Mainstream America does not emphasize food as a key to a quality life and source of longevity. Food is mostly used as a sensual sideshow and necessary evil. One the big challenges we face, especially in dire times, is to reconnect with the earth’s culinary heritage. Not only the exclusive diets of the privileged, but those of common people. These are diets that nourish body and soul, which utilize the senses instead of merely placating them. Such foods help define who we are and keep us in touch with the ever present organic cycles of the earth.
I first discovered the significance of food as a young child from my Greek grandmother, who tirelessly went out of her way to both nourish and nurture her family through the medium of lovingly prepared traditional dishes. Memories in my Yia Yia and Papou’s house invariably are associated the times when our family gathered around the dining table, situated just outside of Yia Yia’s kitchen. There I sampled exquisite hand made, tender dolamdakia, irresistible spanikopita, perfectly balanced moussaka and pastitsio to die for. The memories were augmented with intense and creamy skordalia, almost sinfully sweet baklava and the melt-in-the mouth amigdalota cookies made from almonds and orange blossom water. The food sparked conversation and familial bonding.
Eating this way, we knew what it was to be Greek. The food was historically intertwined with cultural identity. What, how and when it was (or is) consumed was a major portion of the Hellenic psyche. Greece is a land that has witnessed the ravages of changing civilizations, occupations and political turmoil. Often it was recognized as the center of the civilized world and the source of our modern political structures. The unique and flavorful cuisine has been a consistent reminder of the greatness that Greece was…and still is. Much of this glory was achieved over millennia at tables in homes and villages with foodstuffs foraged in the mountains, harvested from the land and caught in the sea. The plant based food was so significant that the famous Greek Key pattern, found over millennia as a theme on temples, homes, fabrics and ornaments, was derived from the field plowing pattern used by farmers. Ancient Greeks would also pour a small libation of wine on the earth before drinking, much in the way we toast today. The Greeks have learned to live with the earth in a respectful partnership, where harmonizing with the energies of the cosmos became a goal in life. Anyone who has spent time in Greece can still feel this incredible energy integrated into every aspect. Often this translates into the Greek spirit of life. Along with the Mediterranean sunshine, the sea breezes and the stark raw beauty of the land, it is unique and unlike any other place on earth. No wonder so many Greeks return to their mother land.