The Society for Acclimatization, France - Page 1

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

A Chapter from the Unpublished Manuscript, History of Soybeans and
Soyfoods, 1100 B.C. to the 1980s

©Copyright 2004 Soyfoods Center, Lafayette, Californi


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The first organization in the Western world to actively research and promote the use of soyfoods was the Society for Acclimatization in France. Between 1855 and 1880 they published more than 30 articles about soyfoods and soybean cultivation in their bulletin. Under the impetus of Monsieur de Montigny, the French consul in Shanghai, the Society began in 1855 to distribute to its members samples of soybean seeds from China. Culture studies were pursued until the War of 1870. Records of this work is found in many agricultural journals of the period, and especially in the Journal d'Agriculture and in the Society's bulletin.

From 1858 the Society prepared and studied the processes for cooking or preparing fresh green soybeans, tofu, fermented tofu, shoyu, soy coffee, and various other soyfoods. These were the first attempts to prepare such foods in the Western world. The Society was also the first to make written mention of a number of soyfoods including fermented tofu, yuba, fresh green soybeans, and soy oil?? The Society generally exerted great efforts in introducing soyfoods and soybeans into Europe. In many ways, they were 50-100 years ahead of their time, doing much the same type of work that Seventh-day Adventists were doing in America in the 1930s and that the Soyfoods movement was doing in the 1970s and 1980s. The publication in 1880 of Le Soya by A. Paillieux marks a major milestone in soya history.

Paris late 1800s Arc de triomphe

The Society and French Interest in Soy. The Societe Zoologique d'Acclimatation was founded on 10 February 1854 in Paris, France. The earliest impetus for the society's establishment was the publication in 1849 of a book entitled Sur la Naturalization des Animaux Utiles (On the Naturalization of Useful Animals) by Mr. Isidore Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, who became the Society's first president. In 1854 the Society began publication of its excellent Bulletin (Bulletin de la Societe Zoologique d'Acclimatation); in 1948 the Bulletin's name was changed to La Terre et la Vie: Revue d'Ecologie Appliquee, changing with the needs of the times and the planet. It is still published today by the Societe Nationale de Protection de la Nature et d'Acclimatation de France (57, rue Cuvier; 75005, Paris).

The original goal of the Society was to introduce and adapt foreign animals (including birds and fish, both domesticated and wild) to the environment and climate of France. Almost immediately, however, it also took a strong interest in introducing new plants and by 1880 the Society's name had been shortened to La Societe d'Acclimatation, dropping the term "Zoologique."

There are various reasons that France was the first country in the West to take an active interest in soyfoods and soybeans. First, France was the first country in Europe to plant soybeans and experiment with their cultivation. Shortly after Comte de Buffon (Georges-Louis Leclerc; 1707-1788), a French naturalist, was appointed superintendent of the Royal Garden (Jardin du Roi, also called Jardin des Plantes) and the Cabinet du Roi (today's Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle), Paris, in 1739, French missionaries in China sent Buffon specimens and seeds of most of the important plants in that country. Soybeans or their seeds were almost certainly among their shipments, and would have been planted in 1739 or 1740, although there is no firm proof of this (Paillieux 1880). A sachet in the Cabinet du Roi dated 1779 proves that soybeans were definitely cultivated from that date. Other records show cultivation near Etampes, 30 miles southwest of Paris, in 1821 and almost continuously at the Jardin from 1834-1880 and thereafter. By contrast, soybeans did not come to be cultivated in Italy until 1840, in Germany and Austria until 1876, and other countries still later. Second, by the mid-1800s, France had a much more active interest and involvement in East Asia and its culture than other European nations. French missionaries (mainly Jesuits, Lazarites, or members of the Missions etrangers de Paris) had been in China since 1330, and Catholic missionaries had been in Vietnam since the 1620s. France had a colony in Cochin China, South Vietnam, since the 1860s, and ruled Indo-China from the 1880s (until 1945). By 1855 there were many French consuls and missionaries (the latter government supported until 1875) in China and Indo-China who sent back soybeans, soyfoods, and detailed reports on soyfood preparation to the Society, and urged the Society to experiment with and introduce these foods. Third, France, with its long tradition of making cheese and working with food fermentations, took an immediate interest in tofu (soy cheese), fermented tofu, and various fermented soyfoods such as soy sauce and miso. Fourth, France had a landed, leisure-class nobility, which, together with the East Asian consuls, played the key role in founding the Society for Acclimatization and introducing soyfoods to France.
Louis XIV had proclaimed that the French nobility must not work to earn their living. Since they owned land, they used their leisure time for gardening, managing their farms, hunting, and the like, all of which were directly related to the novel pastime of introducing exotic animals and plants from foreign countries.

It is particularly interesting and historically unusual that the Society for Acclimatization, at least until about 1880, attempted to introduce the soybean primarily for use as a food, following the traditional East Asian pattern, rather than primarily as an oilseed, to be converted into vegetable oil and animal fodder, the pattern that had become established in Europe and America by the early 20th century. Thus their work involved both agriculture (introducing the plant and encouraging farmers and horticultural groups to experiment with its cultivation) and food development (learning how to make traditional soyfoods and adapt them to French tastes).

It is curious to note that prior to 1880 the French, who don't eat beans much anyway, had great difficulty in choosing a name for the soybean. They didn't know whether to call it a bean (feve or haricot) or a pea (pois). It had the wrong shape for both a "feve," which is typically flat and oval like a broad bean (grosse feve) and for a "haricot," which is typically long, slender, and fresh like snap beans or French green beans (haricots verts), with kidney-shaped seeds. Since soybeans were small, round, and dry like dry peas, by the mid-1800s they were most widely referred to as a type of pea (pois), and specifically, because of their high oil content, as "oil peas" (pois oleagineux). By 1862 they were also occasionally referred to as Dolichos Soja (Linneaus' scientific name for them), Pois a Soja, pois soja, haricot soja, and soja hispida. Finally, in about 1880, to sidestep the awkward terms for "peas" and "beans" the French simply began to call them "le soja" or "le soya." Since the former of these two terms was also used to refer to "soy sauce," the latter term was finally adopted as the word for "soybean(s)," and is used to this day. It seems to have first appeared in Paillieux's article, "Le Soya," of 1880. Strangely, the term is used only in the title, on the first 2 pages, and in several section titles. Throughout the rest of the 1880 text, the term "le soja" is generally used. The term "Haricot Haberlandt" is also introduced.

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