In the last two years, the factors driving global food insecurity and malnutrition—conflict, extreme weather phenomena, economic turmoil—have all intensified, and over 11% of the world faces severe levels of food insecurity.1 Numerous regions in Pakistan, a country home to more than 230 million people, have seen the loss of 70% of their crops because of flooding; regions where agriculture is the primary source of employment.2
This is further evidence of how the countries that contribute least to the climate crisis (Pakistan is responsible for 0.9% of global emissions, but has 3% of the world population) are those that suffer the worst consequences. 3 Food insecurity has worsened in areas where local production is at risk due to climate change, from Latin America to China. A study published by Nature in 2022 shows that the global food system fails to ensure food security and public health despite making food more accessible. 4 As ever, environmental and social sustainability are sacrificed for the sake of “economic development.”
Decisive political action is needed in order to enact systemic change. While we may often feel powerless in the face of these long-term, global issues, Slow Food encourages everyone to play whatever role they can in transforming the world. Together, we have the power to create the conditions for meaningful change and develop new models for the future. We can start by changing our own habits and calling on those around us to do the same, taking a step away from passive consumption and, as far as our means will allow, retaking control of our lives.
World Pulses Day is a great opportunity to take such a step. It’s no accident that, based on the benefits of pulses for the environment and public health, the chosen theme for this year’s World Pulses Day, on February 10, is “pulses for a sustainable future.” Indeed, pulses are one of our major allies in the fight for healthier, more sustainable and affordable diets for all.
So what are pulses? They’re the edible seeds of plants in the legume family, like peas, lentils, chickpeas and beans. Meatless Monday defines them as a “nutritional powerhouse” able to provide our daily requirement of protein and fibres, reduce our risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and give us all the vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy life; they’re also good for our gut microbiome and, therefore, our immune system.5 What’s more, pulses have a low glycemic index, contain little saturated fats content and are free of cholesterol.
Pulses are affordable and easy to grow in almost every part of the world, making them an invaluable tool in the global fight against malnutrition. The WHO estimates that worldwide there are 1.9 billion overweight or obese adults, while 462 million are underweight: raising awareness of the benefits of a pulse-rich diet will help us to face one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.6
But they’re not just good for us! Legumes fix nitrogen from the atmosphere in the soil, making it available to plants and therefore allowing farmers to reduce their use of synthetic fertilizers; this is a core principle of agroecology. The fact that pulses make the soil more fertile is particularly significant in areas where crop cultivation is hindered by soil fertility issues, as it doesn’t require many resources and can facilitate the growth of other plants.
Pulse cultivation has a low environmental footprint in terms of water usage and emissions.7 That’s why, according to the FAO, they are crucial for global food security: when cultivated in intercropping systems, drought-resistant and deep-rooted pulses can help deliver groundwater to other crops and increase the habitability of dry environments.8 And there’s more! Pulses are a long-lasting food, and can be stored for long periods of time without the need for refrigeration.
Slow Food has been promoting pulses for more than ten years through the Slow Beans network, uniting farmers, activists, cooks and everyone who is enthusiastic about legumes. As well as encouraging their production and consumption Slow Food also seeks to highlight and protect their immense biodiversity.
One example is Slow Food USA’s annual Plant a Seed campaign, which brought six amazing beans on board the Ark of Taste in 2022: Santa Maria Pinquito, Rockwell, Four Corners Gold, Cherokee Trail of Tears, Arikara Yellow and Hank’s Xtra Special Baking Bean. Each year they collect a cast of rare seeds to raise awareness on climate, health and food justice, and last year’s choice of beans led to a campaign of bean suppers all across the country! As Mara Welton, Director of Programs at Slow Food USA, told us: “The Plant a Seed campaign opens a door to learn about the distinctive and delicious foods on the Ark of Taste. The varieties of beans we chose taught us about climate adaptability, nutrition and food sovereignty. Expanding biodiversity in the garden not only provides engaged education, but also helps our lives be more delicious.”
It can be difficult to convey the concept of ‘eating biodiversity to save it’, but actions like this can make a significant contribution to improving our health, environment and food systems worldwide. That’s why, to celebrate World Pulses Day, Slow Food has called on its international network of cooks to add more pulses to their menus, raising awareness and reducing their impact one plate at a time. This change requires action from everyone, as well as the solid commitment of policy makers.
February 10 marks an increasingly important priority for Slow Food: to implement a fair protein transition towards agroecology. Pulses will play a key role in the many initiatives planned worldwide in 2023.
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