Talk Dirt to Me

Soybeans and stomach aches

This year is the first time I’ve seen field soybeans growing in the valley. I don’t mean to say that this is the first time it’s been done as I’m sure it’s not, but I happened to notice a few fields growing in Hadley. Of course I’ve seen vegetable soybeans or “edamame” growing, but not field soy. The plants were healthy all season and the yield looks really great: the fields are bursting with hairy little pods. I can’t imagine it can be grown as a commodity for profit on such a small scale, so I imagine it’s going to be used locally.

Most soy in this country is grown to be used for oil or animal feed. It’s also become an important component of processed foods. Like most commodity crops, it’s grown west of here in so-called “fly-over” country (it’s so-called, because I always get a layover). Iowa is the highest producer with a bit over 400 million bushels according to the American Soybean Association. A bushel of soybeans is 60 lbs (bushels no longer are used as volume measures). The ASA doesn’t even provide data for Massachusetts, but Florida produces 0.7 million bushels. or 700,000 if you don’t like decimals, so Mass is less than that.

In the hazy years before I was five my family let me live with them in Minnesota (300.5 Million bushels). We moved around a lot after that. I kept having to catch up with them and it was tiring, but when we lived in Minnesota, my parents owned some sort of large unpleasantly green station wagon.

I’m sure my sister could tell you the model and probably the year as she remembers things like that (phone numbers, addresses, people’s birthdays, names). I once argued with my sister for several minutes that a trans-am and a camaro were different cars. She claimed they were something blah blah something (she was probably 8 at the time). I was pretty sure we were talking about cars, but beyond that I had no idea. I still believe she’s wrong.

In any case a fond memory of my childhood involves riding around in the back of said station wagon eating raw soybeans. Why there would be raw soybeans in the back of my car is beyond me. I’m quite sure my parents would not have let me ride around un-belted, but such is memory. It seems very possible that it was something else even more poisonous that I was eating (castor beans). But I do remember getting a hellacious stomach ache.

It’s little surprise really as soybeans, like many legumes, contain high concentrations of trypsin inhibitors. Trypsin is an important digestive enzyme so inhibiting it makes beans hard to digest -- this is why they must be cooked. Cooking causes the trypsin inhibitor to denature and no more stomach ache.

The other thing that we ate in this station wagon was deviled ham. On long car trips (are there other kinds?) my mom would hand back deviled ham sandwiches that she would assemble in the front seat. Sometimes we even got deviled chicken when times were flush. Why you would want to devil an animal as ornery as a commercial meat chicken is beyond me. Incidentally, deviled ham is produced by the Underwood corporation. They claim that their devil logo is “the oldest registered trademark still in use for a pre-packaged food product in the United States.” Whatever, still looks like catfood. At least it doesn’t have a stomach poison in it.

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