The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has been on a roll lately with important and inspired yearly foci. After last year’s Year of the Soils, 2016 highlights a much-neglected food group: Pulses.
I would venture to guess that it is so neglected that many people don’t even know what it refers to – which is unfortunate in its own right – so here it is, plain and simple: Beans. Beans in all their shapes and forms. Lentils, chickpeas, edamame, kidney and black beans, and the list goes on …
Why are they so important? They are an excellent and cheap source of plant-based protein and fiber, supremely healthy, and also great for the environment: Pulses are highly water efficient, especially in comparison to other sources of protein. For instance, one kilogram of cooked beef requires 10 times as much water than 1 kilogram of lentil daal. Furthermore, when farmers plant legumes such as bean and lentil plants, the plants fix nitrogen in the soil, helping the farmer to improve the soil quality without chemical fertilizers.
In celebration of the International Year of Pulses, here are three ways to engage with this crop:
1.Watch! The website Pulses.org has launched an awesome initiative where farmers from around the world present themselves, their farm and why they grow pulses. It’s really astonishing how well our world is connected now if we just take advantage and listen to one another. It was a curious pleasure for me to see how people in Japan, Argentina and Australia are wandering over their plots, speaking different languages and in completely different circumstances, yet all hauntingly similar in their effort to protect their land and make a good living. Definitely recommended, and check it out throughout the year as there are likely to be more videos to come!
2. To discover more of the environmental benefits and landscape changes more demand for pulses can spearhead, read the enlightening “Lentil Underground” by Liz Carlisle.
As Montana farmers tried to safeguard their livelihoods in the American heartland, they discovered that focusing on selling the seeds of their rotating cover crop – lentils – could provide them with an additional source of income and allow them to use more resilient farming practices. The book paints a vivid story of how much effort it takes to circumvent an old system and invent a new one – and how the ideals of some individuals can, with lots of elbow grease, blossom into new realities. Definitely worth a read!
3. Eat! In Costa Rica, beans are so popular they are (literally) eaten for all three meals. Breakfast is gallo pinto, rice and black beans mixed and fried up with cilantro and onions; lunch is casado, an assortment of black or kidney beans, rice, a meat and vegetables; and you can have the same for dinner, or maybe plantain fritters with refried beans, or the Caribbean ‘rice & beans’ with coconut milk?
Other countries, too, embrace the humble bean much more than the average European or American. In Africa, 18% of diets are made up of starchy roots and pulses, and in Oceania, it’s 17% compared to the 4-5% of the Northern hemisphere. This correlates with much healthier diets, on a world map where for once most of the African continent is greener than the rest of the globe.