Hunger Games in Greece: Beans Replace Meat for Kids

December 17, 2018

Coffee shops are packed with young people, shoppers are strutting again down streets, and Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said signs of recovery are everywhere – except plates of many children who a report said are suffering more malnourishment than ever.

The survey by the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute found that 14 percent of Greece’s children don’t get enough nutrition even as the government said an economic crisis is essentially over, with the end of 8 ½ years of 326 billion euros ($368.69 billion) in international bailouts.

That argument isn’t selling among the hungry, including those interviewed by the German news broadcaster Deutsche Welle in a feature. The story noted the desperation, including in the town of Marathon, where fish shop owner Maria Hasioutou waited for customers that weren’t there, even during the noon lunch period. “No one has set foot inside If they haven’t come in so far, they probably won’t come at all.”

Would-be customers instead were likely foraging through cupboards at home for cheaper alternatives for themselves and their families, “It’s probably another day of beans or pasta,” she said, with beans, pulses and legumes like lentils coming a main staple for many these days, not meat or fish.

Another study, carried out by the Research Institute of Retail Consumer Goods (IELKA) showed a 21 percent decline in the total value of food purchases from 2010 to 2017 in Greece, while the volume of food sales dropped 15 percent in the same period.

The biggest increase in terms of quantity was seen in pasta (14 percent), followed by legumes (10 percent), wine (10 percent), poultry (9 percent), rice (8 percent) and chocolate (5 percent) with families shunning meat and fish.

The Amsterdam report said the number of malnourished children is now more than double the amount before the economic crisis broke out in 2009 and led to harsh austerity measures including big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings.

Giorgos Krikis, a pensioner in Marathon, said he still sees evidence that hardships are enduring while SYRIZA and Tsipras are celebrating.  “Just the other day, I saw a longtime friend rummaging through the rubbish bin of a local supermarket, looking for scraps to bring home to his family.”

“Who would have ever thought that this man, among the most successful in our community, would end up this way,” Krikos told Deutsche Welle. “I felt embarrassed. But if I had no other way of putting food on the table and feeding my children, I too would probably do the same,” he said.

Some 25 percent of Greece’s children living in poverty, according to United Nations figures,  leaving many parents to depend their parents to help the grandchildren even as retirement benefits have been repeatedly slashed under successive governments.

According to the Transnational Institute report, 9 percent of children lack a daily, protein-based meal, up from around 4 percent recorded before Greece’s economy went into free fall but some analysts said the numbers are higher and likely underreported.

“Many women in my neighborhood ask me to go to the local soup kitchen to collect some food for them because they are too embarrassed,” Stamatina Lepoula, a resident and shopkeeper in Marathon told the news site.

“Greeks are hugely dignified people who have managed to cloak their suffering for years. But now “hunger is in the open. It’s obvious everywhere you look. And worst yet, the trend is growing,” even if the coffee shops and taverns are looking packed these days.

That’s anecdotal evidence not in line with the reality of hunger, say those who don’t believe the country is recovering just yet no matter what the government says, with reports said Deutsche Welle of pupils fainting in schools out of hunger.

Yiannis Rakopoulos, who supplies school canteens across Athens said vendors are taking IOU notes from the hungry young who said they can’t pay to eat. “They have lost count of the IOU notes that have piled up,” Rakopoulos said. “But it’s impossible to turn your back on a child who makes excuses every day to beg for food.”


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