Magic Bean: The Rise of Soy in America

Magic Bean: The Rise of Soy in America

By Matthew Roth

Magic Bean traces the paths by which the soybean--as a crop, food, and idea--made its way into American farming, bodies, and culture over the course of the twentieth century. Along the way, it shows that its coming was by no means predictable, even as its consequences have been important.


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Book Information

Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Publish Date: 05/25/2018
Pages: 344
ISBN-13: 9780700626342
ISBN-10: 0700626344
Language: English

Full Description

Choice Outstanding Academic Title

At the turn of the twentieth century, soybeans grew on so little of America's land that nobody bothered to track the total. By the year 2000, they covered upward of 70 million acres, second only to corn, and had become the nation's largest cash crop. How this little-known Chinese transplant, initially grown chiefly for forage, turned into a ubiquitous component of American farming, culture, and cuisine is the story Matthew Roth tells in Magic Bean: The Rise of Soy in America.

The soybean's journey from one continent into the heart of another was by no means assured or predictable. In Asia, the soybean had been bred and cultivated into a nutritious staple food over the course of centuries. Its adoption by Americans was long in coming--the outcome of migration and innovation, changing tastes and habits, and the transformation of food, farming, breeding, marketing, and indeed the bean itself, during the twentieth century. All come in for scrutiny as Roth traces the ups and downs of the soybean's journey. Along the way, he uncovers surprising developments, including a series of catastrophic explosions at soy-processing plants in the 1930s, the widespread production of tofu in Japanese-American internment camps during World War II, the decades-long project to improve the blandness of soybean oil, the creation of new southern soybean varieties named after Confederate generals, the role of the San Francisco Bay Area counterculture in popularizing soy foods, and the discovery of soy phytoestrogens in the late 1980s. We also encounter fascinating figures in their own right, such as Yamei Kin, the Chinese American who promoted tofu during World War I, and African American chemist Percy Lavon Julian, who played a critical role in the story of synthetic human hormones derived from soy sterols.

A thoroughly engaging work of narrative history, Magic Bean: The Rise of Soy in America is the first comprehensive account of the soybean in America over the entire course of the twentieth century.

About the Author

Matthew D. Roth holds a Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University. He has taught environmental history at Philadelphia University and is on the staff of the University of Pennsylvania's Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy.

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