A very complex system
Hey there, and welcome to this month’s Food for Thought article.
Up until now, this blog has given us some “food for thought” regarding the environmental impact of food production systems, as well as some ideas of how we, as consumers, can make a difference.
Talking about food systems without mentioning their social and economic impacts – and ultimately, how these link with the environment – feels short, as if we were missing something.
We are used to breaking things down, separating them to make them easier to tackle. That is, to a certain extent, understandable. On the other hand, we also have to see the world as the big, complex, interconnected web that it is.
This reflection is inspired by a recent discussion I was fortunate to witness. During a confluence around the topic of agroecology, someone said, “Eating is an ecological, political, and ethical action”.
That resonated with me. Even though it is a trivial act, it should not be neglected. Eating is an activity we do several times a day, every day, having, therefore, the power to influence at various levels.
From the burden placed upon both marine and terrestrial ecosystems to the impact on people working all along the food production and supply chains. Furthermore, food systems generate trillions of dollars in revenue¹, making them a hotspot for lobbying and often questionable political decisions. As an example, we can think about the subsidies governments grant to animal farming or conventional agriculture, both with proven negative effects on people and the planet². We can also look at this matter from a human health perspective – are we nourishing ourselves properly? – and, of course, from an animal-welfare angle, too.
There is no silver-bullet solution to amend this broken system, but acknowledging this complexity (even prior to understanding it) is an important step to helping solve a growing food crisis.
We speak of a food crisis, a climate crisis, and a human crisis; at the end of the day, these are all the same. Different angles to the same issue. We might have to break them down to make them more workable, but let’s not forget we are doing so.
Today’s recipe – home-made tortillas
To be perfectly honest, I could not imagine a recipe that would illustrate what we’re discussing.
I decided to share something I make often which I had on the day of the confluence that inspired this article.
This is something you can make with friends and family, as a weekend or week-night activity. It is incredibly versatile, so don’t get stuck to what is suggested below. Just so you have an idea, the measurements below serve three wraps (or burritos).
Get creative and have fun!
You can very well use store-bought tortillas. The reason why I like to make my own is that I know what goes inside. Besides, I can make them the size I want, which can be useful if the offer around you is not that varied.
- 250g wheat flour
- 160g water
- 1 tsp salt
What I used:
- 400g firm tofu, sauteed
- Tofu seasoning (2 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp smoked paprika, ¼ tsp cumin, nutmeg & turmeric, ⅛ tsp cinnamon & black pepper)
- 250g (1 can or jar) black beans, cooked & drained
- Long-grain rice, cooked
- Red bell pepper, cut in stripes
- Romaine lettuce (or other leafy greens of your liking)
- Falafel patties
- Caramelized onions
- Leftover bolognese
- … honestly, possibilities are endless!
There were several sauces laying around in the fridge. Some of these have already appeared on the blog or on my Instagram page, so I’ll link the recipe for you.
- Hummus (our very first blog recipe)
- Tahini dressing
- Tomato sauce (or ketchup)
- Hot sauce (like sriracha)
- For the tortillas: mix all the ingredients in a bowl and combine well. Knead this dough for 8 minutes and set it aside to rest.
This dough doesn’t take any yeast. As such, there is no obligation to let it rest and ferment – if you are in a rush, or simply want a quick process, you can let it rest for 15 minutes and move along. I like to let it rest for longer because it allows the gluten strands to develop, making the dough more flexible and stretchy. So if you are like me, you can prepare this dough a couple of hours before time.
- With a spatula or a dough scraper, divide the dough in three. Shape them into balls and let them rest again for 20 minutes.
Choose a pan whose bottom is slightly bigger than your desired tortilla size. Pre-heat it on medium heat. The tortillas I made are around 35 cm in diameter. If you want them smaller, you can make more balls out of the same dough, and vice-versa.
- Stretch the dough with a rolling pin as much as possible without ripping it.
- Cook for 1-2 minutes on each side.
- Place your tortillas on a plate, spray it with water, and cover with a cloth. This will make the tortillas extra flexible and easy to wrap. If the tortillas are too dry, they will rip while wrapping.
- Repeat the process until you run out of dough.
- Let the tortillas cool, and then you are ready to wrap.
- The filling: prepare all the filling ingredients (saute the tofu, chop the bell pepper, drain the black beans, and cook the rice).
- Wrapping: Place the tortilla on the kitchen counter and place all your ingredients horizontally.
- Wrap from the end closest to you, to the one further away. Start by flapping the sides inwards, and then roll the tortilla away from you.
- You can optionally seal the wrap by placing it on a very hot pan, opening side down, for a couple of minutes. They are ready to savor or take away.
In my experience, making wraps from scratch like this not only produces a flavourful result, but it is a very enjoyable process, too.
These homemade tortillas will always be thicker than the ones we find in the stores, no matter how much we stretch them (again, in my experience). This might be an advantage if you want to make wraps for a picnic or any other outdoor activity. Store-bought tortillas are softer and will get soggy after some time in contact with the filling.
So, these are just some points for your consideration.
I hope this is useful and that you get to make this recipe at home. If you do, share your thoughts below. And if you have any tips or tricks, share them too!
Thank you for being here. Until next time!
1 Planet Tracker (2022). How much is your food worth? https://planet-tracker.org/how-much-is-your-food-worth/
2 Koplow D., Steenblik R. (2022). Protecting Nature by Reforming Environmentally Harmful Subsidies: The Role of Businesses. https://www.earthtrack.net/sites/default/files/documents/EHS_Reform_Background_Report_fin.pdf
See a summary here.
³ Parsons, K., Hawkes, C. & Wells, R. (2019). Brief 2: Understanding the food system: Why it matters for food policy. London: Centre for Food Policy. https://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/22795/1/7643_Brief-2_What-is-the-food-system-A-food-policy-perspective_WEB_SP.pdf