Spain’s much-loved menús del día (menus of the day) are sacred to many Spaniards and can be found in pretty much every city, town and village across the country.
They are typically three-course menus served at lunchtime for a fixed price and include a drink, which may be beer or wine, as well as bread.
But in recent days another ‘foodgate’ scandal has been brewing in Spain after it was reported that the country’s Interterritorial Health Council, made up of doctors and other health professionals, had suggested that alcohol be dropped from the menu.
This supposed proposal has caused such an uproar among restaurant owners, hoteliers and consumers, that Spain’s Ministry of Health finally decided to drop the specific mention of alcohol and instead encourage restaurants to promote the Mediterranean diet.
“We reiterate that it is false information that bars and restaurants are going to be forced not to offer wine or beers on their menus,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
“Restaurant establishments should promote the Mediterranean diet as a model of heart-healthy eating,” was all Spanish health authorities wished to convey.
News published in Spanish daily La Razón stating that the government will collaborate with bars and restaurants to promote the Mediterranean diet without including alcohol consumption was misconstrued by other media outlets as being a booze ban from menús del día.
The huge debate the fake news has sparked proves just how important being able to have a drink with lunch is to Spaniards, and how once again they don’t like the idea of the Spanish government telling them to let go of one of their guilty pleasures.
What reasons could be behind not wanting alcohol to be included in the menú del día?
Well, despite all the studies over the years claiming that ‘a glass a day keeps the doctor away’, beer and wine can’t technically be considered healthy.
The Ministry of Health’s strategy points out the harmful effects of alcohol on cardiovascular health, which is currently the leading cause of death in Spain ahead of cancer or respiratory diseases.
More than 115,000 lives are claimed each year: one in four people dies from heart problems and related pathologies.
With regards to beer, Spain currently taxes €0.03 per 33cl, well below the European average of 14 cents, according to the EU Commission database. This makes it very easy for bars and restaurants to include alcohol as part of their daily menus.
According to the most recent data from the European health interview survey (EHIS), 13 percent of Spaniards drink alcohol every day, the second highest rate in the EU after Portugal.
How healthy are the menús del día really?
The menús del día date back to the 1960s during the Franco regime, when they were called Menús Túristicos and were introduced so that tourists would be able to pay a fixed price to enjoy Spanish cuisine.
In the 1970s, they changed their name to menús del día as they became even more popular with the local population.
You can usually select between several dishes for each course and depending on what you order, menús del día can be great value for money and typically cost around €8 to €15.
While menús del día may be popular and very good value, the most typical ones are not usually the healthiest of meals. Yes, there may be a salad option for the starter, but as well as alcohol and desserts, they usually include many fried choices and lots of red meat often served with potatoes – there are very rarely any other vegetables. Think deep-fried croquetas, solomillo con patatas (steak with chips), callos (tripe) or huevos con chorizo (eggs with spicy Spanish sausage).
While the fish dishes are an obvious healthier option, it’s a very rare day when there are any vegetarian mains on the menu.
This is not the first time there has been an uproar over alleged changes to the Spanish diet
This is not the first time that there has been controversy and uproar surrounding the need to change the Spanish diet.
In 2015, the WHO issued a health warning to say that carcinogens were present in certain types of meat, including Spain’s beloved jamón, which caused an outcry across the country.
Then more recently in 2021, Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzón called on Spaniards to eat less meat citing both health and environmental reasons.
Garzón’s recommendations caused anger from livestock farmers and agriculture associations calling for the minister to resign over his attacks.
The Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition recommends a weekly consumption of between 200 and 500 grammes of meat (carne in Spanish), while Spaniards consume on average more than one kilo. This is between two and five times more than what is considered optimal.
According to FAO data, Spain is the country that consumes the most meat in the European Union.