Get Stuffed 

Full of beans

The real people’s food and Labour Day go hand-in-hand

I’m not sure exactly what labour activist Peter McGuire had in mind when he proposed the first Labour Day in 1880-something. To me it’s some kind of pathetic reminder – here, here’s a little token holiday just to rub it in that you’re about to work your butt off for the next 40-odd weeks before the golden prospect of summer and holidays rolls around again.

Given that Mr. McGuire was president and founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America the official version, of course, is that he and his cronies were into honoring the working class (originally the day's rituals included picnics, fireworks, speechmaking and a parade of working men).

But those loyal trade unionists must also have had a streak of hedonism in them, for they’ve gone down in history as intentionally choosing the first Monday in September because it was halfway between the Fourth of July and American Thanksgiving – "a most pleasant time of year" – and it would fill a gap in the chronology of legal holidays. In other words, it gave poor working sods one more kick at the summer cat before heading off to the salt mines. So you can see I wasn’t too far off the mark.

Now Labour Day has lost its original meaning. Basically, the September long weekend has turned into a marathon for desperately cramming in as many fun summer activities as possible before autumn settles in with its mantle of work, school and general all-round seriousness.

But to put the "labour" back into Labour Day for one brief moment, if there’s any food that represents us working class sods, it’s got to be beans. Think of the archetypal images of hobos during the Depression or cowboys out on the range, or a bunch of hungry loggers on lunch break cooking a tin of beans over a crackling campfire.

For the better part of civilization, beans (or more correctly, legumes, which include peas, lentils, etc.) have been a staple in countless cultures, especially where animal protein is scarce. They are nutritious, easy to grow and store, versatile to use and, invariably, inexpensive. Ergo their low status.

To help you get over that – the status thing – I’ll tell you a little story. Legumes lent their names to some of the finest families in ancient Rome: the faba (fava) bean generated Fabius; lentils begat Lentulus; chickpeas, Cicero; and peas, Piso.

Forget the Atkins diet (well, apparently a lot of people are, finally). If you want to get healthy, go on a bean diet. Beans are super low in fat and contain a huge amount of fibre, iron and protein. They aren’t quite a complete protein, but if you add grain or a little animal protein like eggs or cheese you’ll get the right balance. Besides, most of us lucky Canadians get way too much protein in our diet anyway, so it’s not really a concern.

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