OVER the years I have become increasingly fascinated by the effect of foods on my organism, and deeply committed to eating right, opting for fresh, seasonal produce, mainly vegetarian, chiefly locally sourced and ethically grown, which offers my body clean, high-nutrient fuel. I found that once I started eating this way, not only was I contributing to a kinder, more compassionate way of life that supported local farmers and food producers, but also making the most of my eating experiences by really getting the most nutritious value out of what I was eating. Once I started consciously cutting out all the foods that are filled with preservatives, GMO ingredients and the ugly cost of involving animal abuse or human slavery (today that unfortunately defines the majority of corporation-produced foods you’ll find in your local store, anywhere in the world), it was fascinating to see the way my body responded by thanking me – offering better energy, better quality of sleep, better digestion, and guiding me to choose some foods over others. It started to react immediately to chemically-laden rubbish foods and drinks (even things I had once loved), by giving me immediate signs of discomfort, pain, complete apathy, bloating or nausea, as well as attracting me to desire more modest quantities of more high energy foods – so the conscious drive to eat well quickly became a subconscious directive.
Souvlaki may still be one of Greece’s most popular and accessible (street) foods, yet for health-conscious foodies like me, Athens has become an increasingly easy place to live and shop in. Today, practically every neighbourhood in the city has at least one bio shop or even a shop selling traditional and healthier, ‘home made’ style foods, and then there are the weekly local laiki green grocer’s markets where if you do your research and talk to sellers, you can usually find ways to get the “good stuff” brought to you – fresh farm eggs, the best varieties of seasonal fruit, vegetables and herbs, and more. Also, there are various initiatives by organic farmers who send you a basket of their freshest produce every week for very friendly prices – no middle man, plus the adventure of receiving whatever was grown that week, and making do with it in a creative way.
There’s always the question whether the organic produce one buys is really organic, and a lot has been said about organic product certifications sometimes being the result of bribes rather than ethical farming. Whenever I have a conversation regarding organic produce and hear an argument that goes something like “oh it is so much more expensive, and anyway, how do you know it’s even organic?” I suspect that the speaker’s indignation regarding my choice comes from various factors, including guilt about their own (less healthy) choices, laziness in seeking out products and produce that are literally the same price as the non-bio foods, and inexperience in trying and comparing, on a regular basis, a bio and non bio lemon or carrot or cheese, and learning to understand the often radical difference in flavour, texture, colour and smell.
Although there are numerous choices by now for organic produce in Athens, my favourite place to stock up my pantry is Gr-Eatings, until very recently known as Tessereis Epoches (Four Seasons) on 30 Nikis St just round the corner from Syntagma Sqaure. The substantial variety (over 3.500 products) of fresh, dried, frozen, canned and dry foods, as well as ecological household cleaning products and cosmetics, mainly from Greece but also from around the world, and the friendly, helpful and highly knowledgeable staff, serve to make it a highly desirable shopping destination.
The bio store opened in 2004, when the bio food scene was still very quiet in Greece as demand was still very low – today, it’s always busy with people trying to tailor a better diet and healthier lifestyle for themselves and their family. The mini-market’s owner, Vassilis Souvatzoglou, who helps run the family business with his mother and brother George, says: “Our target goal was and still remains to rediscover lost essence of foods, and find out about new ones. We are a team of young people that are specialized in organic products and love what we do.”
At Gr-Eatings I enjoy discovering fresh, seasonal produce by small producers from around the country, sometimes sold at delightfully affordable prices – rare mushrooms, a mountain of avocados and kale in winter, huge bunches of asparagus in spring, strawberries, courgettes and tomatoes in summer, among others. Souvatzoglou says: “Every day we offer small producers the opportunity to grow and provide their products to a larger group of buyers, while offering our customers the best that Greek nature has to offer.”
Souvatzoglou adds that he has witnessed a significant shift in how Greeks eat in the last decade: “Nowadays, people are searching for quality foods and are more cautious about what they eat. This outlook has led to the creation of a new scene in Greece.” It’s not by chance that vegetarian / vegan / raw restaurants are steadily gaining popularity around town, and natural and organic products are gradually becoming a leading factor in consumer goods. Vassilis and his team make ongoing research into the food industry a priority, meeting producers personally in the places where they farm, and seeking out quality produce. “We constantly travel around Greece and internationally to discover new ideas and healthy habits. Our main purpose is to promote healthy living and enjoy good food. That is why we always aim to be one step further and create our local food revolution.”