Sometimes, cooking is book research.

The things I do in the name of research for writing a novel…

Fact: There is only one way to get complete, adequately bio-available protein from a non-animal source, and that’s to eat corn, beans, and squash cooked together. (You have to cook them in the same pot, not just eat them in the same meal.)

Fiction-related fact: If you happen to find yourself alone (for all practical purposes) on a starship that’s a long way from any planet, and you have to grow your own food because there wasn’t enough stored to last the five decades or more it’s gonna take you to get back to the planet you came from, you probably want to start growing corn, beans, and squash hydroponically/aeroponically (the latter is usually better) and eating them every day so you don’t die of severe protein deficiency.

Five decades with no coffee (not that he needs it in this situation), and having to eat corn, beans, and squash every day… Yeah. Maybe it’s not the isolation that drives him insane.

Anyway. I tried the “pseudo-coffee” (the stuff made mostly of roasted chicory root) as research, so why not this, too? It’s not as if Paul can do it himself anyway: he’s allergic to squash. (Also, the fictional person who had/has/will have to subsist on a vegan diet for decades is one of my imaginary friends, so it’s my responsibility to do background research for him. It’s his fault I have a psychological “addiction” to coffee, intermittent cynophobia, and a current, mild “obsesssion” with Craftsman-style houses. Okay, so the coffee habit and the cynophobia could both be blamed on my former friend Blue… *mutters something about making necessary changes to character backstory* Don’t you just hate it when someone mentally broadcasts their anxiety attack while you’re only a few miles away and trying to sleep? It’s an even worse habit than tangenting in a blog post…)

…And just a few minutes ago, I thought to look up some of the other important nutritional details about these vegetables. As it turns out, one serving of black beans has twenty percent of the iron a normal adult human needs for the day.

The one of the key words in the previous sentence is human. (Unless you follow my blog only for the grammar posts, you know that many of the characters in the stories I and my clone-sibling write aren’t the same species as us.)

The soup I made last week is good for me, but for the fictional person who’s the reason I did this bit of “research” in the first place… Not so much. If he’s lucky, one serving of this veggie combo will have only thirty percent of the iron someone like me would need, which may still be a bit too much for his health. The bio-availability of iron in plants isn’t high, compared to meat, but that doesn’t matter for our purposes; the fact that it’s there at all could be a real problem.


About Thomas Weaver

For several years, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom (editor). I'm physically disabled, and I currently live with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have eight cats. I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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8 Responses to Sometimes, cooking is book research.

  1. I find it interesting that you’re not also allergic to squash. I thought allergies were a genetic thing.
    In the combo, does it have to be a specific squash or will any variety work? Ya know, just in case I find myself in that situation…

    Liked by 3 people

    • There’s at least some component of allergies that’s environmental rather than genetic, and Paul and I weren’t raised in the same envoronment. I spent most of my life NOT allergic to tomatoes, and even now, it’s so mild that I can still eat raw Roma tomatoes (the variety with the least “nightshade” in ’em) occasionally. Paul is very allergic to raw tomatoes, because when he was a kid, he was forced to eat the ones he’s especially allergic to. I’m allergic to honey, but Paul isn’t. (He’s allergic to bee stings; I’m not.) We’re both allergic to green beans. He’s allergic to mushrooms, but I’m not.

      As for what kind of squash to use (I should post the recipe), I used butternut, but you can use whatever you prefer. Acorn squash would probably be tasty, for example.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. There’s still going to be a serious Vitamin B-12 deficiency problem with that diet, because B-12 is only available from animal sources. Deficiency makes for a relatively short, nasty life and an even worse death. Take it from me, you don’t want to wish that consequence on anybody, not even on imaginary friends. (I have pernicious anemia, the autoimmune disease form of B-12 deficiency, and today was my weekly self-administered vitamin shot day; not a bad injection, as such things go, but a minor lifelong nuisance, although much preferable to the alternative.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. M. Oniker says:

    Cook the soup in a cast iron pot? Probably not available on a starship, but with a lot of time on his hands, it might be a thought of something he could cobble together.


    • This is the recipe I used as a starting point:

      I used dried beans (soaked overnight before cooking) instead of canned beans (and a mix of black and kidney beans instead of just black beans). Frozen butternut squash and corn instead of fresh because it was easier (I know how to butcher a squash, but that doens’t mean I want to). Dried basil instead of fresh (’cause that’s A LOT of basil). Instead of messing with cooking the onion and peppers in oil before adding ’em to the rest of the ingredients, I just chopped them up and threw them in at the beginning (and I used an orange bell pepper instead of a red one — the grocery store was out of red). This also fits with my usual way of making any kind of soup: chop up the major ingredients (vegetables and meat), throw ’em all in a pot with water (plus milk, if it’s fish chowder) and whatever seasonings I feel like using that time, and cook until done.

      The flavor was all right, but sweeter than I expected, and not as spicy/hot as I’d expected because of the paprika. After eating it plain once, I decided to enhance it with a bit of mild salsa (Tostitos brand) that I had in the fridge. THAT was really tasty.

      Liked by 1 person

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