getting to know the soybean


Food studies is a subject so much in its infancy that it would be foolish to try to define it or in any way circumscribe it, because the topic, discipline or method you rule out today might be tomorrow’s big thing. The inadequacy of our conventional conceptual framework for dealing with this unwieldy child is bathetically shown on the copyright page of The World of Soy, where the “Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data” lists the volume’s subject matter as “1. Soyfoods. 2. Cookery (Soybeans). 3. Food habits”. Thus do our categories of taxonomy reduce the current state of our knowledge about the world’s fourth most important food, measured in terms of calories, and first among legumes. Measured in cash terms, soy (Glycine max) is in some ways the most important crop, and in terms of imports and exports, second only to wheat. The fact that this important book has contributions by seventeen authors reflects more than the circumstances of its origins in a couple of academic conferences; it also shows the vastness of the topic and the large number of disciplines required to make sense of it. Dealing with soy comprehensively requires the attentions of historians, nutritionists, sociologists, anthropologists, economists and specialists in agriculture, plant genetics – and cooks, for if we do not know how soy has been and can be used as human food, and why people would wish to eat it, we lack any fundamental knowledge of it.

more from the TLS here.