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!
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.
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.
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!