Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Hunger (Πείνα)

I don't live in the perfect world, so there are many times when I show my imperfections, and my kids often show up my worst traits, especially when they make a show of their self-created table manners. Most times, I manage to deal with bad situations in a way that will eventuate in a happy outcome, but there was one time recently when I really lost my cool. It was Sunday, and I had made a very tasty cauliflower soup (which I knew my daughter liked), spinach and potato omelette (which I knew my husband liked, and my daughter would show an interest in trying) and spanakopita (which I knew everyone liked, and my son would only choose this from all the food I had on the table).

cauliflower soup spinach potato omelette
Hard to choose, isn't it, with so much choice available?
vlita amaranth pie

"What would you like me to serve you?" I asked my son. Although I always know the answer to this, I still live with the hope that one day, he will surprise me.
"Well, you know I eat only one of these foods, Mum," he replied, so I gave him a piece of spinach pie without further ado.
"What would you like, dear?" I asked my daughter.
"I think I'll have the soup," she replied. "But I also want some pita, too!"
"OK," I agreed, "which will you have first?" I believe in choices at the table, but only from what is offered.
"The soup." So I ladled it out for her, and we all sat down to eat.

My son was close to finishing his pita.

"It's too hot," she said, frowning. I half-believed her; I also knew that she could see her brotgher finishing quickly, and she was probably thinking that he could be leaving the table soon to go and play with his toys.
"Hot?" her dad exclaimed. "No, it's not. If it were, then I would be complaining too, and you know I'm not, so it's not."
"Would you like the pita then, instead?" I asked helpfully. Maybe she just didn't like the soup, and she had also asked for some pie after all.
"So you want to eat the soup?" I was started to get a bit impatient.

Two minutes later, after she had broken bits of bread into her bowl, the spoon was in her hand and she had not eaten not one spoonful of soup.

"If you don't want that soup, I'd appreciate it if you don't dirty it with other food, because no one's--"
"I'm going to eat the soup!" she cried out angrily.
"OK, let me watch you eat it then." (She has my stubbornness.)
She sat with her elbows on the table and her hands under her ears, one of her hands still holding that bloody soup spoon.
"Do you want some pita instead?"
"Not yet. I TOLD you I'll have it AFTER the soup!"
"If you don't start eating that soup now, then I want you to leave the table." It was Sunday, I had cooked a really good meal, and I was in the middle of enjoying some ale which I'd recently bought for the first time from a gourmet store.

She did not start to eat her soup, nor did she leave the table. Enough is enough, I thought. I picked up her plate and firmly picked her up off the chair, pointing to her room.

"Can I have the pita now?" she asked.
"No. You can have some pita in the afternoon."
"But, Mum, I'm hungry!"
"Go to your room, and stay there till I tell you!" She knew I meant it.

There is no such thing as hunger in Crete. There is poverty, but people don't starve. There is so much food growing in the fields, being prepared in everyone's houses, being sold at stores in a range of prices to suit one's pocket (discount supermarkets do a roaring trade here), that there is more than enough for everyone, and besides, Cretans have always shared their food, and they still do so. My daughter did not have lunch that day, but she had had her favorite weekend breakfast (coco plops - sic - with milk, a Kinder chocolate egg for tidying up all the bookshelves with her brother and a late morning snack of yoghurt topped with quince preserve and walnuts. She couldn't possibly be hungry. She doesn't know what the word means, and neither does her mother, even though, in both their not too distant past, all their grandparents had known it at some time in their lives. Her great-grandfather, as a soldier fighting in the Albanian wars at the turn of the century, prised a piece of watermelon rind from a mule's mouth, and shared it among the other troops in his party, to stave off their hunger. In the second world war, many Athenians literally starved to death; their corpses were skeletons before they dropped dead in the middle of the streets of the capital.

Greece (and therefore Crete) is considered an industrialised country. To get a better idea of Crete's location, use the map below as a guide, then compare it with the global hunger map.

View Larger Map

Yet, just south of the Cretan borders beyond the Mediterranean ocean, and all around the northern and eastern borders of the Greek state, people live with hunger. It is rather shocking to realise that the island of Crete borders three continents: Europe (by land), Asia and Africa (both by sea), and mainly by countries whose people have a problem getting access to food to keep themselves fed. The world seems so unfair with its uneven distribution of food among neighbouring countries.

Not only that, but Greece has recently been named as the country with the fastest rates of obesity in children, especially in Crete. It's beyond a joke these days when people with weight problems are seen feeding their overweight kids with store-bought packaged food, creating not just weight problems but health problems in their nearest and dearest.

My greatest pet hate is to see decent food going to waste. It's just wrong, so unethical, so blatantly wasteful and unsustainable.

While enjoying a warm evening at a (cheap) pizzeria, I was astounded when the three men sitting at the table behind ours got up and left, leaving all this food on their plates: most of the salad, half the cheese and ham-covered french fries, half a bowl of pasta and a plate of thick cut fries - the worst moment was watching the waitress piling all the plates on top of each other, in full knowledge that she was about to bin this perfectly edible food. The eaters showed no sign of not enjoying the food. They just ordered it and didn't eat it.

Such food, apart from the fact that it should not have been prepared in the first place if it was going to be thrown away, could have been stored appropriately and eaten during another meal time, or it could have been shared among friends and family, or been given to a pet instead of giving it tinned petfood or crackers. But to completely bin it is simply anathema.

Lisa sometimes gets cooked food with off-cuts from the butcher - they're free - which are boiled, with rice added to the stock afterwards. A large pot lasts her three days. Then there are our leftovers. We always have pet food on standby, but most times, she gets 'our' food.
cooking for lisa dog food

Despite the abundance of food on the island and the fact that there were periods in Greek history when people were under- or malnourished, the locals still show very fussy tendencies concerning the food they eat. They still pick their own fruit and vegetables from the baskets at the store or the supermarket, discarding any items that don't come up to their expectations, staring oddly at other shoppers who place the discards into their own basket. At the poultry counter, old women ask about the mothers of the eggs and chickens, where they were bred, and what they were fed with. They often ask the butcher to show them the meat of their choice, to see it from both sides, to touch it (they do not understand the EU regulations that forbid such practices - if anything, they see such rules as a right being taken away from them), trying to justify their choice, as if they have never needed to eat whatever they found, or forage in order to survive, as if hunger had never befallen them and the freedom to choose had always been available.

*** *** ***

I was rather annoyed that my daughter had ruined her untouched serving of my delicious soup, but I didn't throw it out. I couldn't bear giving it to the dog; I wouldn't have even thought of throwing it out. I had it at night, bread bits and all, pretending that they didn't make any difference to its taste. Our own stomachs were full, but around us there are people who may be going hungry or have an inappropriate diet.

Some stomachs are never full, while others may be full of the wrong food: malnutrition in the world.

Food is not the only commodity that is unfairly distributed. With the amount of solar energy available in a desert, one would think it was easy to collect it and send it to areas that need power. This has been done in Nevada, USA, and Saudi Arabia, but not in the Sahara Desert. Reasons for this are supposedly the high costs involved. Obviously, the Nevada and Saudi Arabian solar panels were also expensive to construct, but at least the developers there could be sure to get their money back, I suppose.

For more information on what it means to be hungry, check out these Diana's and Cindy's recent posts, and read about what lengths people go to when they are really hungry.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki


  1. Great post Maria...really gets you thinking. I also subscribe to the philosophy of using leftovers and even getting "creative" with them the next day.

  2. Too true...they have no idea, just as we have no idea what it is to be hungry... Unfortunately though with all the GMO's, the additives and the carcinogenic ingredients and preservatives there may soon be a famine despite the apparent abundance of food...
    As TS Eliot predicted...'water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink' ...
    Hopefully our kids won't ever learn the hard way.

  3. Ah yes, the dinner table struggle... I know how you feel. I try not to waste any food either. What I've been doing is making a smaller plate for myself so that I can eat what the kids leave on their plates.
    the one thing I do throw out is lettuce! Not a lot. My neighbors give us way more than we can possibly eat and when it wilts nobody wants it.

    Lisa is beautiful.

  4. We try not to throw away food as well... feed all wilted or leftover greens, lettuce, apples, cucumbers, watermelons etc to our 3 pet turtles (when they are not hibernating) which wandered into our garden over the last couple of years, although we need to take them back to the remma, which is probably where they came from...

  5. You are a hero but I admire your ethics. Kids need to learn to appreciate food on the table whatever that is not not get spoiled, but for Greek mothers especially telling a kid to leave the table without having eaten is very hard to do. I think your Kiwi upbringing helped there a lot. And yes you are right that food should not go to waste. I hate it when people order to much at restaurants and then just pick through their food, Arghhhh!

  6. good for you on the dinner table struggle. I dont short order for my kids either - they eat what I make, although I do try to make something I know they will eat, especially if dad wont be home for dinner. I read somewhere, and can't find it now (I will need to do a little research) that this generation of children is the first generation with worse health than their parents and is projected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents (this is in the US). a terrible, preventable tragedy.

  7. great post! It's really time to create awareness of how much food we waste... the amounts of food waste is terrifying high in most developed countries. I heard not too long ago of an initiative of a japanese restaurant in NY, where you get a fee for your unfinished food (see

  8. We have created a cookbook which features 139 recipes from food bloggers around the world to raise funds for the School Meals Programme so that kids can attend school and in some of the poorest countries take home food for their families. Children are our future and we are trying to help in some small way.

  9. lettuce - chop it as for salad, sprinkle it over soil in the garden or under the trees; birds and worms come to eat it, and it becomes fertiliser!

    high-class restaurant chefs really hate people that order expensive meals and then leave half of them on their plate - if they didn;t like the meal, they should complain, but if they showed that they were enjoying it, why didnt they eat it (unless the serving was too large, and that isnt the case in high class restaurants, only junky places)

    i know what katbat means about dad being away - i have to admit that i cook food he likes when we eat together, which is most of the time, but it isn;t always to the kids liking...

  10. Children's eating habits change after the age of seven or eight as I have noticed with both my children. Passed that age they stop being so fussy amd skipping meals and start eating larger quantities of food. So be patient. As for family food I very much agree with you. My rule of thumb is that if I have two portions of leftover food for the children I do not cook the next day and we grownups have a salad instead. For me leftover food has to be consumed the next day so this saves me a lot of space in the fridge, we consume all the salads before the next market day and I get less hussle as I usualy cook on average 4-5 times a week.

  11. i've noticed that my kids do actually eat more food now; when i have leftovers of the kind of food my husband likes, i cook a meal my kids will like, one that doesnt take too much time to prepare (eg plain pasta, pilafi or dakos). my man isnt as fussy as he once was, but he is still the one that dictates the daily meal. i also find that i cook 4-5 times a week, usually 4 times - a pot of beans is always eaten over two days, the ones that i am working, as they can be made at night and served easily

  12. Maria, more Greek kids need "tough love"...a valuable lesson your daughter will remember and thank you for.

  13. Maria, you brought tears to my eyes: (1) because I am at a difficult stage with my children and discipline as they are getting older and many of their innapropriate actions cannot be attributed to immaturity any longer (they are 3 and 5); and (2) because I've been feeling lately as if there must be something I can contribute to this world, some way to make a difference, to help but I can't grasp what that is and yet see how you so poetically do that through your writing.

    Thank you, for helping me see that I am not being too tough on my children; that I am not the only mother who loses her cool over such issues; and, even more importnantly, for opening my eyes to issues that need to be addressed EVERYWHERE in the world.

  14. Hi Maria,
    I've been reading you for some time now and I really like your posts. Despite being a Cretan myself and being raised (partially) in a village, I have learned a lot about Cretan cuisine from you - to my surprise! Thanks for all the effort you make, it does make a difference to (a fraction of) the (slightly) younger generation of the island that is interested in Cretan cooking. :)
    However, my comment to your post is not going to be very nice and I apologize in advance. As a disclaimer, I must say that I do not have children and maybe if I ever have children I will understand your point of view better. But now, I must say that I feel that you were a bit unfair to your daughter. From your description of what happened, it seems to me that you punished her for her *intention* not to eat her soup, and not for actually not eating it. Maybe you knew that she wouldn't eat it, but I think it would be better if you waited for her to reach that point. In that case, punishment would be reasonable - but now you punished her because you *thought* she wouldn't eat it. Moreover, it seems that she was a bit insulted by the way you and your husband talked to her and punishment definitely made it worse. Please don't take my comment as criticism - it's just that I know I would be mad with my parents if they did this :)
    Kind regards,

  15. hi elli, i am inspired to write thanks to people like you who read what i write and show an interest - i find all your comments useful

    i *forgot* to tell you the end of the story (maybe on purpose) - my little girl asked me later if she could have the pie, and of course i gave it to her (after allowing a reasonable amount of time to pass, so that she didn't think i was that easy!!)

    maria - i know what you're going through; a new yorker friend of mine with older children told me that our kids are living in the instant gratification culture: they have no idea what it means to go without or be deprived...

  16. I adore reading your blog, since i discovered it few days ago... so many recipes to go through and i tried the cauliflower soup, it was great. concerning the role drama you allowed yourself enter, you know you pushed it a bit too far and "the bread is rather eaten topped with sugar than with vinegar". "το ψωμί τρώγεται πιότερο με τη ζάχαρη παρά με το ξύδι" :)))) Keep well and creative.

  17. Yes Maria, there is not hunger in Crete but there is poverty- when every aspect of life is commercialised, people are poor even if they earn more than 700 euros per month. And since poverty and overconsumption exist side by side, we must inform our kids about these situations and teach them be socially conscious even through food.

  18. Throwing food away is also my petpeeve. It's a big no no in my house. A lot of us take the abundancy of food for granted while there are people dying from hunger in other parts of the world. I think your way of conveying the message to your kids is a good one. They will appreciate food more once they grow up. A great post.