I Dream of Organic Food in Greece!

I Dream of Organic Food in Greece!

After reading this, I’d hope you feel the same! As a an advocate of all things Primal, eating organic food is by far my favourite tenet I preach to people. Bex, Kaiya and I traveled through Greece for a month June 2014 and Couchsurfed for several days with a lady Natalia Merekoulia who co-managed an Organic Co-op called ‘ΣtoA’ (translates: ‘Store’) in Napflion, southwest of Athens. Natalia was a wealth of knowledge about all things Organic or ‘Bio’ as they say in Greek (short for ‘biologic’). It was a great introduction into the world of organic food in Europe, and how serious Greek people are about the quality of their food. We bought lots of Primal food from her shop, cooked lots of delicious meals together and our time together with her started our love affair with Greek food! It’s been several months since then, and yet I still dream of Organic Food in Greece! Learn why we love the food and why you should plan a holiday there sometime soon!

Stora - Bio Co-operative - Nafplion, Greece - Organic Food
Bex and Natalia discussing ingredient listings on the food she sells in ΣtoA (Store) in Nafplion, Greece.

Brad: Why did you start this shop and why is it important to you to sell organic food?

Natalia: It’s not my personal business, it’s a cooperative shop. I was inspired by a cooperative working style of business as an answer to this financial crisis. In Greece, capitalism is changing the way we are connected with our jobs. So instead of opening a business, I thought it’s better to start a collective work.

So with 20 people we started 3 years ago. In the meanwhile, some people found their paths in other towns, and some people went into other types of cooperatives, like making tomato sauce as a product of Greece. We now have 7 people. Two are busy running the shop, and the others are producers. We have a member who is a honey bee collector, an olive tree farmer, and a lawyer to support us in this chaotic bureaucratic country we live in.

I am very interested in the local varieties (of food). I believe it is a kind of culture that the nation of Greece has, and has to keep in contact with because it’s very important for the DNA of the people who live here, to respect the cultivation of the earth. In this type of cooperative, we built a network with the farmers to the south with a fair trade base, with respect to the struggle of the producer or cultivator and the difficulties of the Greek consumer with lack of money, to make an honest price for both of them, the cultivator and the consumer.

Personally, it is very important for me to realise the power of the consumer. Consume means I am involved with a bigger capitalistic system. So how I consume points me out as an individual against this system. So this shop keeps out of the door the huge multi-national companies and the big monopolistic companies of Greece, which we had in Greece with milk, for example. So what we do is we trust small cooperatives from around Greece. We try to find the producer, speak with him, go to the farm to see how the cultivation is, and then organise a cooperation.

Brad: What organic food and foods in general do you sell here?

Natalia: Locally grown food and fair trade foods from Latin America, India, third world countries. We cooperative with a fair trade company in Athens that imports the fair trade products.

Brad: In Greece, organic food is known as ‘Bio’ food, yes? With a symbol and certification?

Natalia: There are 2 companies that certify organic food in Greece: ‘Biolas’ and ‘Bio’, as far as I know. There may be some small ones too. But if a farmer owns a small property, it costs a lot of money to get the certification.

So what we believe in is traditional cultivation, as well. So go back to our roots and find out how our grandparents were cultivating with no chemicals, and try to be more organic, traditional and primal.

We need to keep this knowledge and not let it go to waste, to give the local seeds the local treatment. The old generation knew how to do it so we need to keep up with them, to take the knowledge and carry on doing it.

Biologic Certification Greece - Bio Hellas
Look for these symbols on Greek products to ensure the product is organic. The first green logo is used extensively throughout Europe too.

Brad: We agree Natalia! What’s the cheapest product, most expensive and most popular?

Natalia: We have a white mushroom from the North of Greece which is 12 Euro. Something really rare in Greece is this saffron which is only made in one place in Greece, which is a cooperative. It’s 4.50 Euro for only 1 gram. It says BIO on the front, and that symbol which means they have paid for the certification, but they are a cooperative of farmers, so they can afford to pay for the certification.

The cheapest is the flour which is 80 cents, or the rice which is 1.20 Euro per kilo. They are basic foods which you can have for a daily meal. We don’t have vegetables to be a green grocer shop yet, but hopefully we will do a small cooperative with those cultivators too in the future.

Stora - Bio Co-operative - Nafplion, Greece - Organic Food
Natalia showing Brad the range of organic / bio food they sell at ‘Stora’.

Brad: In our country of Australia, raw or un-pasteurised products like dairy and alcohol are hard to get. In Greece, is this illegal to sell here or there are no problems?

Natalia: It’s no problem at all because we have raw dairy in our tradition, so it’s very odd for someone to come say “You cannot eat this, it’s not healthy for you.” Because we know it’s not unhealthy. It’s legal to sell it. We have raw butter, which we have consumed for thousands of years, so there’s no reason to cut it off. We have heard about the police raids on raw milk farmers and sellers in America and Australia, and we think we have to get a network to protect ourselves from this kind of irrational thinking. We have raw yoghurt and raw goats butter. I don’t have raw milk, only pasteurised cow milk, but I have un-pasteurised beer from a local brewery and un-pasteurised honey. We have local grown wine, two types – one with non bio-certified grapes and one with bio-certified grapes. Because Greece is a very mountainous country, we have plenty of mushrooms and herbs like for Greek mountain tea and Greek mountain oregano. And of course the Greek olive oil that we are very proud of.

Brad: So far in Greece, we’ve noticed that most people have a good mindset or knowledge about the quality of food and traditional organic food. Is this the norm for people in Greece?

Natalia: I think it’s normal. Greece has always been an agricultural country, so all Greeks come from agricultural families, even one’s Grandma and Grandpa. So we are connected with the Earth. But there has been a change since 2000 with all the consuming and fast food. There is also a fast food diet here; more than 20 years of junk food. But people get informed that if they eat like that, they are going to face trouble, so if they want a natural way of getting older, they need to have a natural way of eating food and feeding the family. So we came back to our roots; it was easy because it wasn’t that long of eating that way (the fast food way). Anyway, the Mediterranean diet is well known for the health qualities and a balance between proteins meat, vegetables, eggs, fish, olive oil. So we are somehow still well connected with that. The Greek mother always cooks traditional Greek food, so we have the taste in our mouth of the Mediterranean Greek food.

Brad: What is the typical day of eating for a Greek person?

Natalia: It depends on the weather. We have different products in different seasons.

So now it’s summer, we have lots of fruits: melons, watermelons, apricots, peaches, figs, tomatoes and all the vegetables. So mainly it’s based on this – fruits and vegetables. Fish, because it’s summer time, and we are surrounded by water and have fishermen get the nice fresh fish.

We have a folk festival during the summertime, and we eat meat – goat or sheep – during the period, if people are eating meat. Because there are a lot of people who are vegetarian now in Greece, and that’s because we have a lot of choices. You know, they are near the place where they can eat a lot of vegetables, so they can forget the meat for the summer.

When the weather is warm we don’t need so much proteins. So the summer diet is more based on fruits, vegetables and salads and fish…and less meat. Meat is just on occasion in summer. Of course, the modern Greeks want meats in everyday life, which happens in every country, but I’m talking about more of the traditional way of Greek eating. In the winter, for example, we eat soups, like bean soup.

Brad: Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge on Greek organic food Natalia!

Contradictions of The Mediterranean Diet and Lifestyle

Contradictions of the Mediterranean Diet and Lifestyle

Smoking, drinking, late nights, no breakfast and tons of bread! We were shocked by some of the Greek diet and lifestyle habits which strongly contradict their traditional healthy Mediterranean diet. Are we wrong in what we think are healthy choices? Or are we forgetting the most important key to good health?





Contradictions of the Mediterranean Diet and Lifestyle

Smoking, coffee & other favourite Greek pastimes

As I explain in What We Can Learn From The Mediterranean Diet, the Greeks have a beautiful real food traditional diet. However, when it comes to toxins and poor health habits, the Greeks have their fair share.

Smoking up a storm

We have never, ever, been in a country where people smoke so much (and we’ve traveled a lot!). The Greeks love their cigarettes and smoke anywhere and everywhere, with little consideration for other people or any health risks. A couple Greeks we met said they quit smoking years ago and now they suck candies instead, but no one ever talked about smoking as a problem, or talked about trying to or wanting to quit. Yet they are known for their longevity. Hmmm…

Raki, Ouzo and Wine…for good health

Drinking is also never frowned upon. On the contrary, alcohol is thought of as healthful. When you toast, or cheers, you say “yamas”, which translates as “to your health”. Greeks are very proud of their strong local spirits raki and ouzo, which are served at the end of every meal and called a ‘digestive’. And with all those grapevines growing madly, they have beautiful wines, which taste great with all their food. A book we found even shows the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid as including alcohol.

However, maybe this mindset about alcohol is what keeps it healthy, because it’s only ever consumed in great moderation. There is no social rebellion in drinking alcohol, so binge drinking and alcoholism is highly uncommon. Men sit in cafes sipping the same tiny shot of raki for hours, wine is served by the ½ liter for a few people to share over a meal, and beer is rarely drunk at all. And the rebellious youth? They drink coffee…

Raki alcohol is a post-meal 'digestive' in Greece
Raki alcohol and dessert is served free as a post-meal ‘digestive’ in Greece

Caffeine all night long

Coffee is clearly the favourite national drink, and the social drink of choice for everyone from young Greeks in trendy city bars to old men in the village square. Frappes are the favourite – a combination of Nescafe and plenty of sugar whipped or blended until frothy. Though the old men may sit and sip the same coffee all afternoon, the younger generations seem to drink a huge amount, and well into the late hours of the night, since they go to bed so late.

Late dinner, no breakfast

In The Mediterranean, our primal pattern of sleeping and waking in rhythm with the sun is completely disregarded. Instead the Mediterranean sleeping and eating schedule goes like this:

7-10 am – Wake up and eat nothing except maybe a sesame bread ring
2-6 pm – Light lunch and a 2-3 hour nap
9-10 pm – Large dinner
1-2 am – Go to sleep

Instead of a nutritious breakfast, healthy lunch and light dinner, the Greeks are eating nothing until mid-afternoon, then eating their main meal after 9 o’clock at night! And aren’t they missing hours of restorative sleep by going to bed so late? Even the little children are out late with their families, eating at 9-10 pm and playing in the village square while their parents chat all evening. They still have to get up for school in the morning too…

The beloved bread

If the Greeks do grab a tiny breakfast, it’s usually koulouri on the run, a bread ring covered in sesame seeds sold at vendors on the streets. At lunch and dinner, giant loaves of sliced bread are served before or with every meal, to be dipped into a plate of fresh olive oil and maybe some dried oregano. Even if you order something that comes with bread already, like the popular gyro pitas, there will be a basket of bread on your table.

Bread is on the bottom of that Mediterranean food pyramid, along with rice and pasta, as the primary food group, just like on the USDA food pyramid. Though flour is not in everything, like in some cuisines, bread is always on the table and in the home, and many traditional foods incorporate filo dough and pita bread.

Traditional Greeks take pride in having fresh bread, and it’s still often home-baked or bought fresh-baked from the bakery. And bakeries are absolutely everywhere, chock-full of breads, pastries, cookies, mini ice creams, chocolates and candies.

It is true that the Mediterranean societies have always been agricultural, and that grains, especially wheat, are an integral part of not only their cuisine, but their culture. So maybe their metabolic type is suited to eating so much bread? We do know many Europeans who eat bread and cheese all their life, but it’s only when they move to Australia or America that they easily gain weight from eating these things. So maybe it’s a matter of traditionally made breads versus commercially processed versions.

Sugary coffee and cigarettes are favourite Greek pastimes
Greek shopkeepers pass the time with sugary coffee and cigarettes all day

So how do the Greeks stay healthy?

Despite all these factors, the Greeks remain on all the long life-span lists and are known to be in general good health.

Maybe these contradictions are a sign of modern commerce crowding out traditional ways, or maybe the Greeks and other Mediterranean peoples have just found a balance in diet and lifestyle that works for them. Some of these habits may well be moderated by their stable traditional food culture. Or maybe we are simply wrong in our own assumptions about what is a healthy lifestyle, and the Greeks have it all figured out. 

The Greek mindset is a healthy one

It’s probably most likely that the Greeks have simply found a balance in their Primal 6 – Thoughts, Air, Water, Food, Movement, Sleep. And since Thoughts are the most important, how about we look to the Greeks as a model for healthy Thoughts, as much as we do with their Mediterranean diet.

The Greeks prize family and community. They work, rest, play and eat with their large families, friends and community. They leave work for several hours in the afternoon to eat and nap with their loved ones, then meet up with the whole community again in the village square for dinner, playing and talking all evening. Meals are usually long, social or intimate affairs. They take care of the elderly in their family, including them in home and social life. Their Greek Orthodox Church brings a sense of community to the people, without obligation or guilt. And there’s no guilt, stress, or remorse felt about eating, smoking, drinking and indulging…only enjoyment.

Thoughts are more important than diet and lifestyle

It’s these thought principles that create contentment and a healthy, happy mind, which in turn keeps the body strong and vital. In many young societies like America and Australia, we are so focused on diet that we fail to see how unhealthy our modern thought principles are making us.

Almost every story I have read about a person who has lived beyond 100 years old without serious illness or disease reports that they are surrounded by friends and family and have regular social plans and gatherings. Many of them have paid little attention to their diet and exercise, and even regularly smoked and drank alcohol. There is definitely a pattern showing the power of Thoughts, and our month in Greece has reminded us of this most important aspect of our health.

Crossfit Affiliates Around The World

Crossfit Affiliates - Boxes - Worldwide WOD

As a health professional, I’m a CHEK Practitioner first and foremost, but CHEK style functional fitness studios are hard to find when traveling. However, since I started working out of a Crossfit Box in Sydney, I’ve grown accustomed to the setups and equipment they provide and I love them! Crossfit Affiliates or ‘boxes’ are my favourite gym environment for a workout, and I’ve been able to find quite a few of them while traveling. Check out all the places around the world I’ve trained at, and consider visiting them if you’re in their area! The Crossfit community is awesome. Contact them and let them know where you’re from and they’ll be stoked to have you!

CrossFit Metalbox - Gothenburg - Gotenburg - Sweden
CrossFit Metalbox – Gothenburg – Sweden
Crossfit Affiliate: CrossFit Backaplan
Location: Gothenburg (Gotenborg), Sweden
Web: Facebook / Website
Brad’s Experience: I trained here in August 2014. This was another new box in Sweden run by partners in life and business, Andreas and Christel! Experienced coaches from Gothenburgs first box that opened in 2009, they decided to open their own. Small gym floor area, but with great new equipment. Ceilings were a bit low for full ring MU’s, but other than that, great rogue barbells and equipment in general. ‘Metalbox’ is named after their two loves, lifting metal, and heavy metal! We all rocked out to some hard and heavy beats before their evening WOD. They are both passionate about making CF safe and effective.

CrossFit Backaplan - Gothenburg / Gotenborg - Sweden
Crossfit Backaplan – Gothenburg – Sweden
Crossfit Affiliate: CrossFit Backaplan
Location: Gothenburg (Gotenborg), Sweden
Web: Facebook / Website
Brad’s Experience: I trained here in August 2014. It was a fairly new box so everything was gleaming like they’d just came out of the wrapper. It was a treat to use Eleiko barbells! So smooth. Owners Kaj (Kai) and Bjorn are passionate about setting up a community that focuses on safety first. They have an ‘on-ramp’ program every new must do before being allowed to participate in a proper WOD. They had everything you’d need including sleds, high ceilings, rogue bars and pumping music. Great place!

Crossfit Bink 36 - Den Hague - Netherlands - Holland
CrossFit Bink 36 – Den Hague – Holland
Crossfit Affiliate: CrossFit Bink 36
Location: The Hague, Netherlands
Web: Facebook / Website
Brad’s Experience: I trained here once in August 2014. This gym was schmick. owner Jordan was most hospitable and ran a great box. Really clean, plenty of equipment that any basic to advanced CrossFitter would need. Plenty of floorspace, outdoor area for runs and tyre flips and plenty of foam rollers and powerbands that I was always look for pre-workout to get ready. Great Dutch dance music pumped and plenty of ventilation for when things get sweaty!

CrossFit Box at CrossFit Antalya - Turkey
CrossFit Antalya – Turkey
Crossfit Affiliate: CrossFit Antalya
Location: Antalya, Turkey
Web: Facebook
Brad’s Experience: I trained here once during July 2014. Owner Ulvi, is ex-military, hence runs a tight ship and puts together a killer WOD. It’s a decent sized room that has basic CrossFit gear plus a boxing ring and ramp for sprints. Some of the equipment was needing some TLC, and the ceiling was lowish for bar and ring MU’s. He needed more powerbands boxes for box jumps too. But everything else was all good. Loud music, good atmosphere, great sesh!

Crossfi Fit 1 - Rhodes - greece
Fit 1 – Rhodes Island – Greece
Crossfit Affiliate: Fit 1
Location: Rhodes Island, Greece
Web: Facebook / Website
Brad’s Experience: I trained here twice during June 2014. Owners, Panagiotis and Aggelos were super exuberant owners of the gym that live and breathe Crossfit! The gym is part of a Spa. There is more ‘normal’ commercial gym upstairs and a small literal ‘box’ downstairs made for Crossfit. They had a basic Crossfit setup but lacked high ceilings for rings MU’s, foam rollers, powerbands and rowing machines. Great access to do the workout outside though too which was a treat!


Primal WOD! – Workout Of the Day

Primal WOD - Park and Sea Workout

Needs some ideas on how to move your body outdoors in nature, with minimal equipment? Check out these YouTube videos I’ve made to keep you on your toes!

Primal WOD – 11/7/14
Turkey, Antalya, Park & Sea Workout

– Bodyweight Dips
– Picnic Bench Jumps
– Bar Muscle Ups or Chin Ups
– Human Weight Back Squats
– Sea Swim

Repeat x 3 rounds!

Primal WOD – 7/6/14
Turkey, Pammukale, Hotel Workout

– Kid Back Squat to side lunge combination
– Kid Weighted Pushups
– Chin-Ups
– Kid Weighted Run

Repeat x 3-5 rounds!

Primal WOD – 21/6/14
Greece, Kythera, Karavas

– 5-8 Rope pulls (floor to standing)
– 12 rock squat push press (aka thrusters)
– Reptile crawl pushups (see video)
– rock climb razor sharp rocks then rock jump
– 5 laps of 10 metre swimming pool (freestyle or breastroke)
– run 50 metres up an incline

Repeat x 3-5 rounds!

Primal WOD – 19/6/14
Greece, Kythera, Forni Beach

– 15 rock squat push press (aka thrusters)
– 30 metre swim
– rock climb razor sharp rocks then rock jump
– 50 metre swim
– run 50 metres

Repeat x 3-5 rounds!


Hammam – The Turkish Bath experience!

Hammam - The Turkish Bath

Both Bex and I experienced a Turkish Bath or ‘Hammam’ during our time in Turkey. I was a very unique experience to say the least! Check out my short video showing the inside of a Hammam and what was involved. Sorry for the dark video. The lights were very low and it’s essentially a sauna so the camera got fogged up pretty quick. I haven’t been scrubbed so hard by someone since I was a kid!

Here’s a definition of a Turkish Bath from Wikipedia:

“In Western Europe, the “Turkish bath” as a method of cleansing and relaxation became popular during the Victorian era (1837-1901). The process involved in taking a Turkish bath is similar to that of a sauna, but is more closely related to ancient Greek and ancient Roman bathing practices.

The Turkish bath starts with relaxation in a room (known as the warm room) that is heated by a continuous flow of hot, dry air, allowing the bather to perspire freely. Bathers may then move to an even hotter room (known as the hot room) before they wash in cold water. After performing a full body wash and receiving a massage, bathers finally retire to the cooling-room for a period of relaxation.

The difference between the Islamic hammam and the Victorian Turkish bath is the air. The hot air in the Victorian Turkish bath is dry; in the Islamic hammam the air is often steamy. The bather in a Victorian Turkish bath will often take a plunge in a cold pool after the hot rooms; the Islamic hammam usually does not have a pool unless the water is flowing from a spring. In the Islamic hammams the bathers splash themselves with cold water.”

Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_bath

Hammam - The Turkish Bath
Brad wearing his tea-towel robe and head towel in a Turkish Bath. If you get the chance to visit Turkey or visit a Hammam in your country, do so!