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Greece Blog

During our Greece virtual Studies program, our students interacted with faculty, government and industry representatives from Greece and discussed different topics such as Tourism Management, Cultural Heritage Management, Diversity Equity and Inclusion in big organizations, the Greek economy and the crisis, the Greek consumer habits due to economic crisis, Shipping, Narration and cinematography, Greek culture and traditions, agriculture and sustainability, Consumer-led food product Development, and Mediterranean diet in Greece.

In this blog, the student teams that participated in our Greece virtual studies program, selected a topic and identified a current challenge. They researched the state of the challenge and presented some unique ways to deal with the challenge and improve future outcomes.

Diet Among Children and Students In Greece

June 08, 2021

An increase in unhealthy diets from skipping breakfast and sedentary life has impacted Greece's food issues with links to food insecurity. The estimate is ⅓ of the youth are skipping breakfast, leading to increased snacking (Benetou et al., 2020). The increase in screen time from 2 to 4 plus hours a day showing increased sedentary life (Androutsos et al., 2021). The recent covid-19 lockdowns in Greece last year caused or at least added to the sedentary life. Snacking has not been all unhealthy foods, just portion size being too large on healthy ones. Vegetables being a spotlight on healthy food, had an exciting trend. Greece has data showing great pulls to high vegetable consumption in rule areas while Crete, Thessaly, Athens, and Thessaloniki had relatively no change (Vasileiou et al., 2012). The most significant change over the years for vegetable consumers has been a slight increase in frozen vegetables. The difference in fresh vegetable consumption by the season of the year has had little influence on frozen availability due to the great desire in Greece for seasonally fresh local vegetables.

One issue that is particularly affecting university students is food insecurity. Theodoridis et al. (2018) looked at the eating habits of 236 students from Thessaloniki and Athens. The students were asked a series of questions and assessed on nine conditions: having enough food and having access to healthy food to determine their level of food insecurity. The study found that most of these students faced some level of food insecurity, with only 17.8% of them being food secure. Furthermore, this study analyzed how the students adhered to the Mediterranean diet by comparing the amount of food they consumed typical to this diet versus the amount of food they consumed typical to a "Western" diet. It was found that the majority of these students had given up the Mediterranean diet and adopted less healthy eating patterns. This less healthy diet was also seen more frequently in students that were considered food insecure. (Theodoridis et al., 2018).

Many children also face nutrition issues. Though many children have adequate knowledge of healthy food choices, they often do not choose to eat healthy. Studies found that those prompted to eat vegetables based on rewards were less likely to select them independently. Studies found that parental education level and, to a greater extent, the mother's educational level significantly impacted a child's attitude about a healthy diet than their socioeconomic status. They also found that meals prepared for the family often had more nutritious foods than meals prepared for individuals, whether they prepared their own food or purchased it. 

Because our food choices at an early age impact our choices as adults, and because a healthy diet at a young age can prevent many diseases, we must support and encourage healthy eating habits. In Greece, dietary education did not extend through the upper educational levels in 2007, and today hardly exists in most public schools at any grade level. The government and other organizations could create programs that target children and parents with a lower than average education level, especially mothers, to teach them about healthy food, especially how to consume it cheaply and efficiently. To avoid eating in front of a screen and promote mindfulness eating, parents and teachers can discourage eating while multitasking, especially while watching videos or doing assignments. For those that do not know, mindfulness eating asks us to focus on our immediate physical sensations rather than allowing our minds to wander or distracting ourselves with other tasks. To encourage family meals, school systems can plan activities that correspond with the average parent's schedule. School systems can provide essential breakfast foods, such as granola bars, small packs of cereal, berries, etc., to help students eat breakfast more often. All of these solutions would significantly impact the diets of Greek children. 

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Cultural Impact of the Greek Mediterranean Diet

June 07, 2021

The Greek Mediterranean diet was established in the 1950s-early 1960s. Historically, the diet has been deemed the best and healthiest diet in the world. The diet focuses on fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. Unfortunately, the Mediterranean diet in Greece is in a crisis. Recently, Greeks have been moving away from the classic diet. Greek children have become obese due to more food options, and the diet has started to westernize. Abandoning the diet has led to a disconnect within the culture.

To much of the world, Greece is a country clad in romanced history. From the tails of the ever so famous Hercules to the lesser-known trifles of minor gods, the country is referred to with "was" and "In the past" like it is frozen in time. Many Americans know about Greece's history about its creation and development, but they are oblivious to the current struggles it faces. No longer are Greek citizens terrorized by sea monsters and vengeful gods. Still, instead, they face threats like obesity and other health issues that are actively ravaging their culture and wellbeing.

The main problems arose after the financial crisis that Greece endured. Before the crisis, Greece's diet was known around the world as an exceptionally good one. Their abundance of vegetables and their proximity to the sea allowed Greeks to create a diet that incorporated many foods and, in turn, was balanced and healthy. This diet was brought about in part because of World War II. Greeks used the food they could find nearby, and this became their functioning diet due to the limits placed on them by the war.

Subsequently, the Greek citizens started to experience longer life spans on account of their great diets. Conversely, the word diet does not just refer to the food they consumed. It takes their habits and culture into account as well. Greeks would have strong familial connections, and it was even common for them to take naps before diner time. All these factors gave way to a group of people that were extremely happy and healthy.

However, this changed as much of the country did when they faced their financial crisis. The more traditional and celebrated "Greek diet" was replaced by cheaper, more convenient meals as the Greeks turned to a more westernized diet. They turned to this subpar diet because it was cheaper. They went from eating many fruits, vegetables, and grains to a diet that focused more on highly processed food and sweets. They started consuming higher amounts and processed meats as well.

The dichotomy between the Greek diet and the western diet was great. All the Greek citizens felt the impact of this change in diet, which was especially true with the younger generation. Recently, Greece was labeled number one in childhood obesity. This is particularly bad because Greece has an older population, to begin with, so it is imperative that their younger generations are healthy.

However, it is not just the food to blame. The leading cause of the Greek Mediterranean diet decline lies in the Greek financial crisis. The shortage of money put many families in a position where they could not continue putting their children through sports or other related extracurriculars. This meant more kids spent less time exercising.

There is this fantastic monumental image that comes to mind when one thinks of Greece. It created democracy, was home to some of the greatest minds that have ever lived, and is known for the great stories that it was built upon. However, Greece is in trouble, and it needs help. Changes over the last few decades have done a number to the country, but there is a bright future ahead.     

With this issue in mind, there are two potential solutions to improving the Greek diet crisis. First, the diet needs to be more accessible to Greek citizens.  A change must be made to improve health conditions, revive the Mediterranean diet in Greece, and help those who do not have access to the diet. Programs could be put in place to help those who cannot afford a healthy diet. Advocating for community and personal gardens can help increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Second, awareness needs to be raised for the diet. Educating the younger Greek generations about the importance of the Mediterranean diet for health and culture is critical. Advertising and offering courses to understand the difference between the Mediterranean diet and a western diet can also increase awareness. Together, we can bring the diet out of the crisis state, connect the diet back to the culture, and improve Greek citizens' health and wellbeing.

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Greece Virtual Study Abroad Blog

ORGANIC FARMING & REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE

June 07, 2021

INTRO TO SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE IN GREECE:  The history of varying farming processes & recent adaptation of Regenerative Agriculture

When you think about Greece, you most likely think about traveling there, enjoying the cultural cuisine, and dancing with friends, but there is more to the economic activity of the country than just those aspects!  Although tourism and service sectors are a great portion of Greece’s economic activity, the agricultural sector is an essential component of employment and economic activity in the country as well. Sustainable agricultural practices are important to maintain in Greece as sustainable living is naturally a part of the culture, and there are many popular ways the Greeks practice agriculture! Aspects to be considered in sustainable and eco-friendly agriculture include organic farming, permaculture, regenerative farming, and agroecology.

Organic Agriculture

The above processes can be seen as grouped as one main concept, but they are actually mindsets that vary depending on the type of agriculture being practiced. For instance, organic farming strives to naturally enhance the biodiversity and soil fertility of a region without using any synthetic, harmful products. Organic farming practices were originally inspired by traditional and sustainable practices observed in India. Crop seasons can be easily adapted to organic farming, making the practice a feasible option for Greece with its seasonal nature in regard to produce consumed throughout the year! Examples of synthetic products that tend to do more harm than good in agriculture include genetically modified organisms, growth hormones, antibiotics, and synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Benefits of organic agriculture include soil erosion reduction, decreased nitrogen leaching to ground and surface water, and recycling of animal waste as fertilizer. Though organic farming seems to be an excellent choice as a sustainable agricultural technique, there are some negatives that come along with the process, including higher food costs and increased emissions leading to climate pollution.

Permaculture

Permaculture involves the adoption of arrangements and processes observed in natural ecosystems to be implemented in agricultural land management. The process requires a holistic mindset to determine the best management practices of farmland based on flourishing ecosystems within the area. In order for permaculture to be successful, rewilding and teamwork within the community are a must so that naturally occurring regeneration can be observed and copied in the agricultural setting. Permaculture is understood to increase yields and productivity while incorporating more sustainable practices in agriculture.

Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative agriculture is another beneficial practice to countries focused on sustainability, such as Greece. Regenerative agriculture is similar to organic agriculture in that the practice avoids using synthetic products and recycles animal waste as fertilizer, but the key component of the recently adapted technique is that it is a holistic land management process aiming to improve the land as it is used. By improving lands with regenerative farming, the use of specific lands can be prolonged to increase the yield of the land; therefore, the practice will increase both productivity of local farms and provide great economic benefits. Regenerative agriculture incorporates organic farming and permaculture ideas into its farming practices to benefit and regenerate the land as much as possible. With regenerative agriculture, the quantity of usable topsoil in farmlands is drastically increased in comparison to regular and organic agriculture. This regeneration will prevent further climate change by maintaining and improving the health of the soil so that it will be a guaranteed possibility to keep feeding the world for the next century. Examples of regenerative agriculture practices include perennial crops, holistically managed grazing, composting, pasture cropping, and agroforestry.

Agroecology

Agroecology is a process embracing both organics and regenerative farming to practice agriculture sustainably. Through this process, new agricultural management practices may be developed to best adapt to climate change and an evolving ecosystem.

THE CURRENT STATE OF THE CHALLENGE

Regenerative agriculture aims to ameliorate soil health and benefit the environment, rather than damage it or have no effect. Practices can include not tilling, incorporating livestock into produce production, composting, recycling water, using cover crops and increasing crop diversity. Where industrialized agricultural systems strip soil of carbon and release it into the atmosphere, regenerative agriculture can draw it back in to create healthier soil and reduce the greenhouse gas effect. When these practices are successfully implemented, the healthier soil also leads to increased yields.

Despite the widely acknowledged environmental benefits of regenerative agriculture, as well as significant evidence of increased crop yields in the long run, there are a number of obstacles preventing broad implementation of these practices. The greater productivity seen in regenerative farms takes time to implement, and farmers bear the cost - at least for the first few years. The price of cover crops and the installation of compost and water-recycling equipment can be high, and during the first few years of the transition to regenerative farmers might see a loss in yields. Many farmers are hesitant to bear these upfront costs. It can also be difficult to convince farmers with established practices to change their strategies for the promise of long-term benefits. In Greece, for example, tradition still dictates the custom of keeping the land bare underneath produce trees rather than using cover crops.

In addition, regenerative practices value seasonal farming. This means that rather than focusing on monocultures, farms produce a wide variety of seasonal crops. Unfortunately, bulk produce buyers may be less interested in making purchases under these circumstances. It can also mean sacrificing comparative advantage and specialization, as farmers must use different strategies for different crops instead of implementing the same practices across all of their fields.

Many sources cite regenerative agriculture as a niche in the Greek farming landscape. But qualitative evidence shows that its presence is meaningful and rapidly growing. We found examples of many farms across the country implementing practices on the agroecology spectrum. One of these pioneers is called Southern Lights, a regenerative citrus farm and non profit in the Peloponnese region. Southern Lights looks more like a forest than a farm. They not only produce food, but also collaborate with other farms to implement regenerative practices and work with various organizations to spread knowledge about sustainable agriculture.

The shift to regenerative, though still a young movement, is a global phenomenon. At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015, France launched the international 4/1000 program. This initiative aims for a growth rate of soil carbon stocks of .4%, with the intention of removing carbon from the atmosphere. Over 24 countries have joined this effort, which is best achieved by implementing regenerative agriculture practices.

IDENTIFY AND PRESENT UNIQUE WAYS TO DEAL WITH THE CHALLENGE

In order for regenerative farming to be successful, there needs to be funds to transition into farming that is regenerative. Microfunding as a solution to promote regenerative farming. There are subsidies that the farmers receive, however, what would be more beneficial to regenerative agriculture would be to receive microfunding or startup style funds. In addition to micro funding and startup style funds, there are also grants given to farmers so they can start regenerative farming. An example of a grant would be the Natural Conservation Service. The more productivity there is, the more farmers pay during the first couple of seasons. The soil contributes a lot to the climate and farming, so funds to support regenerative farming would be very helpful.

Do you eat food? Do you wear clothes?  Do you love mother earth?  If yes to any of these then you should consider promoting regenerative farming with the intent to heal the soil. In Greece this may still be a niche farming sector, but worldwide it is recognized. Check out the movie “Kiss the Ground,” narrated by actor Woody Harrelson. Streaming on Netflix or YouTube, the film makes a case for the healing power of soil, stating that its capacity to sequester carbon could counter the effects of climate change.

The fashion industry is interested. North Face and Patagonia offer clothing made of regenerative cotton. The company Secteur 6 uses only regenerative-grown materials and they teamed up with the streetwear brand Freak City L.A. to produce a collection that includes regenerative cotton graffiti T-shirts that read: “Regenerate or Die.” Kering, owner of Gucci and Saint Laurent, was a co-founder of the Regenerative Fund for Nature. They aim to convert 2.47 million acres of land producing raw materials for fashion from regular farmland to regenerative agriculture in five years. The New Zealand Merino Company joined with Allbirds, Icebreaker and Smartwool to create the first platform dedicated to regenerative wool. Other socially responsible companies, like Adidas, that makes shoes and clothes from ocean plastics, will probably jump on the bandwagon, especially if there is consumer interest.  

We think the answer to the challenge of how to increase regenerative farming practices is through a grassroots campaign of initiatives, led by you, the consumer. You can try to buy local produce and ask the outlet if they support regenerative growers.  Contact your legislators requesting change. Start a blog, create posters or flyers, or simply create or forward social media posts that support regenerative agriculture. During our Mediterranean Diet lecture, we were informed that 80% of the people in Greece buy local produce at markets. Did you know that Athens, GA has several farmers’ markets in town? Additionally, there are several shops that sell local and/or regional items. Don’t contribute to landfills by throwing away food scraps. If you cannot compost on your own, we have a free compost drop-off program here in Athens:  https://www.accgov.com/9508/Compost-Drop-Off-Program.

During our lectures, we were informed that the EU plans to support sustainable agriculture in their fight against climate change. In the U.S. it is more complicated and challenging due to huge farm subsidies, lobbyists supporting conventional farming methods, and the large Ag companies that endorse tilling, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  It may take consumer interest and action to see positive change sooner than later.

Regenerate your body…. regenerate your life…. regenerate the earth…. through regenerative farming. It all starts with you.

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How Sustainable is Tourism in Greece?

June 03, 2021

Greece ranks 13th in the world as a tourist destination, with over 30 million visitors each year (“Tourism in Greece & the islands”). With this many visitors and the numbers only going up (in fact, back in 2014, 18 million tourists visited the country compared to the 30 million in 2018), there is a responsibility in the country to keep up with the influx of tourists (Tounta, 2018). Hotels and restaurants, and other infrastructures such as sewer and water systems need to be built to keep up with this influx of tourists. These are things that the average tourist or even Greek citizen may not realize. Still, there is only so much available land, only so much available water, and only so much preexisting infrastructure. So, what are these unique problems, and what can Greece do to solve them?

Water availability is something that many tourists take for granted, but it comes as no easy task to keep up resort swimming pools, showers, golf courses, and five-star restaurants. Not considering the tourism industry, Greece ranks 26th in the world when it comes to water scarcity, which is only getting worse as temperatures rise around the globe (Giacheia, 2021). In Greece, tourists use more water per capita than average citizens do, and we already know that the number of tourists is increasing each year (“Tourism in Greece”). So, with water decreasing and tourists increasing, how will Greece keep up?

Many Greek islands already import millions of cubic tons of water for their visitors, but this is expensive and not sustainable in the current economic climate (“Fresh Water Resources in Greece”). The easiest solution is to spread out when tourists come and where they go. For the most part, this change will happen on its own as July and August get hotter and hotter, tourists will start coming in later parts of the year and to varying places with varying climates. Just this change in traffic should give cities a break in using all of their available water at the same time.

One of the many lures of visiting Greece is the incredible biodiversity in the country, and it is one of the most biodiverse on the continent with vast mountains, islands, and coastlines (“’Biodiversity’, Greece”). But here comes climate change again. With temperatures increasing, droughts and floods more prevalent, and rising sea levels, Greece is beginning to lose some of its lures. The tourism industry depends on this biodiversity for recreational purposes and marketing purposes. Once biodiversity goes, the tourism industry in Greece will slowly fade away as well.

If Greece wants to beat the adverse effects of climate change before it is too late, it needs to start regulating now. Of course, EU regulations help, but starting with tourists can’t hurt. For instance, enforcing policies on protected land so when tourists visit, they leave it better than when they found it, blocking some fragile ecosystems from the tourism industry, and actively fighting for sustainability when building new resorts near these ecosystems is good a start.

There is a current campaign for clean beaches funded by the European Union and coordinated by the Mediterranean SOS Network that aims to improve the aesthetic value of beaches and diminish the need for “beach clean-ups” in the first place. The campaign focuses a lot of its energy on preventing/reducing smoking-related and consumer product litter in coastal areas of Greece. Ultimately it hopes to keep beaches clean to keep them attractive to tourists who fund the economy, especially these small beach villages ( “Guide on EU funding for the tourism sector,” 30). Mitigation policies such as these are the first defense against biodiversity loss.

Part of being a country that relies heavily on tourist traffic is to house all the tourists that visit and continually provide new opportunities and places for them to stay. Currently, Greece contains over 800,000 hotel beds, 500 conference centers, and 8,000 yacht births (“’Enterprise Greece,’ Tourism,” 2020). Many of these places are outdated and in need of an upgrade. Because of this, despite its dependency on the industry, it ranks 18th globally for tourist service infrastructure (“’Enterprise Greece,’ Tourism,” 2020). This low ranking comes from a lack of handicap-accessibility in many regions and overall outdated, inefficient infrastructure. But as we now know, Greeks need to build more to house the influx of tourists but building more comes at the costs previously mentioned. The more protected lands and coastlines are covered in concrete, the more Greece loses its appeal to tourists.

The Greek tourism industry poses an interesting paradox. It needs to continue to accept more and more tourists each year to fund the economy, but to do this, the very thing that makes people want to visit in the first place may be gradually compromised. Ultimately it will be up to engineers, the government, and sustainability organizations to keep the Greek tourism industry afloat.

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