June 6, 2016
It’s official. The 68th UN General Assembly just recently named 2016 the International Year of Pulses (IYP)! Last year, the same General Assembly declared 2015 as both the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies and the International Year of Soils, so it makes me happy to see that with the declaration of the IYP, we will continue to build directly on the 2015 efforts surrounding soil. I think it’s such a beautiful thing to see this year starting off on such a positive environmental note, first with the Paris Agreement calling for heightened environmental awareness, consciousness, and responsibility, and now with more attention being called towards pulses and the sustainable production of such.
The first time I heard about this declaration, I assumed this was referencing a need to draw more attention to heart health, and encourage individuals to monitor their heart health (via checking their pulses) more frequently. Embarrassing, I know. But for all you smart cookies out there, you probably already know that the term pulses, refers to dried legumes. While a legume can be simply defined as a type of plant with seeds that grow in long cases called pods, a pulse on the other hand, specifically refers to the dried seed found inside the pod. The most common pulses you’re probably familiar with would be beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas, though many others fall under these four categories.
So what’s the big deal about these things anyways, and why is 2016 being declared the year of pulses? Let me give you the run down.
#1: Sustainable Food Production
One of the things that make pulses so attractive to environmentalists is their nitrogen-fixing capability, and I will attempt to explain this in the least scientific way possible, so I don’t lose you. Nitrogen is undoubtedly the most important ingredient or factor when it comes to producing crops, and this poses huge problems for the environment because fossil fuels are essential to creating nitrogen fertilizer. More simply put, the crop production process is heavily contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, and furthering environmental destruction through its use of nitrogen. What makes pulses so special is that through their biological process, they are actually able to extract the majority of the nitrogen necessary for their growth, from the air. Through this same process, pulses are then able to add nitrogen to the soil, significantly slashing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer needed! As a result of this process, Pulse Canada notes that pulses use half the non-renewable energy inputs of other crops!
In regards to soil management, their biological process also aids in enhancing soil fertilization for surrounding crops in the same rotation. Statistics Canada also notes that growing pulses in rotation with other grains and oilseeds can disrupt disease and insect cycles as well. But the buck doesn’t stop here! Pulses are extremely easy and inexpensive to produce, plus their production doesn’t require large plots of lands, which helps farmers produce a lot more, on less land. Therefore, it is easy to see why it makes so much sense for the UN General Assembly to dedicate increased efforts towards drawing attention to pulses, because of the environmental sustainability aspect.
#2: Food Security
This is directly tied to my above mention of the General Assembly’s 2015 efforts to increase awareness surrounding soil, when it named 2015 the Year of Soils. In a paper published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, author Sara J. Scherr (1999) notes:
“Pulses, because of their role in improving sustainability, notably through soil management, also impact food security. Soil degradation is a major threat to food security in many areas. Africa is particularly impacted by soil degradation, yet pulses are part of traditional diets and often grown by small farmers. By improving the crop patterns using pulses, farmers can improve their yields and limit the long-term threat to food security that soil degradation represents.“
Scherr’s findings also led her to put forth the notion that pulses aid not only the nutrition of humans, but also of animals. Scherr noted that by including pulses in the diet of animals, this also contributes to producing healthier livestock, which also works to further enhance food security. This also leads directly to my next point – nutrition!
Similar to my post about Matcha, the more you learn about pulses; the more you start to think “it’s almost as though pulses sound too good to be true”. Pulses have been proven to aid in illness prevention of serious diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer because of their ability to lower blood cholesterol and attenuate blood glucose. Further, these guys provide an excellent source of protein, they are low in fat, and packed with iron, zinc, phosphorous and fibre (which many of our diets fall short of providing). Beans also act as excellent source of B vitamins. Vitamin B is a crucial staple needed in all diets, seeing as vitamin B deficiency can lead to all sorts of nasty things like anemia, depression, anxiety, poor memory and concentration, poor skin, irregular heartbeat, which we obviously want to steer clear of!
Moreover, because pulses provide an excellent source of protein, they also act as the perfect alternative to red meat. I briefly noted this in my tips for Earth Day, but I will also mention it in this post because it is something that is extremely important. Reducing the amount of meat in your diet (even if it’s only once a week) can REALLY help the environment a lot more than you think. The meat industry requires so much energy, and to put this into perspective, 1 pound of beef actually requires the use of 1,799 gallons of water. Yes. GALLONS. If you were to swap out meat at least once a week, and substitute pulses instead, you would not only be helping the environment and contributing to environmental sustainability. Your body would also be reaping a number of nutritional benefits as well. Bringing awareness to the nutritional value, and encouraging everyone to make a conscious effort to include more of them in their diet, is one of the core aims of the General Assembly.
Below I’ve compiled a couple of links you can check out if you’re interested in learning more about pulses. Before I sign off, I also want to share one of my favourite pulse recipe with all of you! Be sure to check it out because it is amazing. I hope after reading this post, you too, are encouraged to include pulses in your diet more frequently. Happy Monday to you all, and I wish you a happy and healthy week ahead!
- Pulse Canada – http://www.pulsecanada.com/food-health/recipes/
- Pulse Pledge – https://pulsepledge.com/pulse-recipes/
- USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council – http://www.cookingwithpulses.com/all-recipes/
- “Pulse: Truly Modern Recipes for Beans, Chickpeas and Lentils, to Tempt Meat Eaters and Vegetarians Alike” Cookbook – https://www.amazon.ca/Pulse-Recipes-Chickpeas-Lentils-Vegetarians/dp/1862059861
Additional Information on Pulses:
- Global Pulse Confederation – http://iyp2016.org/
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (Resources, Recipes, Fact Sheets, Infographics) – http://www.fao.org/pulses-2016/about/en/
- BBC Food (Preparing, Buying, Storing) – http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/pulse
- World Wildlife Fund (Sustainability and Nutrition) – https://blogs.wwf.org.uk/blog/green-sustainable-living/green-sustainable-living-food/pulses-good-for-you-and-good-for-the-planet/
- Pulse Canada (Pulse Production Lowering Carbon Footprint) – http://www.pulsecanada.com/environment/sustainability/low-carbon-footprint