The three faces of Soy

There are things you never forget, even though they may seem insignificant. There are words that, like the tea of Proust, provoke the same memory, with the precision of a reflex mechanism.  The word substitute, for example; I refer to the start of Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita.  At first reading, the word stumped me, but I tried to infer its meaning and read on.  In a subsequent reading I found it in the dictionary and took control of it.  Or it me.  I’ve never thought of using it, but there it is, reminding me of the cold apricot drink with which two writers warded off the heat while walking by Patriarch’s Pond, just before meeting Monsieur Voland.

Something similar happens to me the with word soy.  The first time I read it, it was in the novel The Space Merchants, by Pohl and Kornbluth.  It was in the early 80s, I was in high school and attracted science fiction.  Interested in getting on with my reading, I didn’t bother to figure out what it was that was giving their consumers unique facial characteristics, cause for contempt from the successful advertising director Mitchell Courtenay.  At the end of the novel, moved, I forgot to inquire about the soy bean and subconsciously associated it in some way with a protein mixture without being clear about its origin, in short, it was something that was used to make croquettes.

Perhaps in revenge for having been overlooked in favor of fiction, soy reappeared a decade later, in a more realistic form, in the midst of a no less real and much more intense crisis in the 1990s.  Then, soy was a white granule that my old lady washed in order to separate it from the chopped meat, explaining to me that the soy bean was a legume which had to be cooked a long time to make it soft, and that mixed with chopped meat, it created the dilemma of how long to cook it; cook it just right for the meat and risk eating the soy beans raw or, run the risk of ruining the little bit of protein by cooking it long enough to soften the badly crushed little beans.  And when I say little bit of protein I am not exaggerating.  That ground meat in the Special Period had every kind of thing in it—tripe, cartilage, belly, ear—except meat.  I don’t think I can describe the intense disgust I experienced on finding those revolting pieces of intestine, easily recognizable by the characteristic villi.

And just when you thought you’d seen it all with regards to agriculture—or more accurately, the nonsense in agriculture—I learn that there are going to be experimental soy bean plantings, supported by a Brazilian company.  If this experiment turns out like the rice in the swamps of Zapata, the coffee in the Havana Cordon, the 8 million cows and calves for 1970, and the reconversion/destruction of the sugar industry, we already know what will come of it.  So many farfetched experiments, so many man-hours consumed, for what?  Instead of sowing the many varieties of beans that we have and that we like so much, soy beans.  In place of mamey melons and mango, passion fruit.  I suspect that behind all of this are a few of those who are “fighting” for their little trip to Brazil, to “learn lessons” so that later they can come and teach us what we have known very well for many generations, but are not allowed to do.