Thursday, February 21, 2008

Women's Health Part 1 con't: Beans

As promised many days ago, I want to return quickly to the subject of BEANS! With over 18,000 varieties, beans play a prominent role in many cultures around the world. They are delicious, nutritious and kind to the pocket book.

However, in 16th an 17th century Europe, beans developed a stinky stigma of indigestibility. I don't doubt this sentiment originated when the first bean eater got a little gassy.

In some cultures, beans are thought of as peasant food, because when hard times hit financially, only the richest could afford to buy meat. This left the poor and populous to capitalize on other types of proteins. In cultures where beans are eaten for different reasons however, like vegetarian diets in India, this type of legume stratification does not exist.

Beans also carry meaning in almost every religion. For example....

In the Christian Culture, beans become the primary protein during lent. In the Roman Catholic Church it is traditional abstain from meat from hoofed animals (this means pork, beef, lamb, venison....yes, including a hamburger...)

In the Jewish tradition a dish called the atafina (originally composed of chickpeas) is popped into the oven on the evening proceeding the sabbath so the family can eat lunch and dinner without turning on the oven. In the fifteenth century, Catholic Inquisitioners looked for people eating this dish to hunt out those nominally converted to Christianity.

On New Years Day, cultures around the world eat different beans for good luck. The French make White Bean Cassoulet as a traditional supper; Brazilians like their lucky lentils and in the southern US we eat black eyed peas to represent little coins for a prosperous year ahead.

Want more information? Pick up Ken Albala's new book, Beans: A History at your local bookstore.