For the past two days I’ve been travelling in the Minas Gerais region in the Center-South of Brazil as part of the field research for the paper I am writing on the inclusion of Brazilian smallholders in food chains. Minas Gerais is such a lovely region and it was the third time I was there to interview Brazilian milk producers. Aside for making some of the best cheese and coffee in Brazil, it’s also known for having some very very fine meat, so naturally every time I go to there, I have a grilled meat party going on in my plate. My research is soon coming to an end and I will definitely miss these trips to the field. One of my favorite parts of these trips are the long car drives to reach the farms where I get the occasion to study the Brazilian countryside, its agriculture and the people I see on the side of the road. Minas Gerais has these amazing earth roads that look like canvasses of bright red and orange dust, because the soil is so rich in iron and copper. I always feel much more in touch with the country on these trips than when I’m dragging my little foreign self in the monster that is São Paulo.
Of course each interview and encounter with the producers is even more special and rewarding than any car drive or landscape, I truly cherish those moments where I get to penetrate their lives and hear about their experiences, challenges, fears and accomplishments. I met some truly impressive producers on my last trip, entrepreneurs who have built everything they have from the ground up through dedication and with the help of the firm they supply to. One of them told me there is nothing he wouldn’t do for the company he works with because he owes them everything. I remember starting out this research with a lot of skepticism, expecting to hear horrible stories about the multinationals working with these producers.
Having heard so many stories about smallholder producers being poisoned by Monsanto, exploited by Starbucks or evicted from their lands by biofuel companies in Tanzania, it was very refreshing to hear such positive stories about companies working with low-income producers as true partners, bringing services, capacity-building, facilitating access to credit and putting the right people on the field to work with the producers. I think the most important lesson of this research is that, yes we are looking at asymmetrical relationships with strong power imbalances, but let’s not be so quick to judge what these producers have to say about it. Many of them are growing, learning to produce more efficiently, incorporating new technologies, increasing their income and improving their livelihood as a whole. Unfortunately this is not the case everywhere, and there is still a lot to be done on the way companies should work with communities in developing countries like Brazil. In fact not all the stories I heard were happy, but at least this last trip has given me a lot of hindsight and a rather positive outlook on the question as a whole. There are companies that are actually trying to integrate social impact in their core business activity and it’s great to witness it with my own eyes. I feel I have grown so much with this research project, and while the trips were intense and fascinating, the most interesting part is happening now as I assemble the results from all the interviews and realize how all of the stories I have heard are intertwined and that there is really something important to be said about them.
What does all of this have to do with Veggie Basil Egg Muffins? Absolutely nothing, I just felt like talking about something different today, especially since my work is taking up so much time these days and I am feeling really blessed to have had this experience. I didn’t even have time to pack my muffins in my bag before leaving the house to go on this trip and that was actually a shame given that I had to face a seven-something hour trip to reach my final destination (2 buses, 1 plane, 3 taxis…). Thankfully every time I go to a producer’s home, they insist on stuffing me with coffee, tapioca biscuits and a big plate of lunch so I didn’t miss my muffins.
Egg muffins are kind of like bite-size crust-less quiches or individual frittatas when you think about it. While I don’t like to take my breakfast on the go in under 5 minutes (see photo below which says it all: I sat down, took out a fork and ate my muffin on a plate), this recipe is ideal for people who like no-fuss breakfasts and just want to be able to grab something out of the fridge before leaving the house. If that’s your case, then these muffins perform this job very well, while giving you a good source of protein to feel full throughout the morning (maybe have 2). Just make them in advance and stock in the fridge (be sure to let them cool completely before stocking otherwise you will end up with watery egg puddings). But the key takeaway of this recipe is: if you’re going to bake egg muffins, put whatever veggies you want in them but be sure to include BASIL in them. Trust me, Basil puts the capital B in Breakfast.
Recipe: Veggie Basil Egg Muffins
2/3 cup (120g) of zucchini, chopped in quarter-rounds
2/3 cup (120g) of broccoli florets
1 green onion
6-8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of dry mustard powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
Freshly ground pepper
1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) and grease a muffin tin with olive oil.
2. On a cutting board, cut the zucchini in four lengthwise and chop each part in quarter-rounds. Chop the broccoli in very small florets. Slice the green onion entirely, including the green ends.
3. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl with the salt, pepper, ground mustard and baking powder. Add the chopped vegetables, the oregano and the chopped basil, whisking together to combine.
4. Divide the mixture into 6 muffin cups filling them up to about three quarters. Bake for 25 minutes.
5. Keep refrigerated for up to 5 days.