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Thursday, 20 December 2012

Eating out, vegetarianism and Cretans

Half the PTE examination topics in English as a Second Language which took place in Crete last weekend contained discussions about food. The interlocutor (interviewer) always takes the opposing view of the test takers, in order to test their ability to maintain their point of view in a discussion. One group level was asked:
If you have a special occasion, like a birthday,  is it better to eat at home or in a restaurant? What do you think?
So if they say they prefer to eat at restaurant, we interrupt them and mention that it's much cheaper and more convenient to stay at home, restaurants can be noisy and expensive, you know what you are eating, and you feel more relaxed at home. But if they say they prefer to stay at home, we cut in and tell them that a restaurant makes the celebration more special, the food is more interesting, and it's more relaxing to have someone cook and clean up for you.

No need to ask what nearly all students chose - people now stay at home for dinner, even on special occasions; it's too expensive to go out.

Another group was asked:
Is eating a vegetarian diet healthier for us? What do you think?
If they say that vegetarian diets are healthier for us, we tell them that it's natural to eat meat, meat contains protein, it's not unhealthy when eaten in moderation, and vegetarians generally object to the moral reasons of eating meat, not the health aspects. But it was hardly necessary to be given these arguments in the test script, since this is the view that most Greeks take: despite the fact that meat contains unhealthy fats, vegetarian food keeps you slim, and you can get vitamins and protein from food other than meat, meat was regarded by all the students asked as a necessary food item.

Although Greeks do like to fast for religious reasons, certain "meat" products (like shellfish) are permissible when fasting. So the concept of vegetarianism is not really being embraced in crisis-hit Greece, despite high prices being demanded for meat. A meatless diet is still not part of the Greek culinary identity.

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