Friday, 22 August 2014

The Mediterranean Diet as a lifestyle (Η Μεσογειακή Δίαιτα ως τρόπος ζωής)

Here is an article I wrote that has just been published as a leaflet, for distribution at the second Mediterranean Diet Fair, which is being held next month at Tavira (Portugal) between the 5th and 7th of September, 2014. The leaflet is being produced by the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (my workplace) since it has been charged with the responsibility of the Coordination Point for the Mediterranean Diet until April 2015. You're getting a sneak preview of it. 
The Mediterranean Diet,
as inscribed by UNESCO
in the List of Intangible Heritage
2014
Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania

The Mediterranean Diet

When talking about the Mediterranean Diet, emphasis is often placed on the actual food consumed by people who live in Mediterranean countries. This emphasis is perhaps misdirected: the Mediterranean Diet should be seen as a lifestyle, not a diet in its literal sense:

The Mediterranean Diet – derived from the Greek word díaita, way of life – is the set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions, ranging from the landscape to the table, which in the Mediterranean basin concerns the crops, harvesting, picking, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly sharing and consuming the cuisine. It is at the table that the spoken word plays a major role in describing, transmitting, enjoying and celebrating the element.” (UNESCO)

Therefore, safeguarding the Mediterranean Diet in modern times is not based on the safeguarding of specific recipes; it stems from the rapid breakdown of a changing social fabric which once helped to safeguard the continuity of a lifestyle passed on from one generation to another, making it difficult to pass on this knowledge to future generations. Without a community base, there would be no ‘Mediterranean diet’; it would simply be called 'Mediterranean food'. The food of the Mediterranean is also found in other parts of the world, and can easily be copied, but this is not true about the lifestyle - it is actually the way of life (δίαιτα) that UNESCO wants to protect as Intangible Heritage under the general title of the Mediterranean Diet. 

Origins

The origins of the phrase "Mediterranean Diet" are founded in Ancel Keys' well known 1960s study about the food habits of various Mediterranean people, which took place not too long after the devastation caused by World War II when many European countries were still underdeveloped, people lived on the farm, and there were many food shortages. Their food habits, which constitute the Mediterranean Diet, were regarded as healthy due to the low incidences of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and high cholesterol. Additionally, high life-expectancy rates existed among populations who consumed a traditional Mediterranean diet. Therefore, the Mediterranean diet gained much recognition and worldwide interest since the period after the original study, as a model for healthful eating.

Seen in the old town of Hania, outside a taverna.

Ancel Keys' Mediterranean Diet pyramid is based on the healthy eating and lifestyle habits of the people living in southern Italy and the Greek islands, notably Crete, in the early 1960s.

Photo: Bread, olive oil and wine constituted the triptych of the Greek diet for many centuries, just as they do today. http://greekfood.about.com/od/discovergreekfood/a/food_intro.htm

A modern Greek meal is like taking a trip through Greece's history. Food names, cooking methods and basic ingredients have changed little over time. Bread, olive oil and wine have constituted the triptych of the Greek diet for many centuries, just as they do today. The first cookbook was written by the Greek food gourmet, Archestratos in 330 BC, which suggests that food and cooking has always been of great importance and significance in Greek society, which remains true even today.

The Mediterranean Diet as a lifestyle

Food events in the Mediterranean are an integral part of the Mediterranean people’s socialization; they are a perfect display of the Mediterranean lifestyle. They invariably involve a group of people who all play their own role in ensuring that a seasonal food event takes place according to plan. From the soil to the plate, each stage in the process is followed. Omitting any stage can sometimes be the cause of misunderstanding, although it is possible to alter a stage to suit the conditions. The alterations to such seasonal activities are how traditions are formed over time in each of the individual communities involved. The Mediterranean Diet is, therefore, not limited to terrain or particular food products: it is a shared understanding of the continuity of traditional values associated with eating patterns. Every different Mediterranean country has its own rituals and traditions associated with food, so there is no single diet. It is a coincidence that similar food items are often used, although they are combined in different ways according to many factors, such as one's locality, religion, available seasonal produce, customs, etc.

Many of the lifestyle events involved in the Mediterranean Diet are one-off occasions. They cannot be repeated due to their seasonal nature, and therefore their results will be lost for the year if they are not conducted accordingly. When things don't go to plan, there is always a Plan B to follow, so that the ritual's offering will not go wasted. The Mediterranean lifestyle revolves around the same seasonal activities that, at any given moment, are being done by different people at exactly the same time, and this is what is so special about the Mediterranean Diet: this is in fact the Intangible Heritage that UNESCO wants to protect under its label. It is not just the food, but the way of life that the food revolves around which needs to be protected.

The Mediterranean Diet in food security

In modern times, there is a great need to protect the Mediterranean Diet, due to the fact that it is now under threat from the forces of the globalisation and internationalisation of lifestyles. These movements cannot be prevented, nor is it desirable to stop them from taking place. But they are the main reason why the farming populations of Mediterranean countries are gradually being reduced, hence the reason why the Mediterranean people are losing contact with the land as they become more urbanised. These events are also accompanied by an increasingly homogenized and globalised food production system that disconnects food from its natural landscape.

It should therefore be seen as a vital goal to promote the Mediterranean Diet in its place of origin (i.e. in the countries of the Mediterranean basin) in the framework of a lifestyle. Our lives are becoming interconnected, and we are merging in many ways, but there are some things that will keep us distinct, and they are to be treasured, for that is where our sense of uniqueness comes from. The aim of the Mediterranean Diet newsletter, in conjunction with the Mediterranean Diet website, is to initiate discussion into how to maintain and preserve this unique identity.


In the process of being editeds

Intangible Heritage - UNESCO

Upon the completion of negotiation rounds headed by the Ministry of Rural Development and Food of the Hellenic Republic, Greece has been assigned the coordinating role of the Network of the seven Member Countries subscribed to the Mediterranean Diet in UNESCO's representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, from 1 May 2014 to 30 April 2015. At an intergovernmental meeting held in Agros, Cyprus, on 28-29 April 2014, which was attended by the National Committee of UNESCO, the proposal of the Ministry of Rural Development and Food of the Hellenic Republic to undertake the coordination of the Network was adopted. November 16 has been set as the Flagship Day to celebrate the Mediterranean Diet.

This effort of the Greek government and specifically the Ministries of Rural Development & Food, and Culture & Sport, regarding the need for a coordination tool, was launched in 2011, immediately after the recognition by UNESCO of the Mediterranean Diet as Intangible Cultural Heritage, following the submission of a portfolio to the UNESCO Committee. On the Greek side, Koroni in Messinia was chosen as the flagship of the Community, an area rich in agricultural products such as olive oil, olives, wine, raisins, figs, a large variety of vegetables, herbs and aromatic plants. The Member Countries and Emblematic Communities of the Mediterranean Diet as Intangible Cultural Heritage are Koroni (Greece), Brač and Hvar (Croatia), Agros (Cyprus),  Cilento (Italy), Chefchaouen (Morocco), Tavira  (Portugal) and Soria (Spain).

The Ministry has assigned, as the coordination point, the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh/CIHEAM), which has the necessary scientific and research expertise to undertake joint actions and initiatives, both to preserve and disseminate the values of the Mediterranean Diet.

If the Mediterranean Diet is seen as just a pyramid of a suggested diet regime, then we are only looking at the food and not the lifestyle. The significance of the Mediterranean Diet includes so much more than just the food.

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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Simbetherio - Mixed marriage stew (Συμπεθεριό)

The moment to rid ourselves of the aging zucchini plants came: the plants had overgrown leaves, the zucchini was sprouting but not growing, it was shrivelling up as soon as it sprouted.. Before I dug them out from the root, I snipped off the most tender part off the plant, which makes a tasty summer stew.
The meaning of 'simbetherio' comes from the relationship of the parents-in-law of the two members of a marriage; the families become related to each other through marriage (they are 'simbetheroi' to each other). The simbetherio dish uses the extended family members of various similar species, cooked in the same pot. The term is usually given to summer-autumn dishes, and not winter meal.

Simbetherio (συμπεθεριό) is the Cretan term for this dish, but it is also known as tourlou-tourlou (= mix-mix, from Turkish). It is really a stovetop briam, a Greek-style ratatouille. In my simbetherio, I used whatever vegetables had been grown in our garden: together with the zucchini tops, I added peppers, onions, tomatoes and eggplant. 
For seasonings, I added some salt, pepper, purslane leaves (known here as glistrida or antrakla) and two sprigs of fresh basil leaves. I could also have added vlita (amaranth) and some stifno (black nightshade), as both grow in our garden, but the pot was already full of sweeter greens and veges, so I left them out. 
Simbetherio is a really simple dish to prepare, and it reminds me of the end of summer, which we often look forward to in Crete, because it's always too hot at this time of year. It hasn't rained since early June, and we're completely parched here, especially since a drought has been declared in the region. 
The most frugal dishes I cook are often the tastiest, because the recipes are based on cheaply produced garden produce.

Well, if you  are having a record-breaking year for tourism in your country, and your hometwon just happens to be one of the most popular summer resort towns for domestic tourism, that means that more and more people need to have showers 2-3 times a day to cool themselves down in the blazing heat, more sheets and towels need to be washed, and more tomatoes need to be grown - and washed! - for making 'Greek' salad. 

09
This photo was used in the local press today to illustrate the problem of water shortages in Hania.

No wonder there is a drought right now, things will right themselves when the summer tourist season is over. There are talks right now of extending the tourist season by one month each end - ie, to include the whole of March and November - which is great news of course in economic terms, but just how prepared are we for this? Just for the record, there is plenty of water available in the region, but it was planned to be used in dire cases of water shortages. I personally don't classify this case as dire; this is simply a case of άρπα-κόλλα - it could have been prevented if there was any serious planning taking into consideration, given the early forecasting of the record-breaking tourist figures for this year.

Bonus photo: simbetherio, cooked by Ntounias last weekend.

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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Plutus - Aristophanes (Πλούτος του Αρσιτοφάνη)

Remember them?

Plutus (Aristophanes), 8/8/2014, at the outdoor theatre in Hania, with Stathis Psaltis (left) and Kostas Voutsas (right).

If you grew up in the 60s-70s among the diaspora, you'll remember watching slap-stick comedian Kostas Voutsas (right) in his youth on the big screen in your local cinema when your local Greek community group hired the venue to watch a film.

A blast from the past: Κάτι να κάιει (Something hot), probably the most successful film Kostas Voutsas ever made, starring a wide collection of famous Greeks of the stage. As for the band members, can you pick out a former Minister of Culture's husband? (Watch the whole film here.)

Another comedian, Stathis Psaltis made his name in the 80s. His style of humour perhaps reflects the 'new' Greece that had just entered the EU: Pslatis could be described as Greece's Benny Hill - most of the time, he played a highly sexed unattractive funnyman who ended up getting all the girls.

Psaltis was well-known for his now outdated roles as a 'kamaki '- girl-chaser. You can watch the whole film here. The late Bruno was one of the most well-known kamaki, which was even the subject of a documentary

The theatrical production of Plutus by the South-Aegean Theatre Company was done very well. It had been playing since last year in various outdoor theatres around the country (during the summer period, naturally).

Here, you can get a glimpse of the very high quality acting and the wonderful brightly coloured costumes that were also used in the performance I saw, as recorded last year.

This year, to take it a little further, Psaltis and Voutsas, along with Anna Fonsou (another 'old' actor) were chosen to star in it, so as to attract a wider audience. Unfortunately for the theatrical group, the old actors performed according to old and outdated norms, which kind of ruined the generally high quality of the performance - it's the first time I've seen people leave the theatre during a performance. Every sentence uttered by Voutsas and Psaltis contained one of 'malaka', 'malakia', 'malakies', 'gamo', and 'gamisi'; it seems that the audience did not come to hear this at all. Then again, what else does one expect of such big-screen old-timers, whose main theatre roles have always been part of the επιθεώρηση* production type?

I would have walked out early too, but I stayed just for the kids to get a chance to see the actors up close. We had a bit of a chat about what we saw, what we liked, and what we didn't like after the show, the main talk centering around a photo I took with the actors.

As for Anna Fonsou, she turned down her role after all, because she was not happy about the money she would be receiving for her performance. One would think that all these old actors would have been renumerated well enough over the years, and saved some of their hard-earned savings, but this is not always the case in Greece. In fact, I question how Kostas Voutsas was moving around Greece playing at different venues all over the country int he very hot weather, at his age (83). Anna Fonsou also recognised this problem a decade earlier, and has worked very hard to set up a fund for unemployed Greek actors who run into financial difficulties in their older age when they are past their prime. It was a shame that we did not get to see her, but hopefully it was for a good cause.

*επιθεώρηση (e-pi-the-O-ri-si) = review, "a special type of Greek theater, purely Greek. A kind of mixed entertainment with dancing, music, satire that combines prose and monologue, dialogue and song. A kind of theatre that, without political and social commitments, monitors the latest developments and sets alight with humour the ills of the day" (http://www.mytheatro.gr/epitheorisi-theatro/)

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Thursday, 7 August 2014

The happy immigrants of London (Οι χαρούμενοι μετανάστες του Λονδίνου)

I just read a very interesting article written in Greek by Eirini Dermitzaki, a director and writer born in 1982, in Sitia, which is located in Eastern Crete. She studied Acting and Filmmaking. She currently lives in London. You can find out more about Eirini on her website. I thought it summarised the situation of London's immigrant workers very well. With Eirini's permission, I have translated it here.

multicultural london 

"We are the happy immigrants. With tremendous joy, we wake up in the morning. We love the alarm clock that lets us wake up at six. We love the soiled carpet as we step on it to go to the bathroom. That carpet has been stepped on by other good immigrants like us from all over the world. Then we pour water on our face, one shot of ice, one shot of heat. It is said that English taps are deliberately constructed in this way. A different one for the cold water, a different one for the hot, so we can easily get used to the changes.

"We migrant workers are such worthy people, that we stack ourselves on the train every morning to get to work. There, we meet others like ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you wear a nurse’s uniform, overalls or a suit, because we are all the same and we are so much in love with each other that we don’t mind getting stuck all over each other, so if anyone ever fainted from fatigue or sleeplessness, we will catch him in time. To pass the time on the train we talk on our cell phones or play with our tablets. It is very significant to be engaged in this way because we don’t need to make the effort to think.

Eirini Dermitzaki exhibited her work last year at the Slate Gallery in London.
"We drink coffee before we get to work. A beautiful Fairtrade coffee from African plantations. We love coffee because it was created with loving care by the hands of other immigrants. All of us, of course, are dreaming of the day when we will all drink only tea.

"At work, time passes pleasantly whether our boss is British or an immigrant. Because both of them hide in us the hope that one day we too will become masters of immigrants, or better still, of the English. During the break we are pleased to be sitting side by side with immigrants. Our colleagues Ahmed, Pedro and Sonja smile cordially. We are all pleased that we are all immigrants with all our equal rights, and we feel like healthy members of society, and we are grateful that we are not like the others, unemployed migrants, or even worse, undocumented illegals.


"Once our work is done for the day, we drink our beer in the neighbouring pub to celebrate that we worked today. We laugh and drink and shout out loud, so that we forget what we really wanted to talk about.

"We immigrants, before going home, stop at the supermarket. We no longer look for products from our country on the shelves, because packaged food in plastic wrap is very cheap and we eat it all. We do not care if the vegetables are tasteless and the meat smells like carrion, because we feel safe when we carry our full bags home. At the exit, we greet our friend, our immigrant neighbour, who is carrying his own shopping bags, and feels the same pride that we do, that he can feed himself and his family.

"Back home, we share the living room with other immigrants. The kitchen cabinets, the refrigerator shelves, and the toilet paper. To have a bath, or to do our laundry, we arrange shifts. And it's very important that everything is in order and organized. Our house is like a small state. With rules and boundaries. With limits. We immigrants like that kind of stuff. It fills us with feelings of security that people who speak other languages or believe in another God can observe the same laws.

"The days pass, and so do the months, we get paid, we take our leave, we pay the bills, the rent. Everything is expensive and many times we do not have many enough money but we do not worry. The bank takes care of us immigrants with a bunch of loans and credit cards. At night we lie in our beds and we do not feel our legs from fatigue. Others do not feel their back or their head. Others do not feel any emotions. No thoughts before we sleep, because we do not miss our country at all. We feel fortunate that we are immigrants and we know that those who stayed behind are jealous of us. But we do not think about them. Because that is how we immigrants are. Since we became immigrants, we have forgotten who we were before that. So we sleep soundly like birds, and this is very important. It’s beautiful to sleep so deeply. You don’t even remember what dreams you saw. Anyway, what can one do with one’s dreams? We immigrants have a tomorrow. A next day, the same as yesterday, awaits us."

Immigration is not all it's cracked up to be.

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Saturday, 2 August 2014

Vacant

Despite the introduction of hefty property taxes in Greece, there are still many houses in my town that lie vacant and derelict.

These houses look as though they once enjoyed a splendid past, probably as family homes of rich people. They are large houses, located in the centre of town, very close to the main shopping streets.

The houses I've photographed in this post lie north of the area where the Zara fashion stores complex is located in Hania.

My husband who has lived here all his life says that many of the buildings we passed on our recent walk have been like this since he can remember. They''ve not changed much over time.

But I really do wonder what will happen now that property taxes have been introduced. Will they eventually be sold or claimed by the state? Or will they continue to fascinate passersby, as we imagine what may lie behind those doors that have not opened in years?

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