Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

One step closer to vegetarianism

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Some choose vegetarianism for religious, spiritual or medical reasons, some because it’s trendy. But my motivation is based purely on respect for the environment, the planet, my fellow man and animals.

But how can I call myself an animal lover when I still meat once a week?

When you’re green, you grow

Twenty years ago, I read a book called “Diet for a Small Planet,” which taught me that using land to grow fruits and vegetables instead of raising a few animals would preserve rainforests and ecosystems otherwise cleared for livestock, emit less carbon (packaging, transportation, etc.) and erase starvation from the planet. Whatever need there was for a solution almost two decades ago has only grown stronger.

But if you were born and bred with meat as a part of culture, tradition or habit, as I was, it’s difficult to give it up.

I like a good filet mignon on occasion, and there’s no one who likes fish more than me, though I’m sure I could change my psychology and convince myself otherwise. But for some it’s hard to imagine Thanksgiving without turkey or Easter without lamb, and I understand that.

Going vegie requires vigilance, to ask questions and read packages carefully since even the average marshmallow contains an animal product called gelatin.

At times, it also requires endurance. The first time I quit cold (err) turkey, my parents gave me such a hard time that it was unpleasant to eat with them. Comments like, “Oh, you think you’re so much better than us,” “you’re just doing it for attention,” “why can’t you just be normal like the rest of us?” In addition to breaking a habit, continuing to be responsible for cooking my family’s meals (with meat) and shaking off personal criticism twice daily only added to the challenge.

Whatever relief I found in not cooking meat for others and going to a restaurant was quashed by the lack of variety in menu choices. I often ate salad, while my antagonists snickered.

I gave up my quest after five months, and my family slipped back into its comfort zone and declared victory.

Who doesn’t like options?

Over the years, it’s become easier if more acceptable to be vegetarian, especially in some parts of the world where it’s been a way of life for decades.

In Sweden, there are a ton of vegetarian options at every restaurant and every grocery store. I’m not saying soy dogs are delicious (they’re not), but it’s nice to know I can get reasonably priced tofutti, rice milk or barley (Korn) patties that taste a lot like chicken if I want them.

I loved being in India where I ate no meat, no wheat and no cheese. The food, especially in the South, was so amazing that I didn’t notice these three elements were missing. Even my meat loving fiancé gave up flesh, but for a very different reason — we call it the Tandoori chicken incident.

After more than a month of eating this way, I felt healthier, slimmer and harmonious. But when I came back to Greece, everything I ate caused me to break out in hives to the point I could not sleep or breathe. Trying twice to find an allergist at a public hospital was fruitless, so we consulted two private allergists who asked, “so why are you keeping a food diary?” Duh. In any case, the experience taught me how impure everyday food can be.

Since then I’ve also managed to convert my meat and potatoes fiancé into a mostly vegetarian mate who likes Brussel sprouts and eats meat twice a week.

Meat me in Greece

The first time I went to the meat market in Monastiraki ten years ago, I didn’t eat meat for a month.

My grandfather was a butcher, so I’d seen tongues and didn’t expect anything to be encased in Styrofoam and plastic, but I didn’t think there’d be blood running in the street or heads hanging from a hooks with eyeballs staring back. And it was summer, so the smell was bellissimo.

Occasionally there’s a blood clot or dangling artery in my chicken breast, but nothing that has ever shaken me to the point of no return, which I understand happens to people who turn vegetarian.

Today, something happened that pushed me one step closer.

Some months ago, I saw a Globe Trekker episode featuring Vietnam and Laos where host Zay Harding drank snake blood, caught goats blindfolded in his quest for a wife and ate eggs that I can only describe as delicacies. I remember feeling both disgust and admiration because everything he did was without hesitation and without making faces.

In what can only be described as a “Zay Harding moment,” an egg from my future mother-in-law’s village exploded in a boiling pot to reveal a half grown chick head with feathers and filled the kitchen with an odor that was half rotten egg, half dead animal. And of course I was alone, so I couldn’t faint or pass the deed to my fiancé.

I threw away the rest of our eggs, can’t look at the “dead chicken pot” and am fasting now. Zay, give me a call.

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Photo from PETA
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8 Comments »

  PIC wrote @ September 2nd, 2007 at 19:49

I’ve heard that heart attack victims are given orders to eat a vegetarian diet (not sure how long), but I wonder since I could sure benefit from lower cholesterol and less weight, should I go to a veggie diet for a month and see what happens. Of course, I worry something bad could happen, but then again, being overweight and having high cholesterol ain’t good either, is it?

  λ:ηρ wrote @ September 2nd, 2007 at 20:58

Greece is actually a good place to try going on a vegetarian diet. I’ll take a plate of well cooked μπαρμπουνοφάσολα (tomato stewed pinto beans) over souvlaki any time. And then, of course, σπανακόπιτα (spinach pie). I still roll my own dough at home when I make it :)

Being a vegetarian in Greece is actually a great experience and adventure. You get to discover all the great recipes that we have given up for so many years. Historically Greeks were following a low-meat diet; meat was reserved for weekends and the high-holidays, mostly due to its scarcity. With the reconstruction following WWII and the industrialization of farming meat became readily available. The signature dish of our newly found affluence!

(Disclosure: I am not a vegetarian and I don’t agree with the tenets of meat-free diet).

  Jul wrote @ September 2nd, 2007 at 22:51

Eeeeew! That egg incident would have definitely put me off eggs for quite a while.

After 17 years of vegetarianism, I can guarantee you that if you really want to eat a vegetarian diet, you will find a way (and it doesn’t have to require a traumatic gross meat experience to make it happen, either :) ).

  Kat wrote @ September 2nd, 2007 at 23:19

I knew someone would mention something about the Greek diet and should have addressed it. I’ve been eating and cooking food from countries around the world since I was 5.

Greece, Asian countries and Middle Eastern countries all have vegetarian fare, however I am adverse to Greek food because of the oil and a heavy concentration on things with wheat flour. I don’t eat pasta, bread, pitas, thickened sauces, etc, which is the reason Indian food was so great. They use rice flour, chickpeas and lentils. Asian diets primarily use rice and Middle Eastern food primarily uses lentils and chickpeas, etc. I like being gluten-free and lactose-free, and the Greek diet just isn’t set up for that.

I realize meat and a pot belly are signs of wealth in many countries, however I don’t subscribe to that notion. I like clean eating and being 46 kilos.

And as I said in the post, I’ve gotten us down to meat once a week. That’s pretty damn good in my opinion. If I had access to cheap, fresh ethnic ingredients of diversity without hunting and paying half my Greek salary for them, we’d be all the way there by now.

PIC – It is healthier for the heart PIC, but you need to commit to it for more than a month. Any effort would be appreciated by your body, even in small steps. That’s what I did with my fiance. He seems OK with it after an initial struggle.

Jul – Let me tell you girlfriend, I can’t even look at an egg…or even the pot it was in! At this point, I’m ready to go vegan, but that won’t sit well with my fiance (took me 2 years to get him down to meat twice weekly), so it’ll amount to me cooking different meals for each of us while juggling my day job, two side jobs, this blog and maintaining the house. Now I need the gift of time or a maid and a chef ;)

  λ:ηρ wrote @ September 4th, 2007 at 05:03

Kat, is the wheat issue due to celiac or just preference? I am asking because my wife is celiac, a condition virtually unknown in Greece. During our recent trip to Greece, it was quite difficult to communicate the situation to Greek waiters. Given the rates of celiac cases in Italy, I tend to think that the condition goes undiagnosed in Greece — which explains (partially) the number of middle-age lymphoma patients.

As for the olive oil, what can I say. You’re right. It’s a cultural thing though and it took me a while to stop drowning everything in olive oil.

  linda wrote @ September 4th, 2007 at 15:23

I raise my own lambs, pigs and chickens for food because i do love them. The shepherd’s paradox i’ve heard it called, keep it alive so you can kill it , it’s complicated but i believe by raising my own on a small scale it’s a very natural way to live. If i didn’t love them i wouldn’t get up to feed them when it’s 0 degrees( fahrenheit), shovel manure etc. Hope you still want to email me after this.

  Kat wrote @ September 4th, 2007 at 20:05

L – I’m not a diagnosed celiac, I choose to be as wheat-free as I can because white flour and sugar raise blood sugar levels, make you hungrier and have no real health benefits. Both of my parents also had diabetes, so I’m taking preventative measures even though I don’t have it. All in all, I just feel better when white flour, white sugar and lactose aren’t a part of my life. I use grains, fructose and soy milk when I can. My head is clear, I have energy and feel balanced.

Linda – I have total respect for people who eat meat. I’m not trying to convert anyone or go overboard like refusing to wear leather. Live and let live is what I say.

  Athena D wrote @ December 21st, 2007 at 04:06

You have done a good job on your website.

On a lighter note I’d like to add that some of my dietary experiences have been similar to yours. Most notably I feel more energetic if I avoid sugars (except fruit) flours and many grains.

In the long term I feel at my best when I limit myself to simple foods, avoid complicated dishes and spices no matter how natural the primary ingredients and otherwise eat instinctively. Following instinct I find that I gravitate towards a diet consisting of fruits, some meat, vegetables and a limited amount of grains. Instinctively I also gravitate towards an eating pattern of more intense meat eating for 3-4 days, separated by longer periods (about 2 weeks) of near vegetarianism. There is almost no ideological basis to my eating, only instinct backed by some science.

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