Good words to live by, but hard.
I’ve gotten through the first three chapters of Ken Albala’s book on beans, and for as lovely as the journey has been so far it’s also been pretty intimidating. Albala is a fantastic researcher, storyteller, and author, and it’s hard to feel like I can really add anything to the conversation. It’s so tempting to just throw in the towel and let better minds than mine continue their journeys through food history while I hang back and watch. I’m a newbie to this field (one without a relevant degree, to boot!), and I’m way eclipsed by those I’m learning from.
Take, for example, how badly Albala schools me concerning etymology. At first, he finds pretty much the same things I do. Bean in English is similar to the word for bean in many different languages (also, it seems like italics are the preferred method of setting a word apart when etymology-izing it, not single quotes as I’d used). None particularly interesting or particularly different from the word ‘bean’ itself. But then he looks at the words legume and pulse (which, it turns out, is an old synonym for legume that comes from the Roman word for a dish of cooked bean meal, puls). And the word Phaseolus, the term referring to New World beans. I’ll do an etymology part two to cover the cool stuff he covered and see if I can’t get any deeper myself, too.
So that was fascinating, illuminating, and…discouraging.
But I learned something from it — more than what Albala was teaching. Looking at just the word I’m interested in is not enough. I have to look around it, too. I have to learn to think less shallowly about human language. And that’s a good lesson!
I also learned that one of my favorite Monty Python sketches has another layer to it that I never knew! You see, lupines (one of my favorite flowers, and pictured above) are a bean! I can’t believe it. It’s so cool. And part of the joke is that the character in the sketch that’s stealing lupines to feed the poor doesn’t understand what part of the plant is eaten (the seeds). It’s silly but I am really glad to know this new information.
I also learned that lentils are an Old World bean. Like, really really Old World. As in, the earliest remains of cooked lentils are from 11 thousand BCE (in Greece, if you’re wondering). Lupines are both Old and New World, which turns out to be uncommon.
I’ve learned a lot from this book and this blog already. Most importantly, though, I think I’ve learned I don’t have to be the best. I don’t even have to be good. I just have to be better. Not better than anybody else, but better than myself. I just have to keep learning, keep trying, and keep growing. And I win!