I grew up with grand parents that were in farming and my mother who has always been a staunch believer in good Greek food. No silly presentation gimmicks no far flung ingredients, small amount of meat and lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, most of them grown in our summer home’s garden 50 kms away from the hustle and bustle of Athens. They valued food as a celebration of nature’s seasonal gifts throughout the year. It was never seen as an inconvenience or fuel. It may sound soppy but sharing food you’ve made with your heart and soul, with the people you love is one of the most satisfying things human beings can partake in.
My grand parents were largely self-sufficient as a way of life, far removed from a green eco bubble. They had their goats, chickens, rabbits, their allotment, a pig. They would preserve and pickle fresh vegetables to last through the heavy Northern Greek winters, the lingering smell of slowly reducing tomato pulp shimmering away for a couple of days while making tomato paste is a smell I will never forget. They never complained, they never felt that food was some aspirational claptrap they were excluded from. My granny was more extreme than most; making her own sourdough starter out of wild hops she would pick in early spring and then make bread using her home produced flour.
I used to spend my summers with them and in those three months I would learn more about life and food than anything school could ever do. I learned to be less squeamish about killing animals for food. Being confronted with a roast chicken that only roamed the back garden three hours earlier is a shock no 8 year old will ever forget! But it was a valuable lesson. I now appreciate more than anything, meat doesn’t come just from a supermarket self, wrapped up in cling film and as far removed from the source as possible. Instead it is a by product of slaughter and they instilled in me the value of looking after one’s animals as well as possible and respectfully taking their life. They would be horrified at the idea that industrialised food production for the lowest cost was an acceptable practise. Those invaluable life lessons stay with me for ever and inform my every day life and buying habits. I try to grow some vegetables and fruit organically in my tiny South London garden, add bee friendly plants and feed wild birds. I buy as much organic food as possible and avoid air freighted items.
In the UK saying no to cheap manufactured meat, fizzy drinks, conventionally grown veg, unsustainable fish and ready meals seems like a diversion from the mainstream…for me it brings back memories of how my grand parents lived and what a balanced and content lifestyle they had. I don’t think I can ever reach that level of contentment but having them as the basis to build on is a much stronger start in life than a lot of other people and I am eternally grateful such people came in my life and inspired me. And of course I keep on trying to recreate all the magnificent meals I had with them through the years.