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Sourdough Is A Social Media Star — But Those Beans Would Look Great On Instagram

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Remember the early days of the pandemic when shoppers scoured grocery shelves for flour, yeast and beans? Since then, we've seen ample evidence of people baking sourdough and banana bread on social media ... but what about all those beans?

Bean sales shot up 70% in March, says Tim D. McGreevy, CEO of USA Pulses, a not-for-profit lobbying group representing the dried pea, lentil and chickpea industry. He adds that the trend has diminished but not entirely stopped. In June, orders were still 30% higher than normal.

"I went out, I bought pounds of beans and put them proudly on my shelf," says Kyla Wazana Tompkins, a Pomona College professor and former food writer. This, in spite of the fact that Tompkins does not even really like beans. "I went to this primal brain space. I had this survival story in my head and now I've got it on my shelf, and I don't think I'll use them until the actual end times."

Tompkins is hardly alone. An inquiry on this reporter's Facebook page yielded dozens of stories of bean buyers' remorse. That pains Steven Sando, the proprietor of the high-end heirloom bean company, Rancho Gordo. Back in March, Sando found himself bombarded with orders — more than 17,000 of them, he says. As a result, there's a waiting list for 20 different varieties of beans on his website. His staff, he says, is struggling to meet demand for items still in stock, such as flageolet and yellow eye beans.

"The thought of them sitting in a dark pantry makes me ill," he says.


But no bean goes unwasted in the well-stocked pantry of Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel. The couple estimate they've got at least 15 pounds of beans on hand right now. Their 2015 cookbook, Decolonize Your Diet: Plant-Based Mexican-American Recipes For Health And Healing, draws on family culinary traditions and documents how the two nourished themselves while Calvo was being treated for cancer. Cooking beans, they say, can deepen a connection to community.

"They're a way to honor our ancestors," Calvo says. "And they make you feel good when you eat them."

Still, although beans may be a delicious, meaningful part of foodways from around the world, they do somewhat lack the Instagram charisma of a pillowy loaf of homemade bread. "Maybe there's not the brag factor of sourdough," Calvo concedes. Esquibel adds that while cooking beans is spiritually sustaining, there's little in the way of mastery to show off about. "Like, 'Oh, I conquered a pot of beans,' " she says.

The sheer ease of bean cookery is a plus, as far as Sando of Rancho Gordo is concerned. A movie lover, he has a method for timing them that's perfect for quarantine: Boil your beans for 15, turn them down, then put on the movie All About Eve. When Bette Davis says, "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night," that's when you add salt, he says. And when she says "Funny business, a woman's career," start checking them because they're probably done.

But to slightly misquote another classic movie — Casablanca — it doesn't take much to see the problems of us little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Bean consumers, here's looking at you.

This story was edited for radio by Rose Friedman and adapted for the Web by Neda Ulaby and Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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