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Culture of Resistance: Protesting Greece’s Politics With Yogurt

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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It’s official: Greek yogurt is all the rage. As Americans demand more Greek yogurt, Greeks demand more with yogurt–the economic crisis in Greece has led to a resurgence in yogurt protests. In the past few years, politicians including Haris Kastandidis, Liana Kanelli, and Alekos Alavanos have all been targets of Greeks expressing political frustration through yogurt throwing. These are some of their greatest hits:

If yogurt protests are Greek to you, here is a bit of background on the practice. Yaourtoma is the act of throwing yogurt at a person, usually at the faces of disliked political figures. The practice originated in the late 1950s by male youths known as Teddy Boys. Teddy Boys were a British subculture of rebellious teenage boys who sported dandy inspired fashions. Since their attire was influenced by the Edwardian period, they were nicknamed Teddy Boys. The culture spread to Greece, where they rebelled and protested authority, sometimes using yogurting as a means of doing so.

The yaourtoma trend didn’t bode well with authorities and it didn’t take long for a law to be enacted against it. Law 4000 was passed in 1958, making yogurting a punishable crime. Those caught in violation of the law were penalized with public humiliation. Given the Teddy Boys’ style and attention to fashion, authorities believed few things could be as embarrassing as having bad hair and even worse outfits. As punishment, offenders had their coiffed locks lopped off before being paraded through the streets of Athens in tattered clothes. All of this can be seen in a movie based on the law:

Law 4000 was withdrawn by Andreas Papandreou’s government in 1983 and yogurt was mainly reserved for eating throughout the following decades. However, over the last few years, politicians have been the targets of yogurt throwing once again. The protesters aim (apart from faces) is to shame Greek politicians. Unlike the Teddy Boys, today’s yogurt throwers go beyond rebellious teenage boys. Recently, perpetrators of yaourtoma have been men and women of all ages angered by Greece’s politics and austerity measures.

Throwing food as a form of protest isn’t isolated to Greece. Politicians and influential figures including Nicolas Sarkozy and Bernard-Henri Lévy have been subjected to the practice of entartage, better known as pieing. So why yogurt in Greece? There are several reasons behind the rationale of yogurt. To begin with, there are practical reasons. When the Teddy Boys began the practice, the traditional ceramic containers were replaced with plastic ones. Their lighter weight made them a way to add insult without injury. Also, yogurt is fairly cheap; it doesn’t exactly make sense to throw caviar when your country is in the throes of financial crisis.

Beyond that, caviar might not be pelted for another reason–because caviar isn’t a food typically associated with Greece. Leonidas Vournelis has researched Greek politics and noted yogurt’s ties to the countryside and symbolic nature in Greece. He explains, “The sharp contrast between eating food—traditionally a social activity in Greece based on sharing, remembering, and exchanging—and using food as a tool of condemnation and ridicule reflects the sharp contrast between the protestors’ vision for Greece and the government’s vision for the country and its people. Throwing food is a symbol that can capture the notion not only of disrespect, but of a failure of Greekness on the part of the government.”

Journalist Kostas Kallergis has written about yogurting and noted politicians’ mixed reactions to its resurgence. The Greek Communist Party’s general secretary Aleka Papariga criticized this form of protest, dismissing it as a bourgeois reaction rather than resistance. But some think the punishment fits the crime. Deputy Minister of Regional Development Sokratis Xinidis declared, “The time has come for all of us to pay the price. I am ready to be thrown a yogurt…”

Here’s how to make these weapons of mass consumption:

Greek Yogurt

1 Quart Milk

2 Tablespoons Yogurt

1. Bring milk to a boil, until it reaches 180 degrees.

2. Remove from stove and transfer to a bowl.

3. Allow the milk to cool to 110-115 degrees.

4. Stir in the yogurt and place in a warmed oven for about 10 hours. The oven should also stay around 110 degrees; you can maintain that temperature by leaving the light on in the oven.

5. Ladle the mixture into a sieve lined with cheesecloth and allow the whey to drain.

6. Place in the refrigerator until it reaches thickness of your preference.

Image Credits: Eric Vernier, by author.

Layla Eplett About the Author: Layla Eplett writes about the anthropology of food. She has a Masters in Social Anthropology of Development from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies and loves getting a taste of all kinds of culture--gastronomic, traditional, and sometimes accidentally, bacterial. Find her at Fare Trade. Follow on Twitter @LaylaEplett.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






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