Food for 9 Billion: The disappearing Mediterranean diet in Greece

As tourists dine on Greek cuisine in the western-Crete city of Chania, many locals have turned to cheaper, processed American-style food like burgers and pizza. Photo by Cyber Monkey (Eleonora Gorini) via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Yesterday brought another installment in the yearlong, public-media project Food for 9 Billion. Reporter Jon Miller takes us to Greece and the island of Crete:

Today Greece has the one of the highest obesity rates in the world. The proportion of overweight children — about 40 percent — may be the highest, except for some Pacific islands. The problem’s especially bad in Crete, home to what could be the world’s healthiest diet. So what gives?

“It has to do with many factors,” said Christina Makratzaki, a local dietitian who also battled obesity as a teenager. We met at a waterfront café full of European tourists.

“In the ’50s and ’60s, the people, they were poor, but they were healthy,” she explained. “They were eating very good foods — the olive oil, the olives, the green leafy vegetables that are our treasure. But they were enforced in a way because of their poverty to use these things.”

Then people here got a little money — from tourism, from agriculture — and everything changed.

“Now, we have many choices,” she said.

Like processed food from the supermarket and fast food on the street. And soda and doughnuts and ice cream. All of it cheaper to buy, easier to prepare — and, especially for children, harder to resist — than what grandma used to make. And then there’s the marketing — a relentless bombardment of ads aimed at kids for products like soft drinks and breakfast cereal and processed meat.

For more, including photos, Marion Nestle describing the “nutrition transition,” and details of what struggling Greek governments are doing (or not) to fight obesity, check out the print or audio versions of Miller’s piece here.

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