Tradition vs Health


Holidays are a time for family, friends and – above all – food. Not only is enough meat, veg and sweets to feed a neighbourhood made in each household, but surf the channels and at least one cookery program or segment  can be found each day teaching the viewer how to make the traditional meals of the season. Sure, you can find a plethora of cookery shows on any day of the year, but holidays bring out not only those usuals, but also many a holiday special, new and old.

Having spent this year’s Christmas holidays with the family in Athens, and subjected to both the Greek programs and numerous UK shows (Jamie Oliver seems to be a firm favorite over here too), I feel slightly more aware than usual about the differences in cooking between the two places.

True, even in London, I’m used to eating food cooked in the ways Greeks usually like to prepare them, so the English style of Christmas dinner was always something that was virtually unknown to me, at least in taste. However, this year I was also treated to an English-style meal before i left for ‘the home land’ so my comparisons have something more of a basis than they would otherwise be subjected to.

So here I am, January 2nd, at the end of the holiday season, having had about four different seasonal meals in four different households and watched countless people telling me the correct way to make so many different meats I can’t even count, and all I can think is… why all the butter and fat?

Before I continue, I have to clarify that statement with 2 things: 1) most of the meals I ate were cooked with oil rather than fat or butter and 2) this piece is written on the back of just having watched yet another Jamie Oliver Christmas special. (Seriously, how many has the guy made?)

I usually find myself wondering what it is about the unhealthy elements of food that seems to make it taste so good. Why is it always the low-fat ice-cream that tastes awful while the full fat one seems to have a never-ending siren’s call if I’m not careful? How can the beautifully fried meat drenched in some wonderfully fattening sauce be wonderful and that boiled chicken so minimally flavor-some?

And yet, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were wonderfully healthy – the extra weight around my middle is enough proof against that – many of the meals I’ve had while in Athens seem to be able to balance flavor and health just that little bit better than what the traditional Christmas meals of London and, by extension, most of the world, seem to offer.

As I mentioned earlier, most of the meals here are cooked with oil and almost all of rest I’ve tasted this holiday season included some boiling. Yet all had an abundance of flavor and easily convinced those around the table to take a second and even third helping.

Of course, there’s always that tiny voice before or after the extra helpings are eaten whispering that this probably isn’t the wisest choice when considering your figure or cholesterol levels, but when comparing it to the recipes I’ve seen and tasted for a traditional British meal, it is easily brushed away in the mind at the equivalent to a maybe a salad and a couple of started courses.

Sure, in the not so distant past, when people were far more active and heating your house was a luxury few could afford often, the large amounts of fat and butter incorporated in each held purpose, but in our modern lifestyles, and with access to equally tasty but slightly less heart attack-causing ingredients, are they really necessary?

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