Many nations and regions have contributed unique and wonderful styles of cuisine to the world, and in my view the uniqueness of those contributions is something to celebrate.
However, as globalisation marches on, interconnecting more and more parts of the world, so it is that our culinary preferences appear to shrink correspondingly, towards homogeneity and mediocrity.
How depressing it is, for example, to think that there is a McDonald’s in virtually every major world city, or that you can easily find unhealthy products like Coca Cola and Western breakfast cereals in the shops and supermarkets of most of those same cities.
This growing world-wide replacement of indigenous cuisines with fast, highly processed food is not a force for good.
Take Mexico, for example, a country with a wonderful and exciting centuries-old culinary tradition. In recent times its population has developed a voracious appetite for comida chatarra, or junk food, to the extent that it has become the world’s most obese nation.
In the last decade the number of Mexicans who are overweight or obese has risen to 70%. An astonishing 15% of the country now suffer from Type 2 diabetes, and 14 million of these have diabetes-related retinopathy, which causes sight loss or impairment of vision.
It is no coincidence that Mexico is also the world’s largest per capita consumer of sugary soft drinks, soda in particular.
To help deal with the crisis engulfing its health care services, last year President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government took the brave step of introducing a tax on soda.
This move predictably met with an immediate, heavily funded and very aggressive propaganda campaign, led by Coca Cola and PepsiCo, who between them control 77% of the Mexican soft drinks market.
Their campaign included threatening to withdraw advertising from any TV channel which carried educational adverts explaining the health reasons behind the tax (in the end no TV station dared to show them) and full page adverts claiming that hundreds of thousands of Mexican jobs were likely to be lost as a result of the tax. The tax was also met with an outcry from Mexico’s citizens. For many of them soda is often more easily obtainable than clean drinking water.
But over eighteen months since its introduction, the tax is having a significant impact. Sales of sugary drinks in Mexico fell by 6% last year, whilst sales of bottled water rose by 4%. These figures support the argument that taxing unhealthy food products can encourage positive changes in purchasing and eating habits.
Mexico’s bold stance may well inspire others to do the same. Already the US states of New York and California have introduced similar levies, and more may follow suit.
There are lots of interpretations of the lovely Mexican breakfast/brunch classic Huevos Rancheros. This is mine.
In making the sauce I’ve used some of the beautiful buffalo horn tomatoes I grow on my allotment. Fleshy and very tasty, this tomato is also rare as a result of international seed legislation designed to protect the profits of the big seed companies. It is a variety that is only being kept in existence by individual growers keeping and re-sowing its seeds year on year.
If you don’t have any fresh organic tomatoes to hand, you can use a tin of chopped organic tomatoes in their place. The addition of oregano, smoked paprika and chilli brings a lovely, warm, smoky richness to the sauce
1 large onion, quartered then cut into slices lengthways
1 red pepper, cut into thin strips lengthways
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
400 g chopped organic tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp sea salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive olive oil
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
2 free range, organic eggs
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1. Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan or skillet. When hot, add the onion. Cook, stirring, for five minutes before adding the pepper. Cook for a further five minutes, stirring, until the pepper has softened.
2. Add the garlic, chilli, oregano, salt and smoked paprika. Cook, stirring, for two minutes then add the tomatoes. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting and continue to cook, stirring, for a further five minutes. Using a wooden spoon make four wells in this sauce and crack an egg into each well. Cover the pan and continue to cook on the low heat until the eggs have just set, about five minutes.
3. To serve, place a quarter of the sauce, with an egg on each place, scattered with a little chopped coriander.