A state legume and Black History Month

Published 11:14 am Monday, March 14, 2022

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By BETH CHAPMAN | Guest Columnist

So, one-third of the 2022 Regular Session of the legislature is now complete. What remains to be discussed are controversial things such as gambling, school choice, permitless carry and a transgender bathroom bill. All four are as controversial as can be.

But legislation was introduced last week, which is much more educational and light-hearted, and Alabamians need something more educational and light-hearted. Legislation was introduced that would name the peanut the official state legume. So why not the state nut? We have plenty of those. Because the peanut isn’t a nut. It’s a legume.

A legume is a seed, pod, or other edible parts of a leguminous plant, used as food, especially grown as a crop. It’s a member of the pea family. Thus, the naming of the state legume should be a peanut since 50% of all peanuts grown in the entire U.S. are grown within a 100-mile radius of Dothan.

This is important for Alabama because Americans consume 700 million pounds of peanut butter each year, not to mention tons and tons of peanuts eaten for snacks or mixed with your favorite chocolate and or caramel to create candy and confections.

How much is 700 million pounds of peanut butter? It’s enough to cover the bottom of the Grand Canyon. So, here’s to Alabama’s 900 peanut farmers and the Alabama Peanut Producers Association. They deserve to have their crop officially recognized by our state.

I was taught in school to believe that Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute Professor, and famous inventor, George Washington Carver invented peanut butter, but contrary to my education, he did not. However, he was the most prominent black scientist of the early 20th century and discovered over 300 uses for peanuts including chili sauce, shampoo, shaving cream and even glue.

While teaching at Tuskegee Institute, Carver discovered how to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings of cotton. He encouraged poor farmers to grow non-traditional crops, such as sweet potatoes (now our state vegetable) and of course, you guessed it – peanuts. Carver wanted people to improve the quality of their lives by planting foods that were healthy for them that they could harvest themselves. He also published 44 practical bulletins for farmers, which had more than 100 recipes that used peanuts.
Even though Carver didn’t invent peanut butter, he did invent so many other things that in 1941, Time magazine titled him a “Black Leonardo.”

Now, this column may never win a Pulitzer Prize, but it did manage to explain what a legume is and marry the subjects of peanuts and Black History Month together. That’s not an easy thing to do.