Food Symbols: Sharing the Independence Bean

Food Reenactment Methodology  


It’s hard to detach our thoughts from the war behind our Eastern border. We’re trying to minimize its effects through our aid activities in Poland, here in our ‘backyard’. Networking shows how important cooperation is. It refers to many other countries, regions, and nations that constantly go through struggles, wars, conflicts and need support for their refugees.  We must do our job, and help others work too, wherever it is still peaceful. Nowadays, it is appreciated the most. 

There is peace in Poland. In the sense that there is no war, but in our hearts, we’re always with those who suffer. Her refugees find shelter and care with us, but most of all, they are welcomed with empathy and understanding, because we have gone through this more than once as a nation. Just like many other countries and communities that have experienced aggression and attempts of extinction. 

Food is closely related to this subject. During the war, food becomes a medium of unique comfort, especially for children. 

We need to appreciate peace and share it with all the refugees, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, skin color, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, age, profession, etc. We, all the people, have the right to feel safe. Yet it’s a fragile state. 

Here in Poland, we have to remain strong to help the refugees. They don’t need to see us crying or in panic, they are already coping with a tragedy of their own. 

It may seem trivial to some, but sometimes simple things can build up a sense of safety. Comfort food is one of those things. Breakfast, lunch, snack, 5 o’clock tea&biscuit, dinner, supper – whatever you call it, makes you feel safe, as long as it’s a daily routine in a peaceful venue. 

These days, food safety and food comfort appear to be basic values of life. And I am not referring to food banks filled with choco bars (palm oil), noodles & grouts (glyphosate), sweets & bakes (synthetic food dyes & emulsifiers), tins & jars (industrial preserves), PET water (plastics), and many other.

It’s sad when the worst products go to those in vulnerable conditions, who need the most beneficial foods & drinks, kilos of industrial products intaken and tones of garbage flow around. Yet when I say comfort food, it is about the homemade meals that we share with refugees at one table, in our homes, and other numerous places.  

When you think of comfort, you also think of food.

We need to take care of all the children first to minimize their war trauma. The good, ordinary routines and peaceful moments are a necessity for all the families coming to Poland, cut off from those who stayed behind to defend their lands. 

The freshly cooked Independence Bean (PFO bean) holds a double symbolic meaning, even if its origins are in the past. The invasion of three empires on Poland in the 18th century ended with three devastating partitions of our country. Many years of occupation followed. Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for quite a while. Reminding us of what the aggressors might be capable of. Also calling for the protection of the symbols, the food symbols on top.  

This bean -known as the Polish Eagle Bean or the Independence Bean- was a product of the national liberating call. Its consumption became an act of patriotism, freedom, sovereignty, strength, national awareness, and existence. Peasant families couldn’t do much against foreign invasions. But they could secretly grow this bean as an act of patriotism, even facing the danger of prison or lash penalty.  

It was not only about the political uprise, but also about a mental, social, dietary, and economic one. Symbols matter to humans as long as we can express their meanings. That’s what the Food Reenactment Methodology is about: it’s not simply about a dish, let’s say, preindustrial soup, it is mainly about the idea of consumption, restrictions, and associations that stood or keep standing behind that simple soup and its ingredients. 

Food symbols carry intellectual and spiritual content, supporting the national, ethnic, or communal spirit. That’s why this bean, its sisters, and cousins have always been matched with deep symbolic meaning. In Brazil – holy spirit, in Latvia – angel, in Poland – coat of arms, in Sicily – tender body. 

Many cultures, ethnic groups, or nations have their food symbols that are a tool of spirituality, policy, or activism, to list just several, only one per each (some are also typical for other groups): 

  • Ainu – salmon, 
  • Armenians – lavash, 
  • Noonga – woorine, 
  • Azteks – maize, 
  • Burkina Faso – moré, 
  • Euskaldunak – talo, 
  • Boyko – kutia, 
  • Guarani – carrulim, 
  • Hopi – piki, 
  • Hutsuls – banush, 
  • Inuits – seal, 
  • Irish – beer, 
  • Lemko – kyselyca, 
  • Sami – reindeer, 
  • Scottsh – haggis, 
  • Ukrainians – borscht, 

…and many many more.

This huge gastro variety is a marvelous treasure of our humankind. It’s being cherished and protected via the Slow Food Ark of Taste project. 

 We are far from nationalism. We stand firmly against it. However, many cosmopolitans define our passion for promoting the local goods as such. 

If the consciousness of territorial, regional, ethnic, or national matters were not part of someone’s upbringing, it would be hard for them to understand the idea of ​​locality and respect for social diversity, creating a vision of ‘neutral/nondescript’ colors. Understanding requires knowledge first. 

The Slow Food network we are part of has always underlined appreciation and support of the achievements of all countries. This is the idea, the purpose, the reason, and the driving force. There is a subtle, yet simple difference between nationalism versus “locality in globality” and what we do. Nationalism blunts foreign achievements, but we do appreciate and respect them as our own.

Again these days, five liters of PFO beans, cooked for the members of our Slow Koop cooperative, are deeply symbolic. A lot of people woke up and only now understood what the PFO bean means and why it’s been the Slow Food Ark of Taste product. Only in Poland, this bean has this symbolism: national liberation. We offered it to our friends’ refugees, guests in our Polish houses. 

  • You can read the full story of PFO bean in our food monograph, the one of a kind, in English, clicking HERE  
  •  This text is the 2nd episode of our series we tag as #FoodReenactmentMethodology You may read the opening episode HERE 

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