food and diet :ancient greece vs. modern greece

The Three Fundamentals

The 3 fundamentals of food and diet were the most important ingredients for the Ancient Greek: Bread, Wine and Olive Oil. This was part of the dietary model or what we can call food ideology. For the Greeks these foods represented frugality and the simple life along with honey and figs. It is thought that this represented loyalty to their country since these fundamental foods were produced in Greece and therefore it was not necessary to import rare luxury type foods, they were happy with their own. It also is thought that it had to do with areas that should be conquered; anywhere that olives and vines grew should be conquered and be Greek.


Then: For Greeks wine was especially important at the symposia, which was a meeting of men for drinking, music and intellectual discussion. Greeks gave it medicinal properties, and there were even descriptions of proper and improper drinking.

Now: It is thought that much of the modern wine production practices today, are influenced by the practices of the ancient Greeks. Wine is also a very important part of Greek culture today. Gone are the days when Greece was only known for its retsina (wine that has had resin added to it). Today Greece has a high quality wine production using Greek grapes varieties that appear to be similar to the variety of grapes used in ancient times, and that are grown only in Greece. People are starting to notice Greek wines; at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards for example, 72% of all Greek wines entered this year received an award.


Then: Bread of course was a necessity in the ancient Greek diet. Greeks had a large variety of breads or bread-like products and also made them for special occasions. At some point it appears that the Greeks had 50 to 70 different types of breads.

Now: Bread is an extremely important part of the Greek cuisine; it is what nurtures the people, most Greeks cannot even imagine a meal without bread even if it is a rice or pasta dish. It is common when you go to the taverns here to be served a whole loaf of bread for 4 people…and you are expected to eat it.

Olive Oil

Then: Olive oil was used in almost every single item that was on the table of the ancient Greek, and although there was other oil available in the Mediterranean, olive oil was the only one used for cooking.

Now: Olive oil is even more important today to the Greeks then it was in ancient Greece. Greeks are the highest consumers of olive oil in the world, with a consumption of 26 liters a year per person, which is about ½ a liter a week (2 cups). Oil is used for almost all cooking, and although there has been an effort to promote other types of vegetable oils, Greeks have not really been persuaded (rightfully so).

Olive oil also holds a special position in the Greek-Orthodox religion; it is used in many ceremonies, but also in the oil lamps in the churches and at homes.