By Zoe Kosmidou

In December 2013, the Embassy of Greece will begin applying the idea and theories of gastrodiplomacy to spread the word about the Healthy Greek Diet and Greece’s healthy way of living. On December 4th, a wide variety of specialists from leading health, food, and nutrition related organizations, media, academic/educational institutions think tanks, international organizations, businesses, and members of the United States Congress will come together in the Rayburn House office building for a night of delicious healthy food and education. The program will include keynote speaker Artemis Simopoulos, author of The Omega Diet.[1] The speeches will provide insight into how the Greek diet is among the healthiest in the Mediterranean Region and how it can be easily implemented into daily life.

As the presentation on Capitol Hill will emphasize, the traditional Greek diet is very beneficial to one’s health. In fact, it is the Western diet that most closely approximates the natural diet of the Paleolithic age, by which early humans sustained themselves and evolved.[2] It places an emphasis on whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, and seafood, and allows for red meat only a few times per month. Most importantly, Greeks consume substantial amounts of olive oil in place of less wholesome animal fats, such as butter.[3] By maintaining this balanced diet, one can benefit from necessary vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats (such as omega-3 fatty acids, found in seafood and wild plants), while avoiding the saturated fats found in meat products and the sugars that refined grains and sweets contain.

Whereas Western diets today are linked to high rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer, the Greek diet has been proven to decrease the likelihood of their occurrence.[4] Most notably, the diet has a positive effect on longevity. Until the late 1960’s, when most Greeks kept to their traditional diet, they had the longest life expectancy in the world.[5] This is not surprising, considering how many serious diseases can be prevented by following the diet’s guidelines. According to Dr. Artemis Simopoulos, president of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, the Greek diet is one of the few in the world to have a balanced ratio of the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. This combination promotes cardiovascular health[6] and decreases the risk of cancer.[7] Additionally, just the consumption of olive oil in itself can prevent a wide variety of illnesses. Namely, it can protect against heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer, asthma, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, and age-related blindness.[8] These benefits are only a few out of many that the Greek Mediterranean diet can offer, and the presentation on Capitol Hill will highlight many more.

Healthy food by itself, however, is not enough to maintain health and prevent disease. Another important focus of the presentation rests on the Greek lifestyle, including physical exercise and an emphasis on eating slowly and with company.[9] The benefits of physical exercise are obvious and have been widely researched; the latter part, however, may not be as obvious to the average American. Greeks have traditionally taken the time to enjoy their food in the company of their family or friends. A typical dinner may last two hours, in which the people gathered around the table will take turns eating and exchanging hearty conversation with their neighbors. This practice both encourages mental well-being and reduces the tendency to overeat, which may come about as a result of eating too quickly or alone. The common practice of taking a siesta, or short nap, after lunch also helps reduce stress and promote cardiovascular health. Therefore, even though the actual food consumed is key to leading a healthy life, Greek cultural habits surrounding eating and napping are just as important.

The traditional Greek diet is heavily linked to the country’s culture. This becomes obvious when considering the history of the diet, which stretches back to ancient Greece and continues relatively unchanged to the present day. During the famous philosophers’ time, Greeks enjoyed whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, fish, olive oil, honey, and herbs, much like today.[10] And one cannot forget the importance of the legendary symposia, in which philosophical discussions were carried out over drinks.[11] They sound surprisingly similar to the current Greek practice of eating with company. Furthermore, the prevalence of athleticism, evident in the tradition of the Olympic Games, emphasized the importance of physical exercise.[12] Later on, with the emergence of the Byzantine Empire, this legacy traveled east to Constantinople. Once again, the Byzantines ate the same types of foods but embellished them with the grand variety of spices they obtained from all corners of the world.[13] These spices are still widely used by Greek housewives today. Thus, it is clear that the Greek diet has a significant cultural basis, making it an integral part of the modern Greeks’ way of life.

Gastrodiplomacy has existed in Greece for almost as long as there has been a traditional cuisine. Ancient chefs such as Archestratus traveled around Greece and its neighboring regions in search of new and better recipes. Such collections were then recorded and passed down, so that many of the recipes are still in use today.[14]. As Greece’s power and influence spread, so did its cuisine and products. The popularity of the Greek diet and lifestyle gained such fame that when Greece was conquered by Rome, Greek culture and culinary arts became prominent in the capital of the Republic.[15]

Through this presentation, the Embassy hopes to educate the populace not only about a healthier lifestyle, but also about one of the oldest cultures in the world. Greece’s history is rich with arts and politics that most people never get to experience, but hopefully with the help of gastrodiplomacy they will begin to. At the Embassy’s event there will be samples of many Greek dishes and Greek wines, catered by celebrity chefs in collaboration with different Greek Mediterranean restaurants all over Washington D.C. While traveling directly to Greece may be out of the question for most people, sampling fine cuisines is an easy way to learn more about the culture of a country. The restaurants that will be catering the events will be provided with a chance to show their wares to many potential customers, and participants will have an introduction to the many Greek Mediterranean restaurants that D.C. has to offer.

 

References and Notes


1. Simopoulos, Artemis P., and Jo Robinson. The Omega Diet: The Lifesaving Nutritional Program Based on the Diet of the Island of Crete. New York: HarperPerennial, 1999. Print.

2.Simopoulos, Artemis P. “The Mediterranean Diets: What Is So Special about the Diet of Greece? The Scientific Evidence.” The Journal of Nutrition (2001): 3065S-3073S. Web.

3. Moore-Pastides, Patricia. Greek Revival: Cooking for Life. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 2010. Print.

4. Simopoulos, Artemis P. “The Mediterranean Diets: What Is So Special about the Diet of Greece? The Scientific Evidence.” The Journal of Nutrition (2001): 3065S-3073S. Web.

5. Moore-Pastides, Patricia. Greek Revival: Cooking for Life. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 2010. Print.

6. Simopoulos, Artemis P., M.D., and Jo Robinson. The Omega Diet: The Lifesaving Nutritional Program Based on the Diet of the Island of Crete. New York: HarperPerennial, 1999. Print.

7 Simopoulos, Artemis P. “The Mediterranean Diets: What Is So Special about the Diet of Greece? The Scientific Evidence.” The Journal of Nutrition (2001): 3065S-3073S. Web.

8. Moore-Pastides, Patricia. Greek Revival: Cooking for Life. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 2010. Print.

9. Moore-Pastides, Patricia. Greek Revival: Cooking for Life. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 2010. Print.

10. Katsaniotis, Andreas. “Letter from the CEO of HEPO.” Editorial. Greek Gourmet Traveler Spring 2009. Print.

11. Segan, Francine. The Philosopher’s Kitchen: Recipes from Ancient Greece and Rome for the Modern Cook. New York: Random House, 2004. Print.

12. Simopoulos, Artemis P. “Opening Address. Nutrition and Fitness from the First Olympiad in 776 BC to 393 AD and the Concept of Positive Health.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1989): 921-26. Web.

13. Dalby, Andrew. Tastes of Byzantium: The Cuisine of a Legendary Empire. London: I. B. Tauris, 2010. Print.

14. Simopoulos, Artemis P. “Opening Address. Nutrition and Fitness from the First Olympiad in 776 BC to 393 AD and the Concept of Positive Health.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1989): 921-26. Web.

15. Simopoulos, Artemis P. “Opening Address. Nutrition and Fitness from the First Olympiad in 776 BC to 393 AD and the Concept of Positive Health.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1989): 921-26. Web.

Zoe Kosmidou has a Ph.D. in International Cultural Relations from the School of Communications and Cultural Relations, at Panteion University, Athens. She also holds a M.Sc. in Publilc Relations Management, from the Kogod School of Business at American University. Throughout the course of her career, Dr. Kosmidou has worked extensively on international cultural and artistic relations and outreach programming on a global scale. Dr. Kosmidou is currently the Minister Counselor for Cultural Affairs at the Embassy of Greece in Washington D.C.