Monday, 1 December 2008

Better than Tiffany's (Πρωινό στο ΜΑΙΧ)

I was brought up on the 1970s societal belief that it is important to have a good breakfast before going about one's daily business. Breakfast gives you energy, we were informed, through school leaflets, television advertisements for cornflakes, well-meaning teachers and the like. Breakfast helps you endure a busy morning until lunch, traditionally the time for a sandwich and a piece of fruit, after which you would go home for 'tea', a cooked evening meal. These are my fond memories of an organised Kiwi lifestyle that has probably died out with the advent of the open-all-hours culture, a Kiwi lifestyle that used to be modelled on English patterns until more recently when New Zealand began to take a keener interest in their neighbours, breaking from tradition with their historical links from the past. All this, despite the fact that an English breakfast may have been symbolic of the class system: the upper class English supposedly started having large cooked breakfasts to get them through a day of hunting, fishing and enjoying the English countryside.

When I came to Greece and started working crazy evening hours in the classroom, I had to re-learn meal times. Breakfast had to be transferred to a later time in the morning; it simply wasn't feasible to wake up early after finishing work so late in the evening. The main meal of the day had to be ready by one o'clock in the afternoon, as I finished work at half past ten at night. Lunch became dinner, and dinner usually turned into a midnight feast by the time I got back home. Breakfast became a morning cup of coffee, drunk while enduring the boredom of having very little to do in the morning, before travelling for work in the middle of the day. I was never an 'evening' person. This nightly work routine destroyed my day, with detrimental effects on my meals and eating times.

maich hania chania
MAICh - the tall white building in the distance shows the student dormitories.

In the sedentary lifestyle of the new millenium, a large breakfast seems unwarranted. Offices in all the developed world always have a kitchenette, equipped with a coffee machine and all the paraphernalia associated with the ritual of drinking warm beverages, including a small fridge, a biscuit box and other nibbles. At my workplace, there is much more food available in the office environment than in other workplaces, as we have students living on campus, and there is a whole restaurant working morning, lunch and evening serving them food, as well as the cafe bar where they can buy sodas, frappe, as well as other hot and cold drinks and snacks (toasted sandwiches, rolls and cheese pies) during the day. MAICh is involved in agricultural research, seed growth, crops, harvesting and storage, and both GMO and sustainable agriculture are integral parts of the study programmes at MAICh. Food is everywhere at MAICh, not a desirable feature of the sedentary office environment.

office environment food office environment
The sedentary lifestyle of Organically Cooked; the office environment, equipped with Organically Cooked's pumpkin bread and cheese pies made the restaurant environment food

A typical breakfast in our house starts with milk. There are three types of milk sold in Greece: canned non-sweetened evaporated milk, UHT milk and fresh pasteurised milk, the only one needing refrigeration. We use only fresh milk; anyone who has tasted the canned variety will tell you that it does not taste like real milk and is clearly discernible in a milk-based drink.Every day, we need, on average, a litre of milk among the four of us. Greece has the most expensive price tag for milk in the European Union. We need to spend more than one euro a day on our fresh milk needs; in a country where most people do not make much more than 1000 euro, this is a lot of money.

I used to have some of that milk in my cup of coffee in the mornings when I wasn't working. A sit-down breakfast was out of the question: cooking for the whole family means I am always sampling the meals, so I am always eating something most of the day. Now that I am in an office environment twenty hours a week, I realised I'd be drinking coffee all day if I had one at home; as for needing energy during my working hours, most of the time I am sitting down in an office with plenty of food available, in a food-based environment. So I don't have breakfast at home any more; I simply make it for the children.

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Recently, I had to go into work quite early, to drop off a student's thesis which I had proof-read, so that they could submit it on time before their deadline. I caught the students in their breakfast hour before lessons began. It was the first time in a long while that I was able to enjoy a proper sit-down full breakfast, not prepared by myself. It was the most enjoyable breakfast I had had in a long time.

maich breakfast

MAICh students are graduates from all over the Mediterranean region: this includes Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. There has been an increase in the number of students coming from the rest of Europe, especially since the European expansion. They stay at MAICh on full scholarships, sponsored by CIHAEM, a European organisation involved in agriculture. They stay in accommodation provided on campus and the restaurant provides meal for them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In a summer resort town where foreigners are viewed in two groups (either they are economic migrants, or they are summer tourists), MAICh provides a rare opportunity for the local community to see foreign people as part of an organised international community.

Breakfast offers a huge variety of both traditional and local specialties. Various types of cereals, a range of jams and spreads, fresh bread baked on the premises, tea and coffee, as well as milk and orange juice, compose classic breakfast favorites all over the world, standard hotel fare, also found at MAICh. But the best part of a breakfast at MAICh is the Cretan breakfast menu: bread baked on the premises, olives, fresh tomato slices, boiled eggs, soft curd cheese (mizithra), yoghurt, mountain tea, fresh fruit, honey and rusks. What more could a student want? Better than Tiffany's, if you ask me.

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