This is a topic so close to me that I’m not sure I can offer the proper perspective on it, but after watching a recent podcast of Louise Fresco speaking about feeding the whole world (on TED TV), I was inspired to not only share this 20 minute video with other people, but I want to explore the topic of daily bread and it’s relationship to industrial farming as I’ve observed from this corner of Japan.
At the end of her speech, Louise Fresco shares this insight from Mahatma Ghandi, “To those who have to go without two meals a day, God can only appear as bread.”
The concept that Fresco explores is our relationship to the world’s most common staple: bread. Where do we get our bread? Have we lost touch with making our own bread? Is bread healthy? Do we respect our daily bread? It is through bread that Fresco draws our attention to the greater global discussion about our industrial food system—as we seek local, organic food in our idealized food utopia are we throwing the baby out with the bath water in wholly demonizing modern farming techniques?
The linchpin in this increasingly popular movement for a “sustainable” food system is the need to also offer a living wage and a good life to the world’s farmers. Today we are growing more food for more people than ever before, but the number of farmers responsible for our daily bread is shockingly low. Even in a culturally agrarian society such as Japan, it is a mere 5% of the population that grows the food for this entire country. That’s a 10% decrease since the end of WWII (and not coincidentally the introduction of Western Industrial food imports). This is a frightening trend for our farming community of Joetsu. But the situation in the United States is even more dire, where 1% of the population grows all the food for our country.
It seems that we must seek a balance. A balance between a food system that offers nourishing, simple food that does not bring unnecessary damage to our environment and our health, while also offering a modern and yes, reasonably industrial method for the world’s farmers who seek a sustainable lifestyle for themselves and their families.
This is, I hope, an introduction to the current research I am doing on modern farming in Japan. There are lessons to be learned and conversations to be had between ourselves and our communities about what a truly sustainable food system looks like, one that nourishes both sides of the the equation between growing food and consuming it.
In the meantime, please follow the link above if you are interested in Louise Fresco’s 20 minute presentation about bread and our relationship to food. Also, in the spirit of our daily bread, I thought I would offer our easy recipe for the bread that we eat (almost) every day here in Japan, made by Sune in an electric rice-cooker (because there is a dearth of ovens in Japan). Enjoy!
Recipe: Japanese Bread
3/4 cup rice flour (this is what makes this loaf “Japanese,” we’ve also used soba, a.k.a buckwheat here.)
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups regular white flour
1 tablespoon yeast
180ml warm water
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon margarine (or butter)
40ml of soymilk (milk, or other dairy alternative)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (we use black for a nice color contrast)
1.) mix the yeast with 180ml of warm (not hot!) water (our water is exactly 39 degrees C) and 1 teaspoon of sugar in a mixing bowl. Allow to sit for 10 minutes
2.) while the yeast is resting, mix the salt, all three types of flour, and sesame seeds in a separate bowl.
3.) fold the mixed dry ingredients into the yeast, stirring as you go. As you fold, add a tablespoon of margarine (or butter) as well as 40ml of soymilk (milk, or other dairy alternatives). Mix until you get a nice, smooth, doughy consistency. Because rice flour sometimes absorbs more moisture than wheat flour, you may need to adjust your liquid/dry proportions.
4.) knead for 5-10 minutes, stretching the surface of the dough by picking it up and throwing it down onto a cutting board or counter top.
5.) let it rise in the bowl, covered, until it doubles in size (about 2 hours)
6.) knead for another 2-3 minutes, and then let it rest in the rice cooker. Sune turns on the rice cooker at this point for 2-4 minutes, allowing it to get warm and provide a happy rising condition for the dough.
7.) as the dough starts to rise after 30 minutes, turn the rice cooker back on at the normal “white rice” setting. the rice machine will turn itself off after about 40 minutes, turn it back on for another cycle. After two cycles, take out your loaf and flip it over, returning it for another 2 cycles on the opposite side. Depending on the rice cooker, you might need additional cycles. What’s important is that you cook it 2 cycles on the first side, while the crust is forming, otherwise, if you flip too soon it will crush the loaf and flatten the bread.
*When you get the hang of this method, the result will be a nice, roundish boule-type-of-loaf, perfectly consumed in 1 day! What’s best is that from start to finish (rising and cooking time included) this loaf only takes 5 hours because you add just that bit of sugar to the yeast at the beginning!