Thursday, January 14, 2010

vegetables are people, too

On December 21, 2009, the New York Times published an article titled “Sorry, Vegans: Brussels Sprouts like to live, too”.

Admittedly a bit “tongue in the cheek”, the article inevitably takes us to a much earlier, and even crazier, hypothesis: that grains are people, too.

When mankind shifted from a “hunting and gathering” lifestyle towards agriculture about 12,000 years ago, one of the first crops planted was barley.

Due to a fortunate set of circumstances, and through an Act of Providence, one of our long gone ancestors (in about 9000 B.C.) discovered that malted barley, when combined with water and yeast, would produce something called “beer”, which is one of world’s oldest prepared beverages. (hops were added a little later).

After water and tea, beer is the third most popular beverage consumed today. Every day, 10,000,000 pints of Guinness (which is brewed in 43 countries) are consumed around the world. Although that’s a LOT of beer, Guinness is not even close to being the most popular beer in the world.

That honor belongs to a Chinese beer named Snow

Although there have been countless songs composed about beer, there have also been a surprisingly large number composed about barley.

English folk songs about barley go back as far as 1568, but the song that most of us are familiar with is “John Barleycorn”. Although quite a few people have produced versions of the song, the one done by “Traffic” is the version that most of us know best:

John Barleycorn

The guitar solo version shown below is also well done:

strummin' along

If you’ve enjoyed listening to this hauntingly beautiful song for a lot of years, but had now idea what is was about, the lyrics below will help you make a little more sense out of it:

There were three men came out of the West,
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn must die.

They've ploughed, they've sewn, they've harrowed him in,
Threw clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn was dead.

They've let him lie for a very long time,
‘Till the rains from heaven did fall,
And little Sir John sprung up his head,
And so amazed them all.

They've let him stand ‘till midsummer's day,
‘Till he looked both pale and wan,
And little Sir John's grown a long, long beard,
And so become a man.

They've hired men with the scythes so sharp,
To cut him off at the knee,
They've rolled him and tied him by the way,
Serving him most barbarously.

They've hired men with the sharp pitchforks,
Who pricked him to the heart,
And the loader he has served him worse than that,
For he's bound him to the cart

They've wheeled him around and around the field,
‘Till they came unto a barn,
And there they made a solemn oath,
On poor John Barleycorn.

They've hired men with the crab-tree sticks,
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller he has served him worse than that,
For he's ground him between two stones.

And little Sir John and the nut-brown bowl,
And he's brandy in the glass;
And little Sir John and the nut-brown bowl,
Proved the strongest man at last.

The huntsman, he can't hunt the fox,
Nor so loudly to blow his horn,
And the tinker he can't mend kettle nor pot,
Without a little Barleycorn

At the end of July last year, President Obama shared beers with Professor Henry Louis Gates and Sergeant James Crowley at the White House. He was far from the first president to consume beer at the White House (George Washington reportedly drank it after every battle, and Franklin Roosevelt won the Presidency on a campaign platform of “beer for prosperity”), but he’s the most recent example of how beer can help the world be a better place.

The next time you have a beer, give some thought to what’s REALLY in that glass, and say a prayer of thanks to John Barleycorn.

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