When I was working on Organic Inc., I marveled at the passions the prolific soybean fueled, from vegans dishing up tofu, tempe and soy milk; to raw milk proponents who view the bean as little more than a nasty toxin; to agribusiness giants who process it into soy protein isolate and then add it, like corn, to everything; to Asian cuisine, where the most sublime soy foods are found. Rarely has a bean meant so much to so many.
I knew there was more here than meets the digestive tract, so was pleasantly surprised to see a new book on the subject, Beans: A History by Ken Albala. The passions I encountered while researching soybeans were by no means unique. A “social stigma” against most beans, Albala writes, “remains firmly in place from the time of the ancient Greeks up to the 20th century.”
"The matter is not only gas but class," the Times review points out. "Because beans are cheap to raise and offer a protein payoff that is comparable to meat’s, poor people have traditionally eaten them. The plants that bear beans don’t appeal to the aspirational bourgeoisie. Beans are, in the developed world, markers of a hand-to-mouth lifestyle best left behind. 'In any culture where a proportion of people can obtain protein from animal sources,' Albala observes, 'beans will be reviled as food fit only for peasants.'”
A pity, since the lowly legumes are high in protein and fiber and low in fat. But as history shows, as incomes rise, people want meat.
- Samuel Fromartz
Image: soybeans, Wikipedia