The most egalitarian timetable, I recently learned from a friend who loves nonsequiturs, is the French Revolutionary calendar. Implemented for 12 years at the turn of the 18th century, the calendar sought to scrub all royal and religious influences (no Sundays!). It divided each of the 12 months into three ten-day weeks, each day into ten hours, and each hour into 100 minutes. Every day was assigned an object of contemplation. Not saints or religious holidays, but treasures from the land—plants, trees, flowers, fruits, minerals.
More importantly for a group of astrology-raised millennials, my same friend realized you could put your birthday into an online convertor, find out the day you were born in the French Revolutionary calendar, and figure out the object you are supposed to contemplate on that day. Everyone’s object was eerily appropriate: My spookiest friend got the Devil’s flower. Another friend, bright and beautiful, got lavender. My object was a haricot, or the humble bean. Yes, that’s right—I was born to be thinking about those beans.
But I’m clearly not the only one who has been thinking about beans. Since the pandemic began, beans have had a curious resurgence. As coronavirus forces us to shelter in place, we have turned to support where we can, whether it’s our friends, neighbors, or strangers. But we have also been turning to beans.
The New York Times declared that it was “A Boom Time for the Bean Industry,” reporting that sales for Goya beans have gone up 400 percent. One heirloom bean supplier told the Times that the people’s new lust for beans was “just shocking. I used to be the loneliest man at the farmer’s market.” Washington Post food and dining editor Joe Yonan’s new cookbook, Cool Beans, sold out in two days. Eater reported that people have now turned to hoarding beans.
It’s not hard to see why beans’ popularity has shot up during this crisis—affordable and full of protein, they are a comforting food in trying times. If the most egalitarian timetable is the French Revolutionary calendar, then the most egalitarian food is the bean. Small, hearty, and full of life, it is a vital source of support. As Meghan McCarron wrote in Eater, “In the face of uncertainty, they are one of our surest bets.”
But bean sales are not the only thing that has flourished. With beans on the brain, it’s also been a boom time for bean memes. We eat beans, but we also love to laugh at them—such is the role of the diligent bean. Since the pandemic began, beans have been a staple of memes, such as this one of the Chicago bean’s babies finally returning home.
And then there was the post on the relationships subreddit that went viral, where the poster’s girlfriend allegedly buried their stockpile of beans in the woods and refused to tell him where they were, saying, “I will never jeopardize the beans.”
Classic memes have been repurposed to include beans:
Beans have even infiltrated the upper echelons of American pop culture. In a recent Instagram post, Justin Bieber captioned a photo of Hailey Baldwin with “U ARE A BEAN.”
Bean memes are as hearty as their muse. A long and boring night in quarantine can be passed quickly by making up fun bean memes. Recently, my friend and I spent hours coming up with New York Times-ian headlines: “For Memes, A Bean”; “She Wanted a Meme. What She Got Is a Bean.”
Beans have always been objectively funny. Last year, Gabriella Paiella wrote about everyone’s love for beans and how “it’s bean time, all the time.” There are beans in all kinds of memes, from the farmer (Gene) who plowed his love for the flag into his crop (of beans) to the meme that explains how communism works (“God gives a bean to each worker”).
But in a time of crisis, there is something especially grounded about beans. This is why they are so resonant during a pandemic in which the gaps between our unequal system have never been more clear: God, after all, gives a bean to each worker.
Which is also why there is no need to hoard beans, a practice that is against beans’ very own ethos. Like memes, beans should be shared. Instead of overstocking on beans, may I gently suggest making a bean meme instead. What makes beans surprising is not how small they are, but how big they can be.