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Greeks tighten belts with crisis cookbooks
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Greeks tighten belts with crisis cookbooks

2 min. 14.03.2012 From our online archive
It's the ultimate belt-tightening handbook: No Meat? Push an eggplant through the grinder instead. Chew your food long enough for your stomach to feel full. And don't forget to sweep crumbs off your table - and into a jar.

(AP) It's the ultimate belt-tightening handbook: No Meat? Push an eggplant through the grinder instead. Chew your food long enough for your stomach to feel full. And don't forget to sweep crumbs off your table - and into a jar.

These are some of the tips Greeks used to survive the World War II occupation that have been collected in "Starvation Recipes" — a cookbook that has become a surprise hit as millions of Greeks struggle to make ends meet in a new era of hardship brought on by economic crisis.

In the grim years of the occupation, starving Athenians invented new ways to stay alive, helped by daily advice columns in the capital's newspapers known as "survival guides."

Historian and high school teacher Eleni Nikolaidou spent 18 months compiling recipes and survival tips — combing through more than 6,000 scanned newspaper clippings from the 1941-44 Nazi rule to produce her book. "Starvation Recipes" was released this year and is on its second print run.

"It was all about getting by with very little," said Nikolaidou, sitting at her Athens home, with books everywhere stacked to the ceiling.

Nikolaidou stumbled onto the subject two years ago while working on a masters degree on Greece's wartime economy.

"I read an article from the front page of a newspaper, 'How to collect crumbs' — a little each day so that you could have a cupful of crumbs by the end of the week, something extra to survive. It really struck me."

She was drawn in by the details: Horseshoes used to reinforce dilapidated footwear, baked sand to preserve lemons, and stray cats and dogs hunted on Athens streets for food.

"People would come up with new ways to cheat their stomachs: There were starters designed to cut your appetite. And people were advised to chew their food very, very slowly, so it felt as though they were eating more," Nikolaidou said.

"There was no sugar available, so at weddings, the sugared almonds handed out were black. Raisin pulp was used as the sweetener."

Coffee shops had no coffee, so they served a brew made out of ground chickpeas. Newspaper articles at the time encouraged Athenians to make the best of it.

"The new coffee can be enjoyed just as much as a prewar coffee, because people visit the coffee shop for more than just the coffee," one newspaper wrote.

Publisher Oxigono says "Starvation Recipes" has sold about 2,000 copies — considered an early success despite the modest number, helped by Nikolaidou's appearance on television, newspaper articles and Internet buzz. A third print run is planned this month.

After decades of overspending, Greece was forced from late 2009 to grapple with its ruined finances by imposing harsh taxes and surviving on rescue loans from the IMF and European Union.

The result means 9 out of 10 Greeks are changing their food-shopping habits, according to a September survey by the consumer organization KEPKA: People are now eating out less, cutting back on meat and any extras, and swapping quality food brands for cheaper substitutes.