I recently was invited to a bean industry event that focused on field trials for beans. For hours, we toured acres of bean fields and heard the results. The beans were bred for uniformity, size, color, resistance to disease and bugs and of course, yields. I was having a grand old time until the end when it dawned on me that not one word had ever been mentioned about flavor.
The tour was followed by a luncheon prepared by the local health department and included a short lecture on the health benefits of beans. The prepared beans included three types of "chili", a salad and hummus, all designed to mask the flavor of the beans, or designed to mask the lack of flavor, I should say. No wonder people think they hate beans! This thick stodgy porridge they were passing off as chili would please no one.
I then started thinking about how we've done the same thing to pork. It's been bred so that it's bland and nearly fat-free and when we cook it, we need to smother it in barbecue sauce to again hide the lack of flavor. What if the ingredients tasted like something and we wouldn't need to buy the barbecue sauce? What if the beans were delicious and could be enjoyed by themselves, or perhaps with a fine piece of heritage pork?
I talk to a lot of people who are just getting interested in food. I also talk to a lot of self-described "foodies" and "gourmets". They can study Larousse Gastronomique until the cows come home or be as creative as Martha Stewart on a rainy day, but without quality ingredients, we're all just running in place.
I'm not a culinary luddite and I know the worth of breeding to avoid disease and pests. I suppose there's even a place for the kind of canned red kidney beans one finds on a salad bar. But if we demanded quality as loudly as we're demanding economy and convenience, I think we'd be starting something worthwhile.