If you’re ever served a sandwich on wheat germ bread with a walnut pate and avocado mayonnaise, or a chia seed pudding, don’t give it a second thought, just tuck in, as vegan and raw food recipes are gaining ground in Greek eateries along with the rise in the number of people embracing these diets.
Fans of the two categories – which are distinct yet similar in many respects – met recently at the country’s first-ever Vegan Life Festival, which took place at Technopolis in the central Athens Gazi district.
“We had 6,500 visitors in total,” says Frangiskos Sakellaridis, one of the organizers of the event, unable to hide his delight. “Many of those who came to try the delicacies served at the event’s 50 kiosks or to hear scientists explain the concepts are not initiates of the lifestyle, but still flirting with the idea.”
Frangiskos is 30 and has been a vegan for three years. “I saw a dog being tortured while on a trip to China,” he says of the seminal event that converted him, adding that videos of livestock being mistreated is a major trigger for new initiates. “For 99 percent of vegans, it’s an ethical choice.”
Sakellaridis is confident that Greece will see more events and festivals like that at Technopolis. “The trend toward veganism, which is not just simple vegetarianism as it means not consuming any animal products whatsoever, is international and especially popular among young people aged between 20 and 30, who get most of their information from the internet,” says Sakellaridis, adding that he has lost 17 kilograms since swearing off animal products.
“I’ve been a vegetarian since birth,” says Flora Papadopoulou, regarded as a Greek guru on the raw food movement.
Born in 1960 in the Athens neighborhood of Pangrati, Papadopoulou was different to other babies as she would throw up any animal product she consumed and couldn’t even drink her mother’s milk.
“At the time, it caused a great deal of concern for my family, while doctors who ran all sorts of tests on me couldn’t come up with a scientific explanation,” says the 56-year-old, whose overall energy is that of a woman 20 years younger.
Doctors and her parents were afraid she would develop problems due to vitamin or mineral deficiencies, such as rickets. “But I grew up at a normal pace and was the tallest girl in my class,” says Papadopoulou. She also remembers some of the harder aspects, like how some parents didn’t want her to make friends with their children in case she influenced them.
Papadopoulou can smile about all that today.
“It was 1978 and I was telling some friends overseas about what I eat, and they said, ‘You’re a vegetarian,’” says Papadopoulou of the first time she was able to put a name to her dietary habits.
“I started studying it in depth in 1995 and then took it a step further to raw food, which I was later trained in by Alissa Cohen in the UK,” she says, referring to the best-selling author and raw food pioneer.
Papadopoulou herself has written two books on the subject and conducted hundreds of seminars.
“The transition needs to be gradual. For friends who don’t have the same diet as me, for example, I’ll prepare a pizza with cheese made from nuts,” she says, explaining how the dehydrator is one of the key pieces of equipment needed by raw-foodists, adding that the diet requires practice, organization and a good deal of time.
“I am convinced, however, that each individual should pursue whatever diet suits him or her physically, psychologically and mentally,” she says, adding that both her children are vegetarians, but her daughter eats dairy and her son fish.