Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thinking about rice and beans

The other day I received a catalog from Berg, which features their 2012 titles. I was immediately intrigued by a new book titled: Rice and Beans: A Unique Dish in a Hundred Places. The book closes with a chapter by Sidney Mintz who "takes a broad look at Atlantic cuisines and the legacy of African slavery." (I affectionately call Mintz my "anthropological grandfather").
Rice and beans has always played a significant role in my cultural and dietary life. On the cultural side, rice and red beans (specifically) are Puerto Rico's "national food." Often rice and beans are at the center of a meal, and other foods are then added on (meats, viandas, salads, etc). Originally, rice and beans was food made by and for the poor: peasants, the enslaved, sailors, urban-slum dwellers, and workers of all kinds. As is common, the foods of the "masses" become "national" both because this population constitute the majority of the people in a country, and also because it is women (and men) from this social-strata who do most of the cooking in the houses of the rich. Naturally, these cooks then import their dishes into the kitchens and stomachs of wealthy men, women and children making what was once "poor people's food," everyone's food.

Growing up in an economically-poor household, we could always afford rice and beans. As I said in previous posts my mother likes to buy dry beans and soften then. Eating softened beans is of course, much better because one is not ingesting all the additives, sodium, and preservatives contained in canned beans. From a young age, I had an aversion to meat  and as my mother says: "you've always wanted to eat rice and beans, that's all you wanted to eat!" And I ate rice and beans almost daily. Sometimes I ate rice and pigeon peas or rice and garbanzos. When we were at the very end of our food supply, we would eat rice and corn. Well, rice and beans is a wonder food! It is a protein-rich nutritional powerhouse. These days I make brown rice instead of white rice and I soften beans for a super natural result!

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