Where Y’Eat: Why Red Beans and Rice is the Dish for These Times

Jul 16, 2020

I looked into the pot of Monday red beans simmering on my stove and felt a twinge of envy. There they were, hundreds of them, all clustered together. The beans had more company than I’ve seen in weeks. Maybe it’s silly to envy your own supper, but I miss the closeness of a New Orleans crowd.

So often when we gather in this town, it’s around some creation of our own culture, our music and festivals and parades, the social rituals of our restaurants and barrooms.

Red beans and rice is part of that culture, and while my envy over the stove was whimsy, my gratitude for what this dish gives us has never run deeper.

Red beans and rice is a dish for these times if ever there was one. That’s because even when we eat it alone, we partake in the shared strength of a community. It is the edible epitome of standing together, apart.

People have been stretching red beans in lean times for ages. Monday’s red beans can still be Thursday’s salvation after all.

And yet, the same dish is on the table when we’re celebrating, too. It’s a standby when you’re feeding a gang and want something that tastes like home.

Now more than ever, this is a dish of benevolence and mutual support. I’ve been seeing it everywhere in these onerous times, helping keep food on the table for people in need and expressing solidarity, something we all need.

This crisis demands heart and grit as we set aside what normally sustains us, our close ties, our interwoven cultural practices, even, for many, our means of earning a living. But while standing apart, recognizing what we still share can sustain that heart and grit.

That is the gift of food when it's imbued with our stories and shared history, enriched by the fortitude we’ve drawn from it before and the generosity we’ve conveyed through it so often in the past. That is what makes red beans and rice such a powerhouse.

When the chips are down, we can still count on our beans.