Bimbo: Mexico’s breadmaker mafia

If you were reading this blog a few months ago, you’ll know about the fun I had trying to escape the tentacles of the Franz breadmaker mafia. Luckily Franz is a regional player, albeit with a lot more reach than I bargained for.

However, for bread in Mexico there’s just no getting away from Bimbo (pronounced Beem-bo). I can’t fathom the reasons for the name, but obviously it’s not the same in Spanish. The cuddly bear mascot reminded me of Mr Stay-Puft from Ghostbusters, and it’s an appropriate comparison given the size of the Bimbo company. Occasionally when I feel like a change from tortillas I check out the Bimbo offerings.

A breadmaker mafia this size clearly has far-reaching tentacles and Bimbo are huge. Grupo Bimbo turns out to be one of the biggest food manufacturers in the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grupo_Bimbo). They’re only the 4th largest food company in the world behind Unilever, Kraft and Nestle and were the world’s largest bread manufacturer in 2010. Stick that up your pipe and smoke it, Franz! So there’s no getting away from them (except in San Cristobal where I found a number of great independent bakeries).

I really know nothing more about Bimbo’s ethics – though I guess it operates in much the same way as any other huge multinational – but the bread I’ve found so far is vegan friendly. No random milk ingredients or sneaky dairy has been added (though plenty of other ‘un-natural’ ingredients are thrown in there), but I do get to ingest a wide range of interesting-sounding chemicals that are typical within modern bread that never goes stale.

The other fun thing is seeing all the Bimbo bread vans careering around the towns and villages. I think this is where Postman Pat came after the Royal Mail gave him his P45 all those years ago.

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Meet and two veg: Discovery Organics tell us about the produce we eat

As I’ve cycled through Mexico I’ve managed to find a lot of interesting, locally-produced fruit (and the odd vegetable too). Easily available fruit that I’ve been enjoying – mangoes, guava, bananas, melon, oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, pineapple, coconut…exotic stuff! Even though I have missed out on the summer Vancouver produce I feel I’m getting a pretty good deal here.

But those of us back in Vancouver, US and Europe have to go to a bit more trouble to sample these kinds of fruit. We’ve got used to seeing most of those on our shelves for at least a good part of the year and pretty much take it for granted nowadays.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to step back a bit and think about how this all gets to your local shop.

The other day I read a blog post from Discovery Organics, a Vancouver-based produce importer/distributor that promotes organic, Fair Trade and local produce through developing long-term relationships with small-scale farmers. It’s owned by Randy and Annie, two passionate advocates for good quality food and fair working conditions. They do a fantastic job bringing organic, and especially Fair Trade, produce to Vancouver and western Canada.

I read a blog piece by Randy about a visit he made to Peru just over a week ago. It really brought home to me how connected we are to the places our food comes from, even if we pay little attention to that fact.

You can read the piece below, and for more info about Discovery Organics, check them out on the link below.

http://www.discoveryorganics.ca/blog

Randy’s produce update: climate change and produce supply

I was in Peru last week, and was lucky enough to be involved in a rather impromptu get-together with produce importers from the U.S., England, France and Italy.  Our conversation turned quickly to climate change, and the impact on agriculture.  This was after I had been talking to our three different co-ops of mango producers, all wondering how they are going to survive.  Pollination is down 80% in some areas, and one variety of mangos is ripening 2 weeks ahead of schedule, while the other, normally shipping in early November, won’t be ready until after Christmas, potentially overlapping with the Mexican crop, instead of falling in a perfect window.  This year, Chile lost a huge amount of their avocado crop, with the coldest, most brutal winter on record – including snow and hard frost in areas that have never seen them. 

Interestingly, the biggest impact the Europeans are seeing is the dramatically different quality in citrus, with rapid ripening, quick ‘re-greening’ and low juice content.  Juice content in limes from parts of Mexico have lowered 10% over the last 2 years.  Warming in certain areas is allowing tropical diseases to migrate farther and farther from the Equator, where growers have been caught off guard.  The Veracruz area on the Bay of Campeche in South Central Mexico has lost 70,000 hectares of citrus production this year to a new disease. In New Zealand, kiwi growers took a hit with production expected to drop 20% next season. 

As suppliers, we are going to have to watch, very closely, as many crops, including some vegetables are going to do weird things, both in the tree, as well as in storage and on the shelf, and adapt quickly to these changing times.  Even wheat harvests, even in a good growing year like this one, have been reduced 20% because of the largest ozone hole ever recorded over the Arctic stretched across Russia, and scorching the plants with excessive UVB levels. 

This past growing season locally may also be a warning sign of tough times ahead, and B.C. growers will also have to adapt to different planting times, and innovative strategies, to move forward profitably.   

Not a great Thanksgiving message, as we celebrate the hard work of all farmers out there at the end of harvest-time. 

Once we become part of this huge global food system, whether as a farmer or a retailer, we become enrolled in the love of feeding people – especially healthy, organic food.  The entire Discovery team wishes you all a great Thanksgiving weekend, and eternal thanks for what you do!

Edna Ruth Byler and 65 years of Ten Thousand Villages

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I named my bike Edna. The inspiration for the name came from Edna Ruth Byler, generally regarded as the founder of the modern Fair Trade movement. Well, 1st October was the 65th anniversary of Ten Thousand Villages, the current organisation that was founded upon Edna’s earlier work.

http://youtu.be/Vi1rMmDhWHI

Less well known is that she had some skill in the kitchen, if her cookbook and baking classes are anything to go by.One of her master recipes below is an inspiration at annual MCC relief sales. Edna’s famous recipe can be found on page 65 of the More-With-Less Cookbook.

October is Fair Trade Month (in the USA) so if you can, make a little extra effort and try to find a Fair Trade product to buy instead of your usual purchases. I can virtually guarantee it won’t be as hard as you think!

http://www.tenthousandvillages.ca/cgi-bin/category.cgi?type=store&item=pageZAAAG13&template=fullpage-en&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=65th+Newsletter+English&utm_content=65th+Newsletter+English+CID_b828d41e6a00db86dffb3d1ebc36868d&utm_source=Email+Marketing+Software&utm_term=Edna+Ruth+Bylers+Baked+Goods+Recipe

You can find out more by following the link above, and if you’re impatient to get started on her recipe, here are some instructions. I’m pretty sure Edna wasn’t vegan but these can easily be improved (sorry, I mean adapted) to cater for vegan tastes.

It’s Fair Trade Month in the USA and there are a number of events this month in Vancouver, culminating with Halloween so be sure to buy your Fair Trade chocolate this month!

http://fairtrade.ca/

http://fairtradeusa.org/

RECIPES (note that Edna is clearly from the ‘old school’ – who has a deep fryer or uses shortening these days!?)

Produces 100 doughnuts or rolls.

Preheat an oven to 400º or deep fryer to 375º, depending on recipe

Dissolve:
3 pkg. dry yeast in
1 c. lukewarm water

Mix in large bowl: 1 qt. scalded milk
2 c. mashed potatoes (no milk added)
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. margarine
1 c. sugar

Let cool to lukewarm, then add:
yeast mixture
6 c. flour

Let stand until mixture foams up (about 20 minutes)

Add:
2 eggs, beaten
1 T. salt
11-12 c. additional flour

A little more flour may be needed, but dough should be soft. Turn out on floured board and knead until satiny. Let raise in warm place until doubled in bulk.

Doughnuts: Roll out dough, cut doughnuts, place on trays and let raise until not quite double. Fry in hot shortening (375º). When drained and while still hot dip in glaze mixture. Insert a stick through holes and let a number of doughnuts drain over glaze bowl until next ones are ready to do.

Glaze
Combine:
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 T. margarine
1 t. vanilla
dash of mace
enough rich milk to make thin icing 

Cinnamon buns: Prepare a mixture of butter and margarine and a mixture of sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Roll a piece of dough to about 18×9″. Spread dough with butter mixture and sprinkle on some of the sugar mixture. Roll up the dough as for a jelly roll. Cut 1 ½” chunks and place in greased pans, pressing down lightly on each chunk. Cover and let rise in warm place until nearly double in size. Bake at 400º for 15-20 minutes or until browned. These may be iced with doughnut glaze as soon as they are taken from the oven.

Sticky buns: Handle dough same as for cinnamon buns, except make a mixture of brown and white sugar, cinnamon, and a little white corn syrup and water. Spread in bottom of heavily greased pans with nuts, if desired, before putting in rolls. Immediately after baking, invert pans over trays and let syrup run down before removing pans.

Dinner rolls: Shape dough as desired, place on greased pans, and bake at 400º starting on a lower rack and changing to upper rack about halfway through for 15 minutes of baking time. Brush tops lightly with butter to remove any floury appearance.

Coffee cake: A good way to use all the leftover bits of dough – put dough in greased pan, dab or punch holes in it, and spread leftover sugar, syrup, or butter mixtures over. Let raise and bake as for cinnamon buns. 

To freeze: Let baked goods cool. Wrap or place in large plastic bags freeze the same day.

Beans does not mean Heinz

It’s fair to say I haven’t quite got into the spirit of the food here in Mexico yet, as I don’t often eat out at one of the numerous stands or restaurants that offer the typical Mexican comida. Mostly I make my own vegan creations using the same ingredients though, and that’s generally good enough for me for the moment. Yes there’s a limited choice for me – plenty of tortillas and beans but beyond that it’s hard to pick out new things and get people to understand what I do and don’t eat.

However when it comes to fruit and other things I’ve got plenty of options and though I miss (in particular) the BC blueberries it’s been more than compensated by mangoes, pineapple, papaya, melon, oranges, guava…and now plenty of coconut! This area has lots of coconut dulces (sweets) and though much of it also contains milk I’ve found enough without to keep me in coconut dessert for many a day.

Entering Puerto Vallarta I knew I’d have a lot more flexibility, though I’m used to getting just one or two options (it’s almost disconcerting to get lots of options…). So the first place on my hit-list proved to be the only one I needed. Good food, plentiful portions (buffet), and very reasonably priced. For breakfast it’s got a mix of Mexican dishes (including beans of course, plus pancakes that I skipped on) and I went back again for dinner. I piled on the vegetables (grilled and fresh), various salads (tomato and basil was particularly good as I haven’t had basil for ages) and some hot grilled veg with soy chunks (pretty tasty). Alas I had to pass on the stuffed peppers and creamed cauliflower. And I topped it all off with a small portion of (non-Heinz) beans…

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And for those of you who have no clue what the title means, or just want to remember a classic, take a look at ‘clever’ Kev…

Homestay in La Paz

I’ve been taking a few days rest in La Paz and also taking some Spanish lessons here. I arranged it through a local language school that also organises ‘homestay’ accommodation. That meant staying with a family and having a couple of meals provided each day. I thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know some locals and see what kind of cuisine I might find in a typical La Paz household. Of course, I did realise that being a vegan might render the whole concept of ‘local cuisine’ irrelevant. But I knew it would be something different.

The food provided (breakfast & lunch) was only on ‘schooldays’. So the weekend I had to fend for myself, which was no problem. Shortly after my arrival, Vicky, the madre of the household brought up some food when I arrived, and clearly there had been a miscommunication (or none) between herself and the school as I was served tacos with some kind of fish topping. Never mind, we both said, no problem. Tacos with salsa. Easy.

Onto Monday morning and I get a decent fruit salad. Is this what is typically eaten at breakfast? Not unusual, apparently. Back for lunch at 2pm (mealtimes are strict…) and I’m presented with the classic traditional Mexican comida…Chinese takeaway. Vegetables and spring roll, fair enough. Will I be having this every day?

I guess I can put Monday down to learning experience as the rest of the week saw me presented with a ‘variety’ of tortillas and frijoles refritos (refried beans). One day it’s a plate of beans with tortillas on the side, another day tortillas dipped in the beans, another day beans on a toasted botilla (basically beans on toast), another day beans with nachos. I think this is the only kind of recycling I’ve seen in Mexico so far…

Lunch had a little more variety – rice, lopales (cactus), different mixes of vegetables. It was pretty decent and a little more varied. Even the sopes felt different (which is really just a thicker, smaller tortilla cooked up with beans on top and garnished with salad).

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect this week. My room had a separate entrance (and stairs – which was a novelty after 2 months of street-level accommodation). Effectively I had my own apartment for the week, which meant little time with the ‘family’ (I ended up talking mostly to the housekeeper). Vicki and her husband both worked and seemed happy enough to leave me to my own devices. It’s hard to say how typical a family they are but are definitely in the upper end of the social scale. However they don’t live in an ‘upper class’ neighbourhood; their house stands unique along the street. It’s very modern with (I would say) a few tacky flourishes like the fountain and palm trees but on either side each neighbouring property seemed half-built (or crumbling into the dust). An upper-scale neighbourhood this is not, but it wasn’t any worse off because of it. People tend to look after whatever they have, and I noticed lots of sweeping and tree-trimming. I learnt quite a bit through the lessons (I hope) and got to see a bit of La Paz. There aren’t many tourists at this time of year but the city centre seemed to be bustling, even during the hot afternoons. Street stalls selling all kinds of clothing, food or cellphone accessories give the streets a lively air. And to get somewhere a little quieter I can walk along the waterfront. I’m not much of a beach person and so didn’t head up the coast to one of the many bigger beaches, but the waterfront has many stretches of little beaches along the way that open out onto the bay and make for a scenic stroll.

La Paz is my final stop in Baja California. It took some getting used to. The heat hasn’t let up but I enjoy this (except when I can’t sleep at night). Next stop is Mazatlan, across the Sea of Cortez by ferry. From there it’ll be a long run down the coast towards the south of the country, Oaxaca and Chiapas. That’s where I’ll be making my first Fair Trade visits, and although that’s still another 3+ weeks away, I’m really looking forward to it.

On a (sugar) high

Fresh after my haul of figs in Vizcaino (which also included a couple of mangoes) I rode to San Ignacio – an oasis in the desert. As well as being famous for its Jesuit/Dominican Mision, it is surrounded by date trees (and it has a lagoon!). For many a day ahead of time I looked forward to finding fresh dates, or at least vast quantities of local dried ones. Being a sometimes-ignorant developed world individual, I had no idea when date season actually is, considering their year-round availability (how many of us could actually say when the banana/mango/pineapple/lemon etc season is?). Turns out I’m a few months early. But after wandering around staring up at all the dates patiently hanging in huge quantities, I found a little shack in the village that was selling some. I’d even taken to foraging again (and found several of mixed quality) but the dates I bought hit the spot.

Dates and figs – I’ve gone from the lows of the dry, hot desert to the high of my favourite kinds of sugar-filled fruit. It’s still hot, dusty and half of me is in the desert (the other half next to the Sea of Cortez), but the dates and figs have made life happy again.

Vegan challenges ahead

Now that I’m in Mexico the challenge of being a vegan becomes that much more tricky. The US was generally fine as I could read the menus, lists of ingredients and generally make myself understood (depending on how British I was speaking).

Ensenada was a good place to try a local restaurant to see if they could fix something up, and in the end it wasn’t so hard, once I got my Spanish blurted out in the right order. El Parien was reasonably priced, had a fine selection of hot sauces and a huge plate of tortillas and spicy carrots as a complimentary starter.

It was that good I went back again the following night.

But looking ahead I can foresee challenges like how places prepare their food (separate grills for vegetarians??? Doubt it..), do they use oil or butter, any other secret ingredients I can’t decipher..? It’ll be interesting and the only thing I know so far is that I may have to take the odd liberty here and there. Learning how I deal with that will be interesting and the concept of being ‘vegan’ will likely differ by the time I’m back in Vancouver.