Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The importance of environment in the sustainability of Cretan society

Here is a sneak preview of what I will be talking about this afternoon with some visitors at work.

The importance of environment in the sustainability of Cretan society
Maria Verivaki, 
English Professor, MAICh
Food blogger, and

SUSTAINABILITY: The environment is the most important aspect - a conducive climate and manageable landscape provide the conditions for sustainability. Globalisation erodes the natural environment, making it less sustainable; for this reason, the environment needs to be protected.

The island of Crete provides a good example for studies in sustainability in the modern world due to its small size, insular nature and strategic location. The environment of Crete helps to sustain it throughout the modern processes shaping the interconnected modern world. It is not just a coincidence Crete forms the beginning of European civilisation, and that the town of Hania has been inhabited continually for over 5500 years since approximately 3500 BC.

The island's environment provided the basis for sustainable life through its temperate climate and fertile soil - ancient people's basic needs (see Maslow) could be met by the environment.

Trade is an important aspect of sustainability. The ancient Cretans did not have everything they needed/wanted, but what they DID HAVE gave them the opportunity to do business with other societies. The following factors helped them:
- they became highly skilled seafarers and had very advanced sailing knowledge for their time
- they became a highly organised society, forming the basis of European civilisation as we know. This is a sign of primitive urbanisation: it was absolutely necessary for trading purposes.
- they had valuable high-quality products for trading: olives and oil, grapes and wine.
- the location of Crete meant that it was at the forefront of technological developments: Cretans helped disseminate knowledge from the ancient worlds surrounding them to the slowly developing Europe.


TIME changes everything:
- natural and man-made disasters (eg earthquakes, invasions, wars) occur
- people's commodity preferences change (ie trade patterns and commodities change over time)
This all affects sustainability: different factors affect the sustainability of modern societies. As the world develops and urbanises to a greater degree, environment becomes less important in sustainability; we can now live in a highly concreted city, or in very extreme climatic conditions due to technological advances. Crete maintains its climate and lanscape to tolerant levels for sustainability. But the forces of globalisation create problems for sustainability in a small insular society. Sustainability is not about self-sufficiency: no society is truly self-sufficient. Employment becomes an important factor in the sustainability of a modern society, because it is a basic human need in the modern world. In the case of Crete, the environment continues to play a very important role to this end.

While AGRICULTURE continues to play an important role in the sustainability of the island, TOURISM has taken on a much greater role. But the role of the environment remains extremely important.

AGRICULTURE - olive oil, grapes and wine continue to be important trading commodities on the island, but they have changed in form, eg potential customers are just as interested in the labelling and packaging of the product as they are in the actual product.
* The well-known Mediterranean Diet is based on studies carried out in the post-war period in Mediterranean areas, namely Crete and Sicily, where it was found that people's level of health and well-being was extremely high despite the fact that they faced shortages and deficits due to the war. The Mediterranean Diet is now a driver in Crete's export market.

TOURISM - tourism is made up of various types, catering for different markets:
- mass tourism (eg package tours) is helped by the cheap European flight market: this kind of tourism rests on the coastline and weather (ie the environment)
tourism based on ancient history has always been a focal point of the tourism packages that Crete is able to offer to its visitors. Most of the archaeological sites form the basis of the earliest forms of European civilisation and they are located in areas of unique beauty with high heritage value.
- agro-tourism caters for tourists with specific needs and wishes: this kind of tourism rests on the landscape and the agricultural activities taking place on it (which rest on the environment)
- gastronomic tourism has become increasingly important in Crete because of the very high quality of fresh local seasonal produce (due to the climate and soil, ie the environment), and the gastronomic culture of the islanders themselves.
* According to some very well-known Greek celebrity chefs, Crete is the bastion of Greek cuisine. Crete is one of a very few places in Greece where both locals and tourists alike are able to enjoy local fresh seasonal food prepared and cooked according to the local culinary culture. Cretan cuisine is now a driver in Crete's tourist industry.

No part of Greece has remained unaffected by the crisis. But it can be said that Crete felt the effects of the crisis more lightly than other parts of Greece. Crete's environment is what has shielded the residents of the island from the worst effects of the crisis. The main reasons for this are the following:
- Crete continues to produce high quality world-renowned agricultural products, helped by the climate and soil properties
- the local population still practices small-scale farming in their back yards (raising a vegetable garden, chickens and rabbits, etc), helped by having access to small plots of land close to their residence
- the tourism packages of Crete are highly developed and very diverse, able to cater for a wide variety of tastes, and often meet the requirements of most leisure holidaymakers.
- Cretans are still very regionalised in their loyalties, which can be seen in all aspects of everyday life - people base their daily choices on local options.

The photo was taken in a highly urban area of Hania in mid-March 2013. It shows what looks like a messy garden with a lemon tree in the middle. Look more closely: behind the garden is a chicken coop - the chickens are barely visible, but one is sitting on top of a rabbit pen. The area where the animals are kept will be covered by a shady leafy grapevine by the middle of summer (that's what the dry branches are: a vine about to start growing leaves). Next to the garden on the right are the remains of a wood-chopping session. The house looks unkempt and rather poorly; I believe economic migrants are living here, and not the Greek owner. But that makes no difference to what the photo depicts: it illustrates the frugal urban life in times of adversity.

SATURDAY MORNING: You will be visiting the street market (λαϊκή - la-i-KI) in Hania where small-scale producers from rural Hania sell their fresh seasonal local produce to the urban residents of the town for low prices. The street market shows the importance of the environment in the sustainability of Cretan society:
- local produce is highly prized by the locals
- the amount of local produce being bought and sold shows the loyalty of locals to local food
- fresh produce requires preparation and cooking time: Crete is an island full of cooks
- the prices are low, hence affordable to all
- the street market is also seen as a leisure-time activity

The greater one's pride in one's region, 
the stronger the level of sustainability.

Crete is well furnished with all the requirements needed to meet the demands of modern society. All over the world, people are searching for safer food and a pleasant way to pass their time, both of which Crete can offer to everyone, and at low costs. The Cretan environment protects the sustainability of Cretan society. Therefore, it must be protected, in order to ensure that this continues to be the case, especially now that there are plans to drill for oil on the southern coast of Crete, as planned for later in the year.

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