The Food on Your Plate: The History, Culture, and Making of Food

by Sanjev de Silva and the Food on Your Plate classes

Greetings Athenian Community, 

You may have noticed some new faces serving meals in the kitchen a few times over the past couple of weeks: the members of the Food On Your Plate seminars. One of the activities that we as a class have been assigned to partake in is to further understand the effort that goes into preparing a meal for a large group of people and in the process we have been serving our very own Athenian community. A few of the dishes that we have prepared included:  chicken gyros and falafel, cheese pizza, fried rice, enchiladas, lasagna and more. On Tuesday, April 19th, the B Period Food On Your Plate class prepared the enchiladas, and we are sharing with you all to describe what went into the preparation of the meal you received and also provide a bit of history about the dish. After learning about the enchiladas, you will hear  from the students in the other Food On Your Plate classes that cooked the pizza, fried rice and lasagna.

You may be surprised to find that there is a lot more that goes into the preparation and background of these meals than you may think! Enjoy! 


enchiladasEnchiladas originated in Mexico. The practice of rolling tortillas with cheese, tomato, and other ingredients has been dated back to Mayan times. The first reference and recipe to the modern enchilada is dated back to 1885. The enchiladas prepared in the United States is different than the traditional enchiladas found in Mexico today. Although they are often eaten in California, the type we eat here at Athenian is different than the type eaten in Mexico. In Mexico, the spice is more prominent in the enchilada and is most commonly a maize tortilla stuffed with meat and covered with tomato and chili sauce. The spicy tradition of the current Mexican enchilada is related to the fact that the meaning of the word enchilada in Spanish is literally “to have seasoned with chili.” The enchiladas that you ate last week had ingredients that had to travel a total of 7,236 miles to reach you.

Ingredients Used

Cheese: (3,027 miles): Vermont

As most people know, cheese is a dairy product, meaning that it’s made from milk. What most people don’t know is that it’s one of the oldest dairy products ever made by humans with a history dating back 4000 years. It’s generally believed that cheese was first discovered by people who carried their supply of milk inside sheep stomach pouches and discovered that the bacteria inside the stomach would ferment the milk causing it to solidify into cheese. Cheeses made their way from Asia to the Roman Empire to the rest of Europe and finally to America aboard the mayflower. Cheese is still a huge part of our culture today, although as it has become increasingly processed, it has turned into a huge industry that profits over 2 billion dollars annually. In America, about a third of the milk produced is turned into cheese each day!

Tortilla: (3,946 miles): Mexico

The Spanish conquistadors named the tortilla. It was a flatbread that the Aztecs had eaten for centuries. They have been made since 10,000 BCE and are one of the main foods of the Aztecs. The Aztecs used corn to create tortillas and they cooked them on large stone slabs.  Today, tortillas are commonly used for burritos, enchiladas, and many other dishes. They have expanded out of Spanish cuisine to be used in food worldwide, including here in California.

enchiladasGreen Pepper: (44 miles): California

Columbus brought peppers from South America to Europe. They were cultivated in Europe. They come in many different colors, such as green, red, and yellow.  In the United States, California produces the most bell peppers while the largest country that produces bell peppers is China.  Today, they are used in a variety of dishes.  They are a large source of vitamin C and vitamin A, making them a staple in vegetarian diets.  Also, they have a lot of fiber and promote blood circulation.

Tomato: (219 miles): California

The tomato is native to the Americas, with origins tracing back to 700 AD (when it was first used by the Aztecs).  The first widespread cultivation of tomatoes began in modern day Peru. During the 16th century, the Spanish conquistadors brought the tomato to their colonies in the Caribbean, and then to the Philippines. From the Philippines, the tomato was spread throughout the entire continent of Asia and was soon considered an important crop. Eventually, the tomato made its way to Europe, where its shiny red exterior led to rumors of it being poisonous.  It was later adopted by the Europeans and was soon brought back to the United States when the colonies were formed. Tomatoes are now utilized in cooking in most cultures globally.

Making Enchiladas in the Athenian Kitchen

Step One: Safety: Just like any time you work with food in a professional setting, we had to follow certain health and safety standards. That meant hair tied back with a hairnet, plastic gloves, and no flip flops or sandals.

Step Two: The tortilla: every enchilada that we made had to first start as just a meager tortilla. Although we didn’t make the tortillas, we had to heat them up a bit on the stove at first so that they could easily be rolled into enchiladas.

Step Three: The filling: The filling of each enchilada is pretty basic. Just a bunch of cheese and some peppers. We had this mix in a giant bowl and we would put a little bit of it inside each tortilla. Then we would roll the enchilada up and put it in the pan. Each pan had to fit 30 enchiladas for serving purposes. Reaching this exact number was one of the most difficult parts of the job.

Step Four: Waiting: The enchiladas are prepared a day before we actually eat them so they sat overnight until they were ready for the final steps the next day.

Step Five: Sauce: A creamy tomato sauce is added to the enchiladas right before cooking them.

Step Six: Cooking: The enchiladas are cooked right before its time for lunch so that they’re still warm by the time everyone eats them.

Step Seven: Eat and Enjoy!


Paula Jurado ‘16, Matt Ota ‘17, Lilly Huang ‘17, Maya Duggal ‘17, Alyssa Tlera ‘16, and Kaylie Wang ‘16 

Hope you enjoyed!

D Period Food on Your Plate Class

What are the Historic elements of the dish?

The first lasagna dish itself originated in Ancient Greece with the individual pasta sheets originally called “lagnon” around 146 BC.  From there, the “Lagnon” pasta travelled to Italy, where it began to be layered to form the traditional lasagna dish we know today. In Italy, the name Lasagne was given to the individual pasta sheets in a lasagna dish.  The traditional Italian way of making lasagna, historically, has included alternating layers of ragu sauce, parmesan cheese, eggs and lasagna pasta sheets. However, after lasagna was spread outside this region, the dish began to incorporate ricotta, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, meat, spinach, garlic, and onions. These ingredients are used in the lasagna we made today.  

What is the Regional Context?

This is the way lasagna is traditionally prepared today, as well.  Authentic recipes contain Italian sausage, ground beef, eggs, minced onion, and tomatoes.  At Athenian, however, due to the particularity of the regulations, our lasagna is generally a cheese lasagna. It contains alternating layers of tomato sauce, lasagna pasta sheets, ricotta and shredded cheese.

What is the Conduit?

Conduit: process of each ingredient & preparation

Tomato sauce: tomatoes are washed, peeled, and then condensed in the canning process

Pasta squares: A ball of dough is kneaded then passed through a pasta machine which stretches and thins the pasta into the sheets used in lasagna                             

Eggs: Taken from mother hens

Ricotta:  Leftover whey from cheese making is fermented for several days and then cooked until the residual protein solidifies into cheese

Parmesan: Part skim milk is combined with rennet to curdle and is then strained and placed into molds where it ages for, on average, 2 years.

Garlic powderPeeled garlic cloves are placed in high heat ovens to roast and then transferred to dehydrators where moisture content is reduced to 6.5%. After dehydration, the garlic is then pulverized into powder through a food processor.

Where do the ingredients come from?

Tomato sauce: Arezzio /Houston, Texas (1,766 miles)

Pasta squares: Arezzio / Houston, Texas(1,766 miles)

Parmesan: Arezzio / Houston, Texas (1,766 miles)

Mozzarella: Morgan Hill, California (61.4 miles)

Ricotta: Arezzio  / Houston, Texas (1,766 miles)

Italian seasoning: Arezzio  / Houston, Texas (1,766 miles)

Eggs: Glaum Egg Ranch / Aptos, California (85.5 miles)

Garlic: Gilroy, California (68.6 miles)

Oregano: Arezzio  / Houston, Texas (1,766 miles) 


pizzaWe hope you find this debrief interesting and thank you all for supporting us through this process!

Redden Alexander Ludwig Thompson, Matthew Ian Chabala, Peony Bethny Ho, and Sofia Luisa Kavanaugh

To start, here is a little bit of the history of pizza. The original forms of pizza were made in mud ovens by The Greeks, Egyptians, Armenians, and Babylonians. At first, these flatbreads were only topped with olive oil and spices, now known as focaccia. Working people and their families ate it because it was quick and easy to make.

When tomatoes were brought over to Europe in the Colombian Exchange, they were originally thought to be poisonous, but they eventually became a part of the poorer people’s diets. These workers made flatbreads with whatever ingredients they had- generally, they were limited to flour, olive oil, cheese, and herbs for cooking their meals, and thus came the invention of pizza. 

Eventually, cook Raffaele Esposito decided to use tomatoes in the making of pizza because he thought it would be aesthetically pleasing to include the colors of the Italian flag- the white was the cheese, the red was the tomatoes, and the green was the basil on top.  He was called to make this for Queen Margherita, hence the name of Margherita pizza. 

Now for a little bit of Regional Context:

Athenian has made it a mission to use locally sourced, organic ingredients in order to promote sustainability and a healthy lifestyle for all who enjoy the food. Using healthy foods, Athenian Dining by Sodexo provides a solid diet that checks the main nutritional boxes. Sodexo prides itself in ensuring that all of its food processes are clean, safe, and benefit the overall satisfaction of Athenian lunch-eaters. Sodexo provides food service for many school and universities all over the nation.

The pizza’s main ingredients are whole wheat dough (for the crust), canned tomato sauce, parmesan and mozzarella cheese.

pizza2The average miles from where the ingredients were grown to Athenian are:

1.     Whole wheat dough

  • Average distance: 880 miles
  • Supplier: Mostly from Italy

2.     Canned tomato sauce

  • Average distance: 8,344 miles
  • Supplier: Mostly from Italy

3.     Parmesan cheese

  • Average distance: 1,759 miles
  • Supplier:: Mostly from Italy

4.     Mozzarella

  • Average distance: 1,604 miles
  • Supplier: Mostly from Italy


And lastly, how we prepared the pizza at Athenian:

1.     Step 1, while wearing gloves and hairnets, we applied two circular pieces of whole wheat dough to a tray sprayed with olive oil a day before preparation and left in the refrigerator to thaw.

2.     The next day, we spread the dough evenly along the steel bake pan so that all dough reached all corners.

3.     Next, we spread tomato sauce throughout the dough, making sure that we don’t get any sauce close to the corners (this burns the sauce and makes it harder to clean later on).

4.     We sprinkled parmesan cheese on top of the sauce for flavor.

5.     Lastly, we heavily applied mozzarella cheese to the top of the pizza before placing the pizza in the oven. 

fried rice 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s