“Pumpkin!” That was the final word that I needed to win Mrs. Julkunen’s second-grade Fall Festival bingo game. The stakes were high: winning meant not only bragging rights on the playground but also a beautiful package of scented pencils that I lusted over and begged my mom endlessly for quarters so I could buy some out of the vending machines at my school. Cinnamon, bubblegum, even rootbeer! I needed those pencils. And Mrs. J just said “pumpkin!” I was the second-grade Bingo Star! Except… except that we were using pinto beans as bingo markers and I’d, um, eaten all my remaining pinto beans. And as everyone in second grade knows, if you can’t prove it with beans then your win, well, it isn’t worth beans.
That day I discovered my deep love for raw beans. Yeah, they’re so crunchy you could crack a tooth. Not to mention I was eating something that had passed through the fingers of multiple years of children who could not be counted upon to wash their hands after using the bathroom. And yet there was just something about the flavor. It was nutty with a slite bite at the end. And the hull that stuck in my teeth? Snack for later!
It was a love that has only grown stronger over the years. I still love me a good raw bean. Except that now in a nod to my apparent maturity, I soak the beans first to keep my teeth intact. Now don’t get me wrong, rarely do I just sit down with a big bowl of soaked beans – usually it happens over the course of a day while I’m soaking my beans to make one of the many variations of the 15-bean soup that is a staple of my diet. A lima here, a lentil there, a great northern for a real treat but over the course of a day I can eat a good cup or two of the little suckers.
Until last Friday. All my bean glee came crashing down when I did an innocent google search for “eating raw beans.” Apparently you are not supposed to eat raw beans. They can kill you. Especially the kidney beans of which I am so fond of. Cooked? No problemo. (Well, except for the gaseous emissions.) Raw? It begins with stomach cramps, diarrhea and nausea before progressing on to ER visits and, yes, death. Okay, so no deaths have been officially reported but there are plenty breathless warnings like this one:
PLEASE do not eat Raw kidney beans…they are TOXIC and you may end up in the hospital…..please look at googled sites….U.S. FDA and Atlanta center for deisease control……folks have DIED in UK for undercooked/uncooked kidney beans, both red and white!!!!!!!!!
Do you see that? That’s nine exclamation points on that bad boy. And you know what nine exclamation points means. They are like, totally, super serious, not, like, making this up, okay??????
I panicked. And I did what everyone who thinks they are going to die (albeit of the world’s stupidest cause of death ever) does. I called my sister.
“I’m sure you’re fine.”
“No seriously, I ate raw beans.”
“So? You used to eat bags of raw pasta when you were pregnant with your first. (True story.) Last I checked, being weird isn’t a fatal condition, just inconvenient on first dates and your husband married you anyways so I think you’re safe.”
Har, har. “For realz. Go google it. It says“:
Beans have the glycoprotein lectin named phytohaemagglutinin in various concentrations, depending on the cultivar or variety. The red kidney bean has the highest concentration of this lectin compound. Raw kidney beans have 20,000 to 70,000 toxin units, while fully cooked beans have only 200 to 400 toxin units. Undercooked beans may have up to 5 times the toxicity of raw beans.
Consumption of raw or undercooked beans can result in a severely debilitating illness.
Symptoms start within one to three hours of consumption of raw or undercooked kidney beans. The symptoms are extreme nausea followed by severe vomiting followed within one to a few hours with diarrhea and for some people, abdominal pain. Recovery is usually within three to four hours after the symptoms start.
All people are susceptible, regardless of age or gender. Severity of the symptoms is dose related. Eating as few as four or five raw soaked beans can cause symptoms. Confirmation of diagnosis of the disease is by observing the hemagglutination of red blood cells.
“Okay, so you vomit a lot. We used to do that for fun, remember?” (Ah, cracking jokes about our eating disordered history. Good times!)
“And then I DIE.” I will not be reassured. “It says I can get sick from as few as 5 beans!”
“How many did you eat?”
I panicked. I couldn’t remember. “I don’t know. At least 50.”
“50?!? Who eats 50 raw beans? You are so weird.”
“Yeah, I know. We covered that. What do I do?”
“Well how do you feel?”
I felt fine until she asked me that. Then of course my stomach seized up. “My stomach hurts!” I gasped.
“You just did that to yourself.”
“I did not! It’s the beans!”
“Have you eaten raw beans before?”
“And have you ever died before?”
Ahem. “Okay, fine.”
“Well have you?”
“Have they ever made you sick?”
“Nothing Bean-o or some papaya tablets couldn’t cure.”
“Case closed then. You’ll live. Now do your dishes.” (Can you tell we talk every day? She even knows when I do my dishes!)
“Okay but first can we talk about my cyst on my back that used to be gigantic but now thanks to the miracle of antibiotics just looks like the World’s Worst Hickey and I wore a tank top to the gym yesterday and now everyone thinks my husband has a shoulder fetish?”
“You did what?? You are so…”
“Weird.” I know.
Help me feel better! Any of you have socially unacceptable food cravings? Did you eat glue and like it? Play-Doh? Heaven help me – bingo pinto beans?!? Anybody? Anyone else been attacked by their health food?