EATING HABITS FROM THE PAST

Until the mid-1960ís the Cretan diet was one of the healthiest in the Mediterranean. It was almost vegetarian - meat being consumed perhaps only once a week or even more austerely, once a month.

The basic diet consisted of pulses, bread, olive oil, olives, green leaves of an incredible variety and fruit. The consequences of this diet on longevity were well known and instances of cardiovascular disease and cancers of various sorts were the lowest in the Mediterranean.

What is especially striking about Cretan cuisine is that, despite the passage of many people through the islandís history and their incorporation into the Cretan cultural heritage, little remains of their food habits that is distinguishable. It is the geography of the island that seems to have always dominated the food habits of the inhabitants: the mountains one the one hand and the sea on the other.
   It is the former cut through by deep gorges and ravines, heavily forested in certain parts, dramatically arid in others, that give one the impression that the island is a mini-continent.

The pottery of the Bronze age from Crete that was analyzed gave traces of olive oil, retsina, beer, honey, vegetables, meat, fish, aromatic herbs, and aromatic essential oils. The human bonds that were found are sufficient explanation of food habits rich in proteins. So the Cretan diet was mainly a vegetarian one full of fruits, vegetables, grains and olive oil with very rare exceptions of meat dishes which were sacrificed for cult purposes and then eaten by the Cretans.

The traditional use of mainly agricultural products, particularly olive oil, is being underlined, in connection to a specific customary ritual that is determined by the everyday life and the commemorative days, along with primary religious beliefs and representations of cult.

The existence of ancient olive-trees, apparently perennial and imperishable, perpetually sending forth new shoots from their aged, seemingly lifeless trunks, must have deeply impressed primitive man.

The fantastically long life span of the olive, and its importance in human life, are sufficient explanation of its aura of holiness.