Yogurt in their faces

Last months Greece is threatened not only by its biggest post-war economic crisis but also by the most significant political upheaval since the end of dictatorship (1974).
It  is not surprising then that the crisis has a big impact on the Greek psyche and on the popularity of the two main parties. To show their despair for the country’s woes and their anger for the austerity measures, Greeks vent their frustration at the politicians. Eggs, yogurts -occasionally tomatoes and peaches- are hurled against them, even during the national parade.

Throwing foods at people you don’t like has not deep roots in Greek history.
Throwing rice at newlyweds is believed to help them have a fruitful union.
Throwing a handful of grains and nuts in the land belongs to harvest time; it was thought to be a sacrifice to secure the fertility of the crops.
Throwing boiled wheat kernels into the open grave is a burial custom.

But throwing eggs, tomatoes or yogurt at people as a punishment and protest is a special case.

Way back in the days of the Cold War, many governments, press and the public throught the divided world reunited against the ‘corrupted and violent’ youth. They  instituted measures aiming to influence and direct the younger generation and restore the young non- comformists, either capitalist or socialist.   The corruption and unproper behavior was atributed to groups largerly male: the British Teddy boys, the Italian teppisti, the French blousons noirs, the American rockers*, the Greek tediboides (from Teddy boys) etc.
Tediboides gained a reputation for throwing fruits, eggs and yogurt at women, old men and high school teachers. Yogurt was their favorite ‘weapon’ though, due to the lightweight nature of the plastic containers that had begun to be used by dairy industries in the early  ’60s.  Tediboides became the focus of a moral panic regarding their anti- social actions. In 1958, the state voted the ‘Law 4000’ that penalized verbal insult and the throwing of yogurt and eggs. Teddy boys were arrested by the police, were given a buzz haircut, the revers of their trousers were ripped and were paraded handcuffed through the streets of Athens to publicly humiliate them. The law was in effect until 1983 by the government of Andreas Papandreou”.

Last 2 years the act of throwing yogurt (yaourtoma) at politicians became very popular. Expressing deep dissatisfaction and frustration, it is a symbolic form of corporal punishment. But symbolic speech can be powerful and sometimes is more painful than corporal punishment.  Food throwing causes public humilitiaton and public humilitation is like bad rumors. They both cause loss of prestige. They also set an example for others.

According to an article by Leo Vournelis in FoodAnthropology “A traditional variety of Greek yogurt, made from sheep’s milk, is the most common food item used in public acts of indignation and resistance, although occasionally eggs and tomatoes have been used in a similar manner.”
In fact, Greek protesters don’t use only one variety of yogurt. Strained and unstrained yogurt made from cow’s milk**, with some made from sheep’s milk, are equally popular among them. Of course, strained yogurt sticks to the clothes and hair better.

Fruits, eggs and yogurt are inexpensive, messy but safe items. No one ever died from being pelted with them. But why is there a preferance for yogurt? As Vournelis puts it “To understand why yogurt is the favorite item to be used as a projectile we need to look at the association it has with Greek ethnic identity. The sheep’s milk yogurt in question belongs to a category of objects (feta cheese, olive oil, etc.) that are strongly associated with rurality and by extension with Greekness. Rurality has long been a target of objectification and fetishization in the service of national identity projects. Moreover, certain food items through everyday practices lend themselves to closer associations with ethnicity.”
From a practical point of view, yogurt has the advantage that the protesters can throw it without messing themselves up. Apparently they can not quarantee this if they use eggs.


*Gerd-Rainer Horn, The spirit of ’68: rebellion in Western Europe and North America, 1956-1976.

**Although Greek yogurt is traditionally made from sheep’s milk, last decades cow milk is often used~ especially by dairy industries. So, the yogurt that is thrown at politicians is mainly made from cow milk.


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