The soybean, though thought about on average once every 284 days eighteen minutes, is a phenomenally useful bean-like vegetable invented by German scientist Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus in 1804 to satisfy the urgent need in the country for a suitable coffee substitute when the Napoleonic wars shut the many German nations off from chicory supplies. This substitution was briefly successful, but fell apart when the war-hardened Germans discovered they could use coffee beans to make coffee.
After samples of the bean were discovered in the lower desk drawer in 1920 the bean became a potent force in agriculture. Today this unpresupposing bean is so nutritious and has such a high yield you could feed the entire population of the United States on nothing but the produce of a single 420-acre farm, though there would be a lot of people just picking at their food and sighing wistfully. So producing sauces, side dishes, and creative presentation must not be ignored. Still, it does force one to wonder what the other 72,099,580 acres of soybean farms are for, and the answer is practical jokes.
Despite the already attractive properties of soybeans there is still the urge to improve on nature's bounty, and so soybeans have become the subject of considerable genetic engineering, as well as debates about the wisdom of such modifications. Nay-sayers seem to be advancing an unreasonable cause: after all, genetics is just a new science with laws of phenomenal subtlety, and we're adding changes to a system far too complicated to simulate; what could possibly go wrong? Residents of Asphaltum, Indiana learned what might on the evening of 22 August 1994, when a field of genetically modified soybean rose from its roots, twisted creeping vine-style into a shambling mound over 82 feet, four inches tall, and stormed toward town, wreaking havoc, destroying buildings, making long-distance calls, and leaving a trail of linoleic acid.
The town tried to call Governor B Evans ``Evan'' Bayh III with the news that a giant soybean monster was destroying the city, but the mayor kept breaking out in giggles. The head of the town council, the secretary, the sheriff, deputy sheriff, and this guy named Andrew had the same problem. When they did find someone who could say it straight, Bayh was so tired of half-completed calls he assumed the it was a prank, and demanded the Federal Communications Commission fine Howard Stern. Stern's broadcasters paid the $4230 fine under protest. Neighboring communities Remington and Rensselaer have turned that evening into a lovely end-of-summer festival, including a parade, fireworks, a pot-luck barbecue, and tourists coming from hundreds of miles away to enjoy events like kicking soybean pods. And thus we see how soybeans continue to be a vital link in the western world's economy.
Trivia: The earliest written mention of soy beans in Chinese dates to the 6th century BC, describing it as a 700-year-old crop from the north. Source: Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky.
Currently Reading: Lost in Transmission, Wil McCarthy.