Thursday is the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi — you know, the Italian saint who had a thing for animals. So how do we celebrate? The way St. Francis would, by honoring our animal friends and eating beans.
Everyone loves St. Francis, and no wonder — there’s something compelling about a big-hearted guy who counted the birds and beasts among his open-air parishioners and friends.
In remembrance of St. Francis, people bring their dogs and cats, birds and iguanas to church to receive the blessing of the animals. It’s a joyful, often boisterous celebration that reminds us of St. Francis’ message — all creatures are sacred.
Sounds good, but it can be a hard thing to remember. Each year, 10 billion farm animals get eaten, not blessed.
This brings us to beans. It’s nice to think St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and the environment, preached to the animals and refrained from eating them. Perhaps he was a vegetarian, but we know for sure he preferred a diet of simple food and kept a vow of poverty. Chances are he ate a lot of beans.
Long considered the poor man’s meat, beans could do with some rebranding. They offer major nutrition by way of fiber (meat has zero), protein and iron. You can’t dine better for less than you can with a bowl of beans, especially in Umbria, the region St. Francis called home.
Umbria is known for its particularly fine brown lentils. They keep their shape during cooking, have a rich, earthy flavor and a satisfying texture. In neighboring Tuscany, beans inspire a kind of passion. The people refer to themselves by the fond nickname mangia fagioli — bean eaters.
You don’t have to be Tuscan to be a mangia fagioli. You don’t have to be a saint to honor animals. The easiest, kindest thing to do is to keep them off your plate. Pass the beans and pass on the beasts.