Monday, 9 June 2008

The 100-mile pie (Η πίτα των 100 μιλίων)

With the increasing interest in food sources, local diets, environmental awareness and the ever-increasing cost of living, more and more people are turning to local produce for their food needs. Val recently discussed the 100-mile diet which is based on eating food produced within a 100-mile (160km) radius of where you live. How local you can get even in a small town like Hania depends on how local you want to keep things.

In Crete, we can easily survive off our own produce. I need take only local products and reach out as far as Herakleion, about two hours away - 150 kilometres. The length of the island is twice this mileage, but I don't actually need to go out as far as Lasithi, the westernmost province of the island, to get my fresh produce. I can easily get a varied menu at this time of year (summer) for every day of the week, although I'd probably have to serve up the same ingredients cooked up in a different manner on a daily basis. Seasonal variations need to be taken into account if I were to try this at a different time in the year.

There is no doubt that there are some products which I use on a daily basis which are not local and never will be. I like my morning coffee, produced not just more than 150 kilometres away, but in another continent. And the milk I buy for my family, is unfortunately, not local, even though we have a booming dairy industry in Crete. Locally produced milk costs twice the price per litre of fresh carton milk produced in large industrialised outlets in other parts of Greece, collected at a centralised location, packaged, and sent off to other parts of the country. I used to buy NOUNOU CALCI (1.5L) fresh milk, which now costs over 3 euro a carton (while KRIARAS goat's milk costs 2 euro per litre). This is what made me switch to NOUNOU FAMILY (1.5L) fresh milk, costing me just over 2 euro a carton, produced by the same company. The television news keeps telling us on a daily basis that fresh milk in Greece is the most expensive in the whole of Europe, and it costs 20 cents more per litre than the next most expensive country, France.

Trading products started once people conquered the natural borders of a land when they learnt to sail. I wouldn't want this kind of trade to stop; even people who have been eating locally all their life out of necessity will succumb to the luxury of being allowed a bite of pineapple, even if it is from a can (and when they discover how sweet and juicy it is, they may even want to see a real one). If we really were keen on eating locally in a bid to save the environment, then we wouldn't travel for holidays, either. Can you imagine a Brit preferring to go to Brighton or Blackpool, instead of coming to a Greek island for his or her fortnight's worth of annual summer holidays? I hope the travel agent reminds them to pack a brolly in their suitcase just in case.

Congratulations should be in order for the Small family of Fife, Scotland, for creating the Fife diet, a meals plan using only locally produced food, even for their Christmas dinner. We should all try it, simply to see how difficult and rather boring it can be; no matter what way we try to apply it in our own lives, it will still make us all conscious of what we eat, and what it takes to produce it and get it onto our plates. Michael Pollan discusses this very issue in The Ominvore's Dilemma, where he discovers how difficult it is to "make" all one's dietary needs, despite the fact that it always turns out to be a tastier meal than fresh produce that has been shipped or trucked into his environs.

There are many times in my life when I have felt a psycho-somatic need to cook and eat in a manner based the old-fashioned peasant diet of the Mediterraneans, who lived on (at the time) isolated islands. Their food consisted of a high content of fat (there were no such things as "light" staka cream), while they themselves worked on average 8-10 hours a day on their own self-sufficient farms and walked at least 15 kilometers on a daily basis from home to farm and back home again, while today's average Cretan farmer does the same kilometers in the pick-up truck (I proofread a study containing this fact at MAICh), walking only an average of two kilometers nowadays. I wouldn't call any of my own jobs hard labour, not even the housework; how strenuous can pushing a button on a washing machine be?

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My son hates seeing green things in his food. If there's bell pepper in the spag bog, he will carefully remove it from his forkful before plunging it into his mouth. He asks me if I could one day make a boureki without courgettes. He eats zucchini chocolate cake as long as he can't see the zucchini. He ate the courgette patties because he thought it was a hamburger (I had hidden one in a hamburger bun with a slice of cheese on top and a slice of ham at the bottom). But he won't eat a salad, or horta, or anything that is clearly green - with one exception: spanakopita. This is why I make so many spinach pies, green pies, kalitsounia, and anything else that is stuffed with greens and encased in pastry. Right now, I am in the middle of a 'pie run': my hortopites are going to go into the deep freeze, ready to be cooked in September when school starts (and that's only three months away), and tucked away in lunchboxes.

Last year, we had a vlita and courgette boon in our garden. Of course he refused to eat boiled horta, and wouldn't even look at the zucchini that accompanied them. So I devised a recipe that got him eating summer greens in a pie without losing any of the vitamins usually lost when vegetables are boiled. The idea to stick courgettes in the same pie came from a family friend who made kalitsounia using zucchini, including the zucchini flowers. To make this pie according to the 100-mile rules, I would have had to omit certain ingredients, as well as make substitutions; this would have a disastrous effect on my family's routine, which is why I decided not to deviate for my original recipes for fear of forcing my family on a hunger strike.

My 100-mile hortopita and kalitsounia were made by using the following ingredients:
- amaranth leaves , grated zucchini and chopped zucchini blossoms, a mixture of herbs (green onion tops and onion, parsley, spearmint and fennel): all growing wild in our garden; the zucchini plantlets were bought from a small family-run garden centre, but I wonder where they procured their seeds from?
mizithra cheese: produced locally, from locally-raised sheep and goats;
- salt and pepper: I have no idea where the pepper is grown, but salt can be (and is) procured from salt build-up in large rocks by the sea, which friends have often gifted to us in the past;
- an egg to brush the pastry: our neighbours and my uncles give me free-range eggs;
- semolina and white-flour pastry; this is my biggest dilemma: does Crete produce its own flour, or does it come from other sources? I am waiting for MYLOI KRHTHS to let me know where the procure their grain from. Flour was milled in Crete from ancient times, but in the industrialised world we live in, where food is collected at one point and re-distributed, I have my doubts about the where the grain in the silos at Souda Bay come from - is it a coincidence that the ferry boat is found a stone's throw away?
sesame seed: ditto as for flour; the packager is located only 5 kilometers from where I live, but where did the sesame actually grow?

To make the world a better place does not necessarily mean that you have to eat locally, but you should be able to justify your choices in food, in the same way that you justify the choices you make for your children's schooling (I drive mine daily close to the village where the sesame seed is packed) and the kind of car you drive (a 9-year old Hyundai Accent, still going strong).

I'd like to thank Val for bestowing upon me the "Yummy" award, so I dedicate this post to her.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Paulchen.

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Soft mizithra cheese
Xinohondro (hondro)
Cretan boureki
Avronies (wild asparagus)
Wedding pilafi
Dakos rusk salad
Lagos stifado
Black mustard greens
Kalitsounia in the oven
Kalitsounia fried
Orange juice
Bougatsa Iordanis
Sfakianes pites
Olives tsakistes - pastes
Olive oil

See also:
A day in the field
The rape of the countryside

A summer garden
A winter garden
An autumn garden