October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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Through the years many of my girlfriends and  female acquaintances have fallen victim to breast cancer, but FORTUNATELY none of them were vanquished by the disease,  but rather won their personal battle with the complicated <<grim reaper>>, taker of one or two breasts, enduring chemotherapy and the fear inside of them, that the cells will take upper hand and tip the balance of life and collect on the due date, ahead of time.

Hat off to all of them, I could not possibly imagine what they were going through.  Not because they managed to “cheat” the disease, but because they managed to get through the whole ordeal and lead their lives with vigor and strength, not unfazed of course, but strong, dignified and by the grace of their personalities and sometimes with the support of their families and their faith.

Last week, I took part for the first time in “THE RACE FOR THE CURE” in Athens, Greece.  Some of my friends had participated in the event last year and I felt bad when I saw all those pictures on Facebook, young and old, Greek and foreign.   I had picked up some T-shirts in 2009 of the Rome Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure,  how could I have missed that???

This was the third year for Race for the Cure and its Greek counterpart Αλμα Ζοις.  October 2nd, in the center of Athens, with according to the officials, more than 8000 people (starting numbers had been printed to that expected amount) .

It must have been a super word of mouth campaign, cause there certainly wasn’t enough advertisement on the radio or T.V.  Many foreign schools and colleges sold the tickets to enter, for which you got a T-shirt, cap and starting number, all this for just 5 Euros.  The money of course goes to the various breast cancer fighting/awareness programs in the country.  But the turn out was incredible.  Aside from the 8000 participants,  and their family members who accompanied them, there were hundreds of volunteers, from the sponsors of the event, to ticket sellers, private organizations who volunteered their members to help out directing people, distributing water bottles, balloons for the children and cheering sections at strategic positions during the race.

My eldest college age son came home with his T-shirt and starting number a few weeks back and I told him, to get me and my youngest son one as well.  Even my middle son came a few days later with his pack.  It was to be a family event and I was talking to friends, so we could all meet up before and go together.

October 2nd 2011 was a glorious day, blue skies, big fluffy clouds in the sky, wonderful sunshine, but no heat.   We, two of my sons and my Mom, headed off to the Center, took the Metro and already we were surrounded by fellow participants.  Stepping out of the metro station at Syntagma Square, there were so many little groups of people,  waiting to meet up with friends.  Some carried cardboard signs with the names of the groups they were representing.  Others had stickers on their RACE FOR THE CURE T-shirts, stating why or for whom they were participating.  There were hundreds of women who wore pink shirts with the word SURVIVOR on it.  It was an amazing feeling to be part of such a large group, gathered for the same purpose.

We were waiting for the rest of our party to arrive and kept running into other friends.  Most interesting, I found the fact that so many young people, from 14 to 25 were present, not just the new moms with the prams and the grandparents, nor the most affected by the disease age group, and many, many men.  It was not a woman’s’ event….even the (stil)l macho Greek man was out in large numbers.  The atmosphere reminded me a bit of the spirit of the Athens Olympic games in 2004, all for one and one for all.  It was truly moving.

The race itself was not really that important to most, to be there and take part was the idea.  The options were a 2 kilometer walk around central park of Athens, called Zappion, past Syntagma Square,  the Greek Parliament and the Presidential Palace and Residence. (Hence the photos of the Evzone guards).  My older sons opted for the 4 kilometer race to the Hilton Hotel and back to Zappion.  My little one and I walked and enjoyed the totally car free streets, which of course was a hassle for Sunday traffic, Athenians escaping their “cement surroundings” who had to pay the price.

For next years’ event, I am thinking of volunteering,  helping to advertise, promote and convert the people in my neighborhood.    Even if you know no one personally, who has stood her ground against breast cancer –  awareness, prevention and compassion are powerful allies in the fight against this disease.


Fishy Story II

So, as anyone can imagine, that documentary put a big damper on my appetite for Pangasius.  I could not find the organic version in any of my neighborhood stores and for a while, I went back to the bone-y fish, to a whole lot of complaining from the kids.  But I did not give up on it completely.  After all, isn’t almost all the produce we buy contaminated in some form or other.  The old saying comes to mind, “Everything in moderation”, applies too.

Here in Greece we have these great street markets which take place once a week in each neighborhood.  There are about 50 to 100 vendors , depending on your area and they sell every vegetable and fruit, as well as herbs, spices, kitchen supplies, dry goods from lentils to noodles, fresh eggs, honey and bee pollen, fresh flowers and potted plants, some sell home-made wines and olive oil, there is a section with different clothing items from jackets to undies, lots of <<fake>> products, there’s a vendor with candies and nuts AND there are fresh fish mongers but also one who sells frozen fish and the salt dried & stored Greek version of Cod, Bakaliaros.  During my brothers visit this summer, we took him and his family for the weekly shopping and browsing through the Bazaar style section, as part of showing the TOURISTS the sights.  The kids were bored of course, shopping unless it is for toys holds no interest for them.

Personally, Thursday, is my favorite day of the week, cause it is street market day.  Unless it’s raining cats and dogs, I buy all my fruit and vegetables for the week at the market.  I have known most of the vendors for ever…it is a great place to listen to people talk politics, complain about the government, impending strikes and listen to the way they advertise their products, some, I suspect are closet poets, mixing rhymes of produce with their political affiliations.  In short it is a real life REALITY show.

On that shopping spree with my brother and family, as we were walking along the market stalls, we passed the fish mongers stands.  Especially in the summer, you know you are getting close, just by smell.  (The vendors set up from before 7 a.m and it comes to an end around 2p.m., when they all pack up their trucks and leave and the garbage collectors come for the clean up).  The fish are grouped together on a wooden box, sitting on top of crushed ice, which is heaped on as it melts, dripping on the pavement under the stand.  Here in Athens, the temperatures during the summer mornings start at a balmy 22-24 degrees Celsius, by mid day it’s a boiling 36-40 degrees Celsius…enough to wilt the greenest lettuce…just imagine what the fish is like, even sitting on ice.  As we are strolling past, all kids are holding their noses and pointing at the sad looking fish looking back at them, when I noticed lovely fillets of Pangassius sitting pretty between the so called local fish.  A handmade card, right next to the obvious Pangassisus says:  ΓΛΩΣΣΑ 14.90 Euros.

Now, that got me so mad, that I approached the fish monger and asked him what that was supposed to be.  Simple explanation, “It is sole, local and really fresh”….Really, I mean if that was not a downright lie, then I don’t know what is.  When he asked if I wanted to buy some, I just replied with:  But that is called Pangassius, it comes from Vietnam and it is therefore neither fresh nor local.  Needless to say, he just ushered me on without acknowledging what I said.

From that day on, I started paying more attention to what the fishmongers were selling.  Today, a few months after I first noticed this scheme, almost all the fish vendors at the street markets sell ΓΛΩΣΣΑ/sole for 13,90 to 14,90 Euros a kilo.  Last week, I stopped and looked into the freezers of the frozen fish vendor at the market and saw that he was selling Pangassius as Pangassius for 6 Euros per kilo.  Before I fished out a bag and paid for it, I told him what his colleagues at the other side of the street market were doing.  He just shook his head and said that is ΑΠΑΤΗ, call it fraud, cheating, rip off, trickery or whatever you want.  It is  almost criminal and totally misleading.

Fishy Story

Earlier this year I stumbled upon an interesting new choice of fish.  My husband was recuperating from surgery and had to eat “light” but plenty.  At the fish counter of one of the supermarkets I shop at, Ι was picking out some small Spanish fished cod fish (whole) when I discovered this beautiful filleted fish.  Nothing but hand sized filets, the lady at the counter told me that it is called Pangasius  and that it was very tasty, she did not know its origin and it was fresh, she said.  So I decided to buy a kilo for my kids as well, who like me, are not particularly keen on picking little bones out of their mouths.  The kilo was less than 7 Euros, compared to some of the other choices – a steal.

You may ask yourself, as I have asked myself many times, living in Greece and in such close vicinity of the sea, with the opportunity to shop for fish, right off the boat, or in all seaside suburbs little fish markets in the harbors and the many fishmonger shops we have all around us, WHY do I buy my fish at the supermarket???

Well, there is the cost.  For a country on the sea, with thousands of fishing boats and a long history of fishing, to this day, some 30 odd years of living here, I can not really grasp why fish should be so expensive – year round.  I can understand, that in the winter months with more storms and bad weather, the fishing boats don’t leave the harbors as much, but you can never find cheap fish anywhere, unless you go to the supermarkets.  Unless you buy straight from the boat, it most likely comes from the main fish market, so the supermarket buys quantities and thus is able to sell cheaper.  Quite honestly, I think most fish sold locally, isn’t even fished local anymore, but is imported, mostly semi frozen and then receives a new “identity”.  Fished local and fresh, so reads the the little slate next to which ever variety you are looking at.  That is the fishy story Part 1.

Getting back to this great filet of Pangasius, which I fried up at home dusted with a little flower,a bit like cod or sole,  it was a hit.  Kids loved it and requested it to be on the weekly menu.  I figured, fish?? Why not, it’s healthy and a good change from meat and chicken.  I started to cook the fish more often, whenever I would find it at the fish counter and even found a frozen type, which was even cheaper, less than 5 Euros per kilo.  I thought:  Win Win

About 6 weeks after I first noticed this fish and started talking about it, my Mom was the first person to tell me something which raised the first flags.  Apparently, she had seen a documentary on Deutsche Welle T.V., where a reporter went to Vietnam to investigate, how this fish is farmed.  So, country of origin: Vietnam.   (I do not have a problem with that)  But she told me, LOOK for the documentary and WATCH it…Well, to cut the long version short, Pangasius is farmed in very unhygienic circumstances, they are thousands raised in one little pond and given tons of antibiotics and other chemicals to grow (and only God knows what is in their feed), fast and by the time they are ready for “harvest” the ponds are ALIVE, you can barely make out the water.  The water by the way comes from the Mekong River Delta and the ponds are filled and drained in a cycle….meaning all their waste and the remnants of the chemicals are flushed into the river, where just down the stream, people brush their teeth and take baths in this Yuck.  Oh, I forgot to mention, there are thousands of these fish farms along the shores of the Mekong River….appetizing????   When the fish have reached their perfect size, they are put into cages, carried onto little river boats and dumped into the bow, thousands of fish with a dash of water, all of them fighting and flapping about for that little bit of water for their oxygen….Bottom line of this story, unless you buy organically farmed Pangasius, you get everything from cruelty to animals, free doses of unidentified and unchecked chemicals to additives for the frozen stuff.  The fish is semi frozen in containers and shipped around the world by airplane or container ships.

Here are just some facts:

Globally, Vietnamese pangasius has found a solid niche as a value-priced whitefish. In 2010 Vietnam exported 659,000 metric tons of pangasius worth US $1.43 billion to 140 markets worldwide (Source: VASEP).  The leading markets are European Union (35.8%), United States (12.4%), and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries (5.5%). While the EU is the leading pangasius market, the United States is the leading import country with 49,000 metric tons imported in 2010, worth US $176 million.   Pangasius now ranks tenth in per capita seafood consumption in the United StatesIn 2010, Pangasius export amounted to 117,080MT, totaling US$299.2 million, up 29.9 percent in volume and 32.8 percent in value year-on-year.

Accordingly, price of trimmed and untrimmed Pangasius fillet shipped abroad (except US) were fixed at US$3.3/kilo and US$2.3/kilo, respectively.

Currently, Pangasius is sold at VND23,000-23,500/kilo, bringing profits to farmers.

The Vietnamese Dong is the currency of Viet Nam.

VND Flag 1 VND =