Another Year for Food Songs

Long time readers of the blog know that September and January are thematic months. Ever since 2011, we’ve dedicated Januarys to “food ethics icons” and we’ve done something special with September, too. Last year we took off from a theme that we had followed for the preceding three years to celebrate a series of “food flics”. This year we are going back to the theme of food songs. For most of the food songs blogs, we’ve picked a song with lyrics that make some prominent reference to food. Once you get beyond Jimmy Buffet’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” it gets surprisingly hard to come up with them, but there are in fact a bunch of them out there. These blogs are not intended to be taken too seriously, by the way. It’s a kind of discipline by undisciplined frivolity, if you will.

So on those lines, we’ll start this September by recalling a couple of mid-summer blogs we did on the Johnny Cash song “Beans for Breakfast.” As we noted back in July, the song came up as the result of a little bit of desperate web-surfing. When I listened to a U-Tube version of the song, I recalled hearing it, but just barely. It’s not actually about beans, but very few of the food songs we’ve surveyed over the years actually are about food the way that Buffet’s “Cheeseburger” song is. Most of them are about sex. Cash’s “Beans for Breakfast” is about eating beans from a can because his woman has walked out on him. And the song is pretty clear in painting a picture that suggests she was fully justified in walking out on him. But the overall thrust of the song is that when things are right with the world, a man can expect his woman to make breakfast for him, and to clean up the dishes afterwards.

Now this is not a “feminist friendly” message, to be sure. So while I would like to bring the existence of “Beans for Breakfast” to the attention of those who, like me, collect songs that make prominent reference to food for our next foodie adventure party, I’d like to reverse field and mention another song about beans that Cash recorded, this one by Joe Tex. It’s called “Look at them Beans!” and I don’t think I ever heard it played on the radio. Of course it’s not about food (or beans) either, but it does set up the theme of a farmer who dies before he has the chance to ever see the bumper crop he always hoped for come into being. The crop he’s thinking about is actually his children, rather than beans, but the song does have this rather direct chorus:

Hey, look at them beans, and look at that corn, and I bet those watermelons must be three feet long.

Man, look them tomatoes and look at them peas! Well, if papa was here right now he sure be pleased.

And that’s enough to make it a food song.

Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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