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Monday, July 19, 2010

The mysterious decline of lima beans

I've got to confess that I like vegetables.  Almost all of 'em.  Always did.  Don't know why the hiding my green peas under the dining room table crossbrace never occurred to me.   As an adult, though, I like vegetables fresh out of the garden.   The only exception is Phaseolus Lunatus,  that small pale green bean named for Lima...or is it Lima?   I love lima beans cooked with butter and black pepper.  I like 'em in casseroles or with rice.  I like them and sometimes have a craving just to have lima beans.   
So I experienced a great deal of frustration three or four weeks ago when I went into my local Safeway store to buy a bag of Fordhook lima beans and discovered there were none.  Not only that,  there was no tag for them in the freezer.   I went to customer service and asked the nice man there what was going on.  "Oh," he said, "you can special order them you know.   We just went through a lot of changes in our inventory tags and I'll bet someone just didn't put the tag back.  If there's no tag, they don't stock 'em."   "Okay," I told him.  "I'll just check back later."
Two weeks passed and I was in the store for something else but cruised by the frozen vegetables to see if they had lima beans.   Same thing.  No veggies no tag.  I went through the checkout line and mentioned to the nice lady there that they didn't have any lima beans and wondered if my previous message had perhaps gotten lost.  "Oh," she said,  "I'm sorry.  You can special order them you know.  We just didn't sell very many of them in this store.  I don't know why.  We just don't stock them."  "Thanks," I said.  "That's interesting."
So then I went off to the frozen food section at the Fred Meyer store about two miles from home when I had to pick up some hardware items.   They had baby lima beans but no Fordhooks.   I grabbed a couple of bags and went home.
On reflection,  I noticed that something else had changed in the frozen vegetable compartments.  In both stores,  I had almost grabbed bags of shelled frozen edamame,  or soy beans,  thinking they were lima beans.   We actually have some edamame in our freezer.  They're okay but they aren't limas.  Taste is quite different.  And I've also had edamame unshelled which I found tedious to deal with since the shells are very fibrous.  But I began to wonder whether the agribusiness machine out there in the world was perhaps trying to steer our tastes in the direction of edamame and away from limas.   Why would they do that?   It occurred to me that soy, like corn,  seems to have grown exponentially in production in the US which would lead one to think soy growers would always be looking for news products to exploit what they were already growing.   Might be possible.  Not to be paranoid but soy is one of the Roundup Ready crops also like corn and growing the markets for its uses would just make economic sense.  
I decided to do a little searching on the Internet, of course, to see if any trends appeared.   I did find that other people were writing that they could not find lima beans in their stores.  I also found an article from the Northeast which talked about weather knocking crop production about.  The article mentioned that the wetter weather was helpful to soybeans.  Its very end referenced lima beans having been planted when it was dry and needing moisture.   I also found that there are lots of posts discussing lima beans and edamame and attempting to clarify that they are not the same.   Many of those posts talked about using edamame in place of lima beans in recipes.  
I didn't find any agricultural crop production or forecasting that suggested lima beans had had an overall tough year.  Apparently they are the largest shelled bean crop in the US.   
Should it be the case that any reader has more insight into the lima bean mystery,  I'd be interested to know about it.   I'm beginning to think my best strategy is to add limas to the list of crops we grow in our yard.  I can tell you right now I'm not ready to give 'em up for a green pretender.

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