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Crisis leads to transformation in Greek cuisine

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KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: As Greeks, we don't really shop from supermarkets. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who comes from a village and has access to olive trees and olive oil.

KAYTE YOUNG: On today's show, we talk with Greek chef and anthropologist, Nafsika Papacharalampous. She shares a recipe for Greek comfort food and also talks with me and Olga Kalentzidou about her research into the role of memory and nostalgia in contemporary movements in Greek cuisine. Plus a story from Harvest Public Media about the upcoming US farm bill. That's just ahead. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: Thanks for listening to Earth Eats. I'm Kayte Young. The Congress that takes office next year will feature a Senate with a narrow Democratic majority and a house with Republican majority. As Harvest Public Media's Jonathan Ahl reports, what's not clear is how that split in control will affect the wide ranging and massive legislation.

JONATHAN AHL: On a cold, windy morning right before the midterm elections, shoppers at the farmers' market in Rolla, Missouri were perusing meats, vegetables and other products. They care about their food and where it comes from. Shopper Phyllis Mayor says she knows the farm bill is important, but that's about where her knowledge ends.

PHYLLIS MAYOR: I try and keep up on things, but I don't even know what's all in the farm bill.

JONATHAN AHL: Susan Wrasmann also says the farm bill is important, but adds, it shouldn't matter what party someone is in when it comes to food.

SUSAN WRASMANN: I think we have good candidates on both sides, they just aren't really coming forward because of such polarization.

JONATHAN AHL: As partisan and divided as congress is, the farm bill may still be neutral ground.

PATRICK WESTHOFF: The farm bill is almost unique in recent history as being a bill that typically has supporters from both parties and opponents from both parties.

JONATHAN AHL: Pat Westhoff leads agricultural research policy at the University of Missouri. He says even with a clear lack of partisanship, there will be many disputes over the farm bill and it's spending that could reach more than a half a trillion dollars. The biggest portion of the farm bill, more than 75% of total dollars spent, is on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Ellen Vollinger is the SNAP director for the Food Research and Action Center, a nonpartisan group that advocates for food programs. She says making sure people have enough to eat isn't and shouldn't be a partisan issue.

ELLEN VOLLINGER: Benefits are going to average about six dollars a person a day with SNAP. So, it's not a program that provides really sufficient food purchasing power for people to be able to afford a reasonably decent diet on a sustained basis.

JONATHAN AHL: Vollinger says her group is going to lobby hard for the new farm bill to increase the level of benefits and make sure they are accessible to everyone who qualifies. For farmers, the big issue will be crop protection programs. Things like crop insurance subsidies and price protections. Westhoff of the University of Missouri says there will be added pressure from farmers to bolster those programs because of inflation and supply chain problems.

PATRICK WESTHOFF: So, the current high prices we're experiencing, higher costs we're experiencing right now, will then be reflected in support for producers. So, we have a period right now of very, very low support to the farm sector coming from basic commodity programs.

JONATHAN AHL: Just as the farm bill is up for renewal, Westhoff says farmers are hurting because current government support programs for farmers haven't caught up with inflation and market issues caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That's likely to be a top priority for agriculture interests. Climate change is one area that may be affected by party affiliation. Democrats tend to be more open to such legislation than Republicans. Ricardo Salvador is the Director of the Food and Environment Program with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

RICARDO SALVADOR: The farm bill hasn't touches issues with climate change since the 1990's.

JONATHAN AHL: Salvador says as shocking as that may be, his organization is optimistic about getting environmental provisions in the upcoming legislation.

RICARDO SALVADOR: In the 21st century, we just cannot afford to have federal legislation on agriculture that doesn't recognize the reality of climate change and more importantly, the fact that agriculture both causes important greenhouse gas emissions and can help us mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

JONATHAN AHL: Salvador says things are changing rapidly in the US. For example, farmers who are among the most ardent climate change deniers, have come around and are among the groups looking to promote new practices to decrease greenhouse gases. While congressional committees have been meeting to discuss the farm bill throughout the year, the new congress will convene January 3rd and it could take them most of 2023 to pass the mammoth legislation. I'm Jonathan Ahl, Harvest Public Media.

KAYTE YOUNG: Harvest Public Media is a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest and Great Plains. Find more at

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: And it's not because it's a high demanding recipe, it's because the more you care for the food, the better it will taste afterwards.

KAYTE YOUNG: On today's show, we have a special guest, Doctor Nafsika Papacharalampous. She's a food anthropologist and chef affiliated with the SOAS Food Studies Center at University of London. Her work centers on food identity and memory, especially during the Greek financial crisis starting in 2009. She visited the campus of Indiana University as part of the Themester on identity and identification. Geography professor Olga Kalentzidou, who we've had on the show previously, brought her to campus also as a guest for her class on Greek cuisine. Olga organized a cooking demonstration in partnership with the Institute for European Studies, IU Department of Geography, IU Department of Anthropology and the College of Arts and Sciences Themester. Here's Nafsika.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: In the demo, I had in mind to cook more traditional Greek recipes and Fava, which is the yellow split pea dip. It's one of my favorites because it's also quite comforting and links to childhood memories and it's something that most Greeks share. The second recipe, the [FOREIGN DIALOGUE] is actually a recipe from [FOREIGN DIALOGUE] and it gave me the opportunity to talk about Turkish cuisine and Greek cuisine and the exchanges of populations historically and how the development of Greek cuisine is influenced by people moving, spices being brought in, recipes and all of that.

KAYTE YOUNG: Well, Nafsika shared two recipes today, we'll just be talking about the yellow split pea dish. Let's go right into the cooking demonstration for the Fava and then we'll come back to our quieter studio conversation with Olga and Nafsika. The demo took place in the Read Teaching Kitchen with assistance from IU Dining's Rahul Shrivastav and Executive Chef, Dave Tallent. It's a space with a lot of echo, so bear with us.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: We call it Fava, but as I learned today, it's not what you call Fava here. So, it's split yellow peas, that you rinse and we turn them into a dip. This is not served in Greece as a main course, like you would with Dal, for example, it's served as a starter as part of Mezze in the Tavernas. I'm going to make it with two different topics, one very traditional, one a bit more contemporary, because what is happening now in Greece, and what was my research, was a whole movement of revival of traditional dishes and reinventing Greek food and going back to rural foods and ingredients that were quite neglected, forgotten from the village, coming to Athens, to the big cities and becoming more and more popular.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: Greek food is very simple, generally speaking. So, it has only very few ingredients. The Fava, for instance, has onions, the yellow split peas, olive oil, and then some bay leaves and that's it. Because the ingredients are so few, they need to be of very good quality. So, even though in Greece, we don't have the movement for organic food and show the food waste and things that exist because it's not as industrialized yet. We do pay attention to the vegetables we source, to the Fava, where it's coming from, where to buy it from as well.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: When it comes to cooking techniques, the way that you are taught in the restaurant is to use the chopping board and roughly chop the onion, like this. The way mothers do it is with a smaller knife. So, my mom, for instance, would never use a chopping board. I am very uncomfortable doing this now. So, you hold the knife and you just roughly chop the food and there is a beautiful ethnography by David Sutton which discusses the idea of risk in the kitchen and uses this example of how one chops or doesn't chop. So, because we're going to blend the Fava afterwards, it doesn't really matter how you chop the onion as long as it is roughly chopped. We're using roughly two onions for 500 grams, which is a pound of the split yellow peas.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: Now, Greek food is a lot about not wasting anything because Greece has been traditionally quite a pour country, so people were very mindful of using up everything. So, we use onions scraps to make vegetable stock. Now, I've got some onion to decorate the Fava and these were not really good to make cubes, so I'm going to use them here. And generally, it's a cuisine that doesn't let anything go to waste, but also, a lot of the traditional dishes, like the pies, have been created from ingredients that people had around. So, the pies, for instance, you had flour in your kitchen and some olive oil and some water to make the filo and then you had greens from the garden or Feta cheese from your animals, and you would make the Spanakopita, which is now one of the most popular Greek dishes.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: So, we're going to gently fry our onions and add the Fava in the water and then, we're going to let it do its thing. So, as opposed to a stew, where you pop everything in the oven and then forget about it and come back in a few hours, Greek food needs care and when I say care, it's called Meraki in Greek. It's a word used also for craftsmen. It's caring for the food you're preparing or the furniture you might be crafting, and it is spending time with it. So, you must remind me if I forget, we need to stir this every so often. You need to come back to it, smell it. See, is it okay? Is it bubbling? Does it need anything? And it's not because it's a high demanding recipe, it's because the more you care for the food, the better it will taste afterwards.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: So, I'm going to grab some of the olive oil. So, we need roughly four tablespoons, which I'm going to measure now, but know that we never measure. So, in restaurants, of course, you would, you would use spoons and things like that and measuring cups, but in my mom's kitchen, for instance, even baking, there are no measuring cups, there are no measuring spoons and when I first started cooking in bulk, because this is what you read, my mom was very surprised, like, "What is this?" And I'm like, "It's a tablespoon." And she's like, "We have tablespoons, why not use these?" So, Greek food is also quite intuitive that way. So, you know with your senses how much to put. You can see, you can then smell it and hear the food as it cooks.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: So, we've got our onions and olive oil and we've got what I'm hoping is medium high heat and just let it sizzle for a bit. Now, the Fava, the yellow split peas, we rinse them before that. The water that comes out is quite cloudy, so you rinse it and you rinse it and you rinse it until it stops being cloudy. This is to remove any starch it may have. Similar to what some of you may do with rice, for instance, but we do not soak peas. So, even though usually in Greek cuisine we love soaking pulses like beans or chickpeas, Fava is not something that we soak overnight. Now, this is a dish that is not really eaten in households. So, you wouldn't have it at home, you would have it in a Taverna, but you will always have it when you go to a Taverna.

KAYTE YOUNG: If you didn't catch that, she's talking about Tavernas, which are typical casual dining establishments in Greece.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: It never appeared in restaurants, especially in up scale restaurants in Athens. Greek cuisine was very understated, so the good restaurants used to be French or Italian. So, if you wanted to go out with the family, you would go to an Italian restaurant or to French restaurant. See can you hear it? It's making noise. It means it needs something. So, in the 2010's, as the crisis was happening, you had many Greek chefs who had slowly started reinventing Greek food and dishes, like Fava, that were associated with the Taverna with a casual eating. Taverna is a very casual sort of establishment where you would go and eat by the sea with your family and friends. So, dishes like that started becoming part of their menus. A whole new cuisine was created with traditional Greek dishes, but changed. So, for instance, in a restaurant that I worked, they served the Fava with truffle oil.

KAYTE YOUNG: It was difficult to hear that. She said truffle oil.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: Now, truffle oil is not Greek, it's not part of Greek culture, but it is a luxurious ingredient that gave some sort of different value to this otherwise pleasant dish. So, our onions are now slightly cooked. So, we're going to add the Fava, give it a stir and then add the water. Bring it to a boil, turn it down and let it do its thing. And we're going to give it a stir so that it's just coated with a bit of the olive oil and the onions. And see, it quieted down. I would be very happy if you do cook the recipe because part of my non-academic job is developing recipes every week for a food company and I have them on their blog. I get no feedback from no-one, ever. So, I'm not really sure if people actually do cook them and in one of the dinners, a gentleman came and he's like, "I made this cake, it was amazing." And I was like, "Thank you so much." I never know if someone makes the dishes.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: We're going to salt it with some salt and pepper and here I have no measurements. I know American recipes always use measurements for salt, which is something very unusual for me and also salt tastes different in Greece and here, which I realized when I tried to make a recipe from an American magazine and it said half a teaspoon of salt. So, I'm like, okay, I'm going to follow the recipe to the letter and it was so much salt. So, you salt a bit in the beginning and then you can salt in the end as well and as you go along, you always taste. So, we're going to add a liter and a half of the water. Can you hear it? So, give it a stir, add the bay leaves. Now, bay is something that we really love in Greece. It's a very understated leaf if you ask me, but it gives a subtle flavor that is amazing and I like it also when infusing milk, with Fava, with lentils. If you're cooking lentils, get some bay leaves, but then make sure to remove it. Otherwise you might blend it with your food, which has happened to me, but it gets very unpleasant. So, also remind me.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: So, we're going to let it start boiling and then we're going to turn it down. So, this is the Fava. It cooks like that and then once the beans absorb the water, we're going to blend it with hand held blender and then serve it. I'm going to serve it with two ways and I'm going to talk more about it afterwards, but the classic way of serving Fava, so that you all know when you go to a Greek Taverna and this is a way to tell if the Taverna is like a proper one, is with finely chopped raw red onions and capers and, of course, plenty of olive oil.

KAYTE YOUNG: As the yellow split peas were cooking down, Nafsika guided the guests through an olive oil tasting and shared her thoughts on the best olive oil.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: The best olive oil, because everyone asks whenever I talk about olive oil, what is the best olive oil. It needs to be extra virgin, firstly, because we would never use something that is not and like whiskey or coffee, single blend, which means single variety of olives is better than a blended olive oil. In Greece, at supermarkets, you would find mostly blended olive oil. So, a few varieties of olives crushed together. However, as Greeks, we don't really shop from supermarkets. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who comes from a village or has friends. Are you Greek? Because he's nodding and I'm like, yeah, yeah, yeah, he knows what I'm talking about. So, everyone knows someone who knows someone who comes from a village and has access to olive trees and olive oil. So, my family, for instance, we get olive oil from the village of Koroni, which is in the Peloponnese, beautiful village if you want to go, which is where my godmother is from. So, we get it in large seventeen liter tins, which we then transfer to these little bottles and we keep on the kitchen counter top. And this is the way that olive oil travels, in social networks and outside of commercial shops is very indicative of Greek food and Greek culture.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: So, when you move abroad, when I moved to London, whenever someone visited, they brought a bottle of olive oil with them. Now that I came to visit, I brought some Trahanas to Olga, which is a Greek ingredient used in cooking. It's not that she doesn't have access to these things. In London, for instance, you have access to excellent olive oil, but the olive oil from home and the one you grew up with, to answer the question, is the best olive oil and there you have a big debate, north, south, island olive oil. So, we have to stop talking and forget to start tasting.

KAYTE YOUNG: Once the Fava beans had cooked down and the yellow split peas were fully softened, it was time to finish the dish with a hand held blender.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: So, for me, this is one of the best things ever invented because I did not grow up with it. It came to Greece when I was in my twenties I think. This is a very forgiving recipe. So, it's really difficult to mess it up. If it's on the liquidy side, which it is now, you just leave it on the hob for a few minutes. During that, liquid

evaporates and it becomes to the consistency that you want. My best friend who is from Estonia and we live together in London, she had Fava as a soup. She thought it was the most exciting thing. So, if you want to leave it in this consistency and have it as a soup, I can tell you it works. Personally, I prefer it as a dip. It's much, much better. And here is a time of when you also taste it for salt, for pepper. As you're tasting, when you make it, you need to think of the toppings that you will actually add because capers are naturally quite salty, the onion is quite pungent. So, you don't want a Fava that's too salty with the toppings.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: We have two toppings today, the traditional one, capers and raw onions, and something I usually love doing with Fava, sundried tomatoes and grape molasses. We couldn't find the grape molasses so we have pomegranate molasses, basically any molasses work. I like this combination because it's on the sweet side and it's completely different than the classic one. So, if you like sweet flavors, go for this. If you like normal, pungent flavors, Fava is a very versatile dish that's like your vessel for creating whatever you want. You want to do it with truffle oil, do it. You want to serve it with anything you want, basically. And as I said, we usually have it as a dip, but if you want to serve it as a main course, of course you can. If you want to turn it into a soup, you can. And as my friend in Athens says, it's always very comforting to have a big pot of Fava in the fridge.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: When you blend the Fava, there's two schools of thought. If you blend it as smooth as possible and pass it through a sieve so that it's smooth as yogurt, say, and people feel really strongly about it that a good Fava is the sieved Fava. I don't belong in that school of thought, I like a bit of texture. So, you will see, it's not smooth. If it's served in a restaurant, it's usually always passed through a sieve. So, you would never serve it as is like that, but if you're at home or amongst friends, you can do whatever you want. So, when you make the Fava, you can think of these things. I think Fava, unlike other dishes, is very much a love thing. Everyone loves Fava. I do not really know why. I think it's because it's so comforting, but I have not to this day encountered a Fava hater. Really, this dish is one of the most versatile dishes because the flavor is so subtle and you can do whatever you want with it. So, get creative.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: Now, pomegranate molasses, sadly we didn't have grape molasses. Grape molasses is made from grapes, it's very popular in Turkish cooking, now becoming a bit more popular in Greece as part of the revival of traditional Greek food with Mezze. Back in the day, you would have it over bread. So, you would have toast with some grape molasses and generally, we use it as a sweetener, over porridge in the morning, like in tea, in tomato based dishes and over Fava. And of course, we need plenty of olive oil. So, I use a lot of olive oil. You will see. There's plenty of olive oil, but it is a dish that really loves olive oil.

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Nafsika Papacharalampous, food anthropologist and chef, cooking Fava, a Greek yellow split pea dip in a cooking demo at Indiana University. Find the recipe at After a short break, we'll join Nafsika and geographer Olga Kalentzidou for a conversation in our studio. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: Thanks for joining us today, I'm Kayte Young, this is Earth Eats and my guests today are Nafsika Papacharalampous and Olga Kalentzidou. Olga partnered with the Institute for European Studies, IU Department of Geography, IU Department of Anthropology and the College of Arts and Sciences Themester to bring Nafsika to campus. In addition to the cooking demonstration in the Read Teaching Kitchen, which we just heard part of before the break, Nafsika also visited one of Olga's classes and she gave a talk in partnership with the IU food institute. I started our conversation asking about the talk.

KAYTE YOUNG: So, your talk has a really provocative title. It's a quote and it says, it smells like the village. I don't want the village in my home. Could you talk about that quote and why you chose that for your title for your talk?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: When I was in London as a student, I had brought back from Greece a bag of Trahana, which is an ingredient made with fermented milk and wheat and it has a very distinctive smell, and I had brought it back as a gift to one of my friends. And when I gave it to him, and he comes from rural Greece, he said, "No, I do not want that, it smells like the village and I don't want the village in my home." So, I thought this was a very powerful quote and used it in my own thesis and then later book and now in the presentation, because it conveys the conflicting feelings towards the Greek countryside that many Greeks share. So, the idea of the [FOREIGN DIALOGUE],

the village, is both a source of pride and common identity, but also there was a need to flee European and become more urban and more modern and these two images sort of, clashed.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: So, in the talk, I explain this and how historically these dynamics were developed and how, with the financial crisis that happened in the mid 2010's, the idea of the village and of Greek variety became a remedy for the crisis and people went back to the comfort of the village and the memories of the past that the village evokes.

KAYTE YOUNG: Well, I guess that's a good lead in to talking more about your research and about what your thesis was about. It's a book as well?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: Yes. It's now going to be published next year. In anthropology, traditionally, after we complete our field research and we write up the thesis, you publish what we call a monograph, which is a book based on that research and the analysis afterwards. My research was in Athens in the mid 2010's. At the time, at a very turbulent time, when the Greek financial crisis was unfolding. It was also a social crisis and I spent time in upscale delis and in fine dining restaurants as a cook and then later on as a chef and researched phenomenon of change that was happening at the time in Greek cuisine where you had rural foods and traditional dishes coming from the countryside to Athens and to the big cities and being reinvented and revalued.

KAYTE YOUNG: How does that phenomenon relate to the financial crisis? How does it come from that?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: It was very interesting that the two were happening at the same time because the one was feeding into the other, and what I saw was that all of these rural foods and traditional recipes that appeared reinvented to Athenians, they carried a nostalgia and became a source of comfort. Also, rural values like eating together and sharing food created networks that held people together and provide them a support system during the crisis.

KAYTE YOUNG: And then once the crisis ended or got better, I mean, I know it probably wasn't a, "now it's over," but did those trends continue or how were the food ways changed or was there a normalization afterwards?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: Things changed and keep changing in cuisine, especially in Athens because we see a reconnection of food waste, but as opposed to other European cities or the US, this is culturally very meaningful because the rural and the urban were never really this connected in Greece. So now, you have open air markets, you have [FOREIGN DIALOGUE] markets, you have spaces where foods come to Athens, a shorter farm to table chain and also a huge revival in the restaurant scene. You have now Michelin Star restaurants in many Greek fine dining restaurants and I think Greek food is flourishing and people got inspired from the crisis that kept unfolding as well. So, this is an opportunity to create, create food businesses, to create new ways of eating, of sharing food.

KAYTE YOUNG: Is there still a really strong agrarian and agricultural life there or has there been a large movement, a migration to the cities or like here in the Midwest, rural life has changed a lot and is there a similar dynamic going on in Greece?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: It has changed a lot in Greece as well. In the fifties and the sixties, you had the huge movement of urbanization, which really changed both the cities and the countryside. Now, with the financial crisis, you had some counter urbanization movements of people going back to their home villages and creating small food businesses, working on the land, but in no way did it became so big so as to completely reverse the movement. Greece is quite urbanized, but there is still a cultural association with the countryside. So, for instance, even though people may live in Athens, they would go back to their home village to vote when we have elections or they might get married there. So, there is still a connection, but working on the land and practices that have to do with caring for the land, fishing and all of that, this has changed quite a lot over the last few decades, yes.

KAYTE YOUNG: So, when people are going back to the countryside to, maybe, start some food businesses, is it more of a artisanal cheese making kind of thing or a gourmet, high end food project as opposed to a more traditional farming practice?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: I think it's both and people work with the land in different ways and spend time in the land in different ways. This is not part of my own research because I didn't visit the countryside much, but from stories you hear, you have people who go and just want a simpler life, to be more autonomous, to have their olive oil from the olive trees and all of that. You have people who were entrepreneurs in Athens who worked in marketing, who worked in advertising and then they went back, discovered that the land has things to offer and created artisan, high end products that were quite interesting as well in terms of flavor, in terms of technique, also in terms of aesthetics and the way these were promoted.

KAYTE YOUNG: And you were saying that a lot of people even in the urban centers are connected to their home regions, and I felt like you touched on that in the food demonstration when you were talking about olive oil and the ways in which people feel passionate about the olive oil from their region. Can you talk about that a little bit?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: As Greeks, we're very passionate about olive oil. There is a sense of pride that comes with coming from a specific region or even a specific village or town or city in the Greek countryside and olive oil is an excellent example to explore this because you have different types of olives grown all around Greece, different types of olive oils being produced with very distinct flavors and smells and each person I think is very much passionate about the olive oil they grew up tasting and smelling. When you change olive oil, like now in the demo, I've brought some olive oil from the southern part, from Koroni in the Peloponnese and Olga had some olive oil from other regions and tasting the differences, you can actually see the passion that exists there.

KAYTE YOUNG: And what is the olive oil that you are most connected with?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: My family comes from Athens so sadly, there was no immediate connection to the countryside and this is why it's so fascinating for me as a research topic, but we used to spend all of our summers in my godmother's house in Peloponnese, in the village of Koroni, which is a tiny seaside village producing amazing olive oil, though. So, every year, they would send us large tins with this olive oil and it was the olive oil that we would use throughout the year to the point where when I moved to London to do my PhD and become an anthropologist, my parents would visit, my sister would visit, they would bring olive oil there. So, it's been with me throughout my entire life and for me, it has a sense of warmth that I did not find in other commercially sold olive oil. It tastes wrong.

KAYTE YOUNG: And Olga, you have a different olive oil that you're partial to?

OLGA KALENTZIDOU: I do. I do. Although, I have to say, the Koroneiki, that's what we call it, the Koroni olives are really producing a very thick, very fruity and really distinctive olive oil, but in my area, the climate is very different. Again, olives cannot grow past a certain kilometer distance from the coastline. So, most of us, where my family lives, we're using either the local variety or a variety which is called Kyklopas and I bring it every year here. I'm the crazy person with the suitcases full of olive oil and also variety from the northern island of Mytilene or Lesbos, and your listeners might know that from the refugee crisis in that region and the Mytilene or the Limnos olive oil, another island close to us, is because many people from my coastal city in the north of Greece, have connections to it. So, you always try to find a family or a local olive oil press and get the olive oil from them. It is quicker and you know where your olive oil comes from.

KAYTE YOUNG: That's IU geography professor Olga Kalentzidou in conversation with anthropologist and chef Nafsika Papacharalampous. More after a short break. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: Kayte Young here. This is Earth Eats. I'm talking with geographer Olga Kalentzidou and chef and anthropologist Nafsika Papacharalampous. The more interviews I do, the more I come to understand that most people do not have lives or careers that follow a straight path. Many of us try something then veer off in a different direction, then accidentally fall into another field, maybe you pursue a passion or a lucky break. In other words, things change. This seems especially true in the world of food.

KAYTE YOUNG: Nafsika, could you tell us the story of how you got into food either into cooking or into food anthropology. Maybe start with cooking, because I think that was first.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: I studied finance just after graduating high school. I went a business school in Athens, I studied finance. I did and MBA. I started working in finance as an analyst and then I turned thirty and realized that I wasn't fulfilled in my daily life. That was before the crisis. So, the job was good, the hours were good, my colleagues were very good. I just wasn't passionate about it and I thought, there is no way I can spend so many years working with something that I'm not passionate about, and at the time, I loved food, I loved eating food. I cooked, but not professionally, and I couldn't conceive anything that I could do that I could make money of and support myself that had to do with food, but I started looking what is out there.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: I discovered Masters in the anthropology of food that was at SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, and I ordered the book that talked about anthropology of food because I had no idea what it was and it was fascinating. It was like a whole world opened up of new ideas and ways to experience food. So, I gathered my savings and moved to London and did the MA and then I continued onto the PhD and started my research in Greek food and the cooking happened returning to Athens for my field work for my research. I needed a job. I also really wanted to learn how to cook professionally and work in a professional kitchen. So, I went to see one of the chefs that I had interviewed for my research and asked to be tried out for free. I said, try me out for as long as you want, you don't have to pay me and if I'm good enough, you can hire me, if not, that's okay. Because all of the other cooks had attended very prestigious culinary schools, which I hadn't.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: So, I went and did my trial shifts for a couple of weeks and then I got hired as an apprentice cook in the beginning. It was magical when it happened because the restaurant kitchen is a very unique environment and I included some of that in my ethnography, but this is what my first experience was with professional cooking. Then I went on to do pop up dinners and catering and do more things around food, develop recipes. But this is how it all started.

KAYTE YOUNG: Wow, that's fascinating. What was that like in that trial period?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: It was very intense physically. It was physically very demanding. My whole body hurt and it was emotionally very demanding as well because it's a high pressured environment. You need to be on your feet and you need to be aware of things happening. It's very fast paced as well and everything matters. So, every plate that you put down, you know that it goes to someone who will have this experience only once. So, it doesn't matter if you make ten, twenty, fifty salads on a shift, each salad is going to be important for someone and this puts quite a lot of pressure, especially when we talk about fine dining, high end restaurants. But at the end of each shift, all of us cooks gathered together and had a beer and there was a sense of accomplishment that I hadn't experienced in academia or in my previous life in finance. The day ends, you've plated some food, you've created something and then you sit all together and celebrate that, which for me, was very unique.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah. So, even though it was high pressured, you still found it appealing and satisfying?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: At the time, I did debate staying and becoming a chef and working on that exclusively, but my concern was the body and how it would react in ten, twenty years. But I must say, it's not an easy life. It's quite underpaid. You work very long hours. We worked twelve to even sixteen hours a day, six days a week, and I think it takes quite a lot of inner strength to become a cook and later on a chef.

KAYTE YOUNG: I think here in the United States anyway, I feel like there has been, some have called it a reckoning, I don't know if that's quite the right word, but a new awareness of what the restaurant environment is like, and because so many restaurants were closed and many went out of business and there was just this whole community of people who were suddenly out of work and struggling, and I feel like there has been a new awareness and a new valuing of that work. I don't know if that's going to last or what real changes have happened, but has anything similar to that happened in Greece in the restaurant industry?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: I think, generally, the restaurant industry has a long way to go and it is becoming more visible now, injustices in the kitchen that have to do with gender, for instance, or race, the long hours, the working conditions and many, many things that are, yes, sometimes inhumane. In Greece, there is this awareness and it's becoming more visible now and there have been changes also because you have younger chefs taking over

restaurants and there is a new culture that is beginning to take place. But I think it is important that those of us who go to restaurants and taste the amazing foods, that we are aware of what's happening in the kitchen, because often you don't want to know, but it is a hard life. It's very creative. There's a lot of camaraderie between the cooks. I did not experience any competition in the kitchen. I know it's not the same in all kitchens, but we all helped each other, supported each other. So, it's quite a unique environment.

KAYTE YOUNG: And you said the restaurant you were working in was a high end fine dining?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: Yes, yes. I personally loved it, the job because I was at the place in my life where I needed the structure that the kitchen provided and to get lost in that world and in creating food and being part of this community of chefs, but we shouldn't romanticize it, because there are TV shows with chefs and the way food is presented in the media is often very different than the actual lives of those who work in the food industry, and the food industry is not only fine dining. It's many, many different people working in many different types of places that create food.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah, that's an important reminder and that your motivations were different than maybe some who end up in that industry. Yeah, that makes sense.

OLGA KALENTZIDOU: The majority of Greeks, especially in provincial towns that are not so much touristy are really drawn to family businesses, the taverns in which the mother or grandmother, the wife of the proprietor actually cooks and the front end is the males of the family more or less serving people. So, we need to keep that distinction in mind because for American audiences, that translates into the so-called ethnic cuisines in the US. So, in a sense, the small hole in the walls restaurant in the US resemble those kind of Taverns that are very comfortable to a lot of us and we have our favorite place to go and hang out, and have food as we would have at home. We should keep that distinction separate and I want to hear more about that if you want.

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: No, this would make for a fascinating research project for me, especially focusing on women in the kitchen and cooking because in Greece as well as in many other parts of the world, the chef is usually a man. You do have many women working in kitchens and the Tavernas are quite unique that way. Also for me, the places that make Souvlaki, which are more towards fast food. So, there are many different types of restaurants in Greece and the ethnographic exploration there would yield I think fascinating results.

KAYTE YOUNG: What is Souvlaki?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: Souvlaki, Olga, you want to?

OLGA KALENTZIDOU: Souvlaki is the skewered meat, basically. You have it as Kebabs in the United States, but Kebab is very different. So, in the United States, Greek cuisine has always been misunderstood as pan-Mediterranean or in that context and when I teach Greek cuisine I have to really deconstruct that myth, that what you think is offered to you in Greek places is not actually what we eat at home. There are many variations of the food.

KAYTE YOUNG: As it was time to wrap up, I offered Olga the last question for Nafsika.

OLGA KALENTZIDOU: I just want to know where are you going next? What would you like to do next in terms of Greek food and your particular emphasis in the metropolitan area?

NAFSIKA PAPACHARALAMPOUS: I realized that my journey of becoming a food anthropologist and creating the thesis and now creating the book has been quite transformative in the way that, for the first time, I found belonging amongst people who shared the same passion about food, in my daily work, working with food and writing about food, researching, teaching, cooking. I do not have a specific answer on what specific project I will be working on in the future, but I know that I am in the right place and this, for me, because it took a while to discover, is the most important thing. So, we'll see. Definitely it will be something that has to do with food.

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Nafsika Papacharalampous. She is a chef and a food anthropologist affiliated with the SOAS Food Studies Center at University of London. She was in conversation with IU geographer, Olga Kalentzidou, who

invited Nafsika to the IU campus in partnership with the Institute for European Studies, IU Department of Geography, IU Department of Anthropology, the IU Food Institute and the College of Arts and Sciences Themester. Find the recipe Nafsika shared and more at

KAYTE YOUNG: That's it for our show. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young with help from Eoban Binder, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Samantha Gee, Abraham Hill, Payton Whaley, Harvest Public Media and me, Daniella Richardson. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artists at Universal Production Music. Our Executive Producer is John Bailey

Nafsika Papacharalampous (left) and Olga Kalentzidou (Kayte Young/WFIU)

On today’s show, a conversation with Greek chef and anthropologist Nafsika Papacharalampous. She shares a recipe for Greek comfort food, and talks with me and Olga Kalentzidou about the role of memory and nostalgia in contemporary Greek cuisine. 

Plus, a story about the upcoming farm bill from Harvest Public Media.

Nafsika Papacharalampous standing in comercial kitchen with pots and pans, cutting food into a pot
Nafsika Papacharalampous demonstrates cutting an onion over the pot, "the way mothers do," instead of on a cutting board "the way chef's do." (Kayte Young/WFIU)

Nafsika Papacharalampous is a food anthropologist and chef affiliated with the SOAS Food Studies Centre at University of London. Her work centers on food identity and memory, especially during the Greek financial crisis starting in 2009.

She visited the campus of Indiana University as part of the Themester on Identity and Identification. Geography professor Olga Kalentzidou, who we have had on the show previously, brought her to campus also as a guest for her class on Greek cuisine. Olga organized a cooking demonstration in partnership with the Institute for European Studies, IU Department of Geography, IU Department of Anthropology IU Food Institute, and The College of Arts and Sciences Themester.

In the show today, Nafsika walks through the steps of making Fava, a traditional Greek dip made with yellow split peas.

During her visit to the IU Campus she also gave a talk. I sat down in the studio with Nafsika and Olga to talk about the lecture and about their shared passion for Greek food. 

Music on this Episode:

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from the artists at  Universal Production Music.

Stories On This Episode

Fava (Greek yellow split-pea dip)

close up of a beige-colored dip in a bowl with capers scattered over it and lemon wedges

Chef and anthropologist Nafsika Papacharalampous shared this comforting dip.

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