University of Minnesota

The Low-Coronary-Risk Male Lives on the Isle of Crete

Maybe you have heard this now-classic satire by Gordon Myers of Boston on the “theoretical low-coronary-risk male:”

An effeminate municipal worker or embalmer, completely lacking

in physical and mental alertness and without drive, ambition or

competitive spirit, who has never attempted to meet a deadline of any kind.

A man with poor appetite, subsisting on fruits and

vegetables laced with corn and whale oil; detesting tobacco,

spurning ownership of radio, TV or motor car; with full head of

hair and scrawny and unathletic in appearance yet constantly

straining his puny muscles by exercise; low in income, blood pressure,

blood sugar, uric acid, and cholesterol; who has been taking

nicotinic acid, pyridoxine, and long- term anticoagulant therapy

ever since his prophylactic castration.

In contrast, let us sketch the “real” low-coronary-risk male. We have documented that he lives on the Isle of Crete:

He is a shepherd or small farmer, a beekeeper or fisherman, a tender of olives or vines.

He rises at dawn and breaks his fast with fresh yogurt or feta and peta bread, a hardboiled egg, a small glass of olive oil taken neat, and two cups of tea.

He walks to work in his field where he labors in the soft light of his isle, midst the droning of crickets and the bray of distant donkeys–in the tradition and peace of his land.

At the end of his morning work, he rests and visits with his cohorts at the local cafe under a grape trellis, celebrating the day with a jigger of ouzo and a single, hand-rolled, cigarette of sun-cured, long-leaf Macedonian tobacco.

He continues the long siesta with a meal and nap at home, and returns refreshed to complete the day’s work.

His midday main meal of baked eggplant with large livery mushrooms, is served with crisp vegetables and country bread dipped in the nectar that is golden Cretan olive oil. Once a week it is joined by a bit of lamb, naturally spiced from grazing in thyme-filled pastures. Once a week there is chicken. And twice a week there is fish fresh from the sea.

Other meals are hot dishes of legumes or a fig leaf roll with seasoned ground meats and condiments. The main dish is followed by a tangy salad, then by dates, Turkish sweets, nuts or succulent fresh fruits. A sharp local wine completes this varied and savory cuisine.

This living pattern, repeated six days a week, is climaxed by a happy Saturday evening when the ritual family meal is followed by relaxing fellowship with peers. Festivity builds to a passionate midnight dance with song under the brilliant moon in the field circle where the grain of the region is winnowed.

Our Cretan, in the presence of admiring friends, is a man dignified in bearing, happy in countenance, and graceful in the dance.

On Sunday he strolls to worship with his wife and children in their Sunday best. In church he listens to good sense preached by the Orthodox priest, a respected leader involved with his own family as well as his political and religious responsibilities.

Then our truly low-risk male returns home for a quiet Sunday afternoon, chatting with family in the shade, cooled by the salubrious sea breeze that is gently perfumed by smoke from olive-wood charcoal grills and the fragrances of herbs and fresh animal dung wafted from nearby fields.

This man of Crete gazes peacefully on a severe but harmonious landscape. He is secure in his niche in a long history from the Minoans and before, a human in the long line of humanity.

He relishes the natural rhythmic cycles and contrasts of his culture: work and rest, solitude and socialization, seriousness and laughter, routine and revelry.

In his elder years, he sits in the slanting bronze light of the Greek sun, enveloped in a rich lavender aura from the Aegean sea and sky.

He is handsome, rugged, kindly–and virile.

His is the lowest heart-attack risk, the lowest death rate, and the greatest life expectancy in the Western world.

Finally, though healthy, he is prepared to die.

This, then, is a portrait of the man truly most free of coronary risk of all men on earth. (Henry Blackburn)