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FOOD & TRAVEL

The Greek Diet and the Greek Way – Good Things Go Together

When our wonderful Greek food and wine come up in discussions with non-Greeks, the phrase ‘Mediterranean Diet’ is sure to be heard, but that term is limited in several ways.

First of all, the strongest scientific findings about the tremendous health and wellness benefits of such diets are associated mainly with what can properly be called the Greek Diet – pasta is one of my favorite foods, but it should not be at the core of healthful cuisine.

Of course, some experts further insist that it is the Cretan Diet which is most beneficial – but let’s leave that to friendly discussions with our friends from different parts of Greece over good Greek wine.

During my recent first return to the United States after moving permanently to Greece a few years ago, I have confirmed that Greek wines continue to make inroads here, with more and more brands and varieties available in shops and non-Greek restaurants.

When I return to the homeland in a few days, I will also look forward some very nice Greek craft beers – which tourists are enjoying there now, and which maybe will reach their home countries in the future. Be sure to try some during your next trip.

The discussion so far has been empirical – you can google the articles about the research, ask for Greek wines in your favorite restaurants, and try some beer when you go back to Greece – but beyond the ‘facts’, there is the ‘feel’, of a nice Greek meal, and I will note that it is not a coincidence that The National Herald’s annual Food & Wine special section comes out around Thanksgiving.

There is a reason why the family holiday par excellence is centered on the family dinner table and not houses of worship, civic and religious processions and presentations, or parties with friends – the act of sharing a meal with our loved ones is one of the gateways of holiness into our lives that is expressed by the extra care taken by those who prepare our food – selecting, preparing, and cooking the best on offer, and giving thanks to God for our loved ones.

And as we describe some of the reasons why Thanksgiving is such a special holiday – one we wish more countries would adopt since gratitude is one of the most healing and life-enhancing emotions – it is time to add another dimension to the Greek diet, since a case can be made that every family meal in Ellada is a Thanksgiving celebration.

One of The National Herald’s most popular features is the ‘Botanist’ column written by Evropi-Sofia Dalampira, who holds an Msc in Botany-Biology. Week after week, she points out the nutritional and medical value of food sources many take for granted – but which scientists and physicians tout for their contribution to good health.

This week she points out, however, that that it not just the ingredients in their meals that gives places like Ikaria a global reputation as ‘the island of longevity.’

“The Greek traditional way of living, includes not only diet but socialization. It is a general ‘way of doing’ – and I would say, of ‘being’.

Many of us read the wonderful books of historian Edith Hamilton in high school or college, especially, The Greek Way. There was something special in Hellenic civilization that caused it to contribute so much to humanity. Yes, there is the unique blend of shore and sun and mountains, the combination of openness to the world by sea and the fierce autonomy of mainland regions and islands. These led to practices and principles like democracy and cosmopolitanism which can be transplanted to locales all over the world.
As they say, “Greeks are everywhere” – and so are their restaurants, which are beacons of ‘the good life’ as practiced in Greece.

And Greek cooking, the offerings of the typical Greek table, inside and outside the home, with its remarkable balances and blendings, reflects the contributions of the rest of classical Hellenic civilization – and the best of contemporary Hellenism.

There is one principle that seems to permeate whole spectrum of Hellenic time, place, and activities:  Aristotle’s ‘metron ariston – measure is best.’

While it is easy to find the extremes of workaholism and indifference among Diaspora and Homeland Hellenes, the success in life and work of most is reflected in the balance they try to strike in their lives, in Greece, if not in America: they don’t live to work, they work in order to live.

And in their work – motivated by that untranslatable word ‘philotimo’ – a Greek ideally takes pride in making a contribution, to their organizations and communities. Again, that is reflected in the care and love taken by cooks at home and in Greek restaurants everywhere, wanting nothing less than to make everyone at their tables feel both filled and fulfilled

And those restaurants are Embassies of Hellas and Hellenism around the world – something rarely appreciated by Greek officials and journalists. Greek food and wine, well-presented and mixed with the spirit of that other great Greek word, ‘philoxenia-hospitality,’ – makes Greek-Americans and non-Greeks yearn for Greece.

Happy holidays to all – see you in Ellada next year.

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