the beauty come through in the product,” Jason told us, as well as keeping things “super fresh and seasonal,” which is not only good for your palette and the environment, but “allows the customer to order five or six different plates, which is a more exciting way to dine.”

The beauty of this, Jason said, is that as long as you choose a food which is particular to a region, “you don’t need to do anything apart from open a tine of anchovies [for example], and they are so nice you don’t need to create a dish from it.”

“It’s the same with the Jamon Iberico – people spend their whole life making this one product and then it speaks for itself.”

Campo Viejo global ambassador Federico Lleonart adds that the “easy-going” Spanish way also contributes to their long and healthy lives, telling us; “people really enjoy going out and sharing with friends.”

“There is always a meeting where a glass of wine is involved. You go to a tapas bar and of course you always enjoy a glass of wine. And so that part of being very social and very spontaneous is [something] Campo Viejo lives by,” Federico told us.

“The quality of life in Spain is very good.”

He then added, “I read an article recently that said Spain is the world’s healthiest nation and I think it’s the combination of lifestyle and diet. They say the Mediterranean diet is very healthy. It’s a great banner of what we eat.”

“The people in Spain are not obsessed with eating [or avoiding] fat or carbs, it’s basically a good combination of a lot of fish with a lot of fresh vegetables. Another important part of living longer is having a healthy social life and sharing with friends. Everything without excess.”

Ready to embrace the art of indulgence? Approximately 50 Fiestas await.

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