I have been growing and talking about the value of pulses — dried peas and beans, chickpeas, favas and lentils — for 30 years, and remain more convinced than ever that they could help renew the health of our planet.
Pulses are tried and true — people in temperate climates have been growing and eating them for more than 10,000 years. Nutritional powerhouses, pulses are still the most essential part of the diets of billions of people worldwide.
Belonging to the amazing and prolific legume plant family (Leguminosae or Fabaceae), pulses can snatch nitrogen out of the air and add it to the earth. Because of this powerful ability to increase the fertility of soil by simply growing in it, they are the epitome of renewable energy.
Growing and Eating Pulses
Easy to grow and prepare, dried peas and beans, chickpeas, favas and lentils can be cooked in a seemingly infinite variety of simple and delicious ways and offer much culinary delight because of their diverse tastes and textures. Cultures around the world have created special dishes for all of the pulses.
The surprising news is that even though most North Americans don’t know beans about beans, our farmers grow vast acreages of pulses to export to millions of people who do appreciate them. And while Canada is the world’s largest exporter of pulses, Canadians consume less than 10 percent of what their farmers grow.
It is time for Canadians and Americans to realize that pulses — flexible enough to be prepared in hundreds of memorable ways for breakfast, lunch or dinner — could and should comprise a much larger portion of our daily diet. And in addition to buying pulses from our local farmers, we can grow them ourselves easily — and organically.
Of all the thousands of years seeds have been handed from farmer to farmer, it’s only in the past 50 or so that poisons have been used to grow food. We are at a crucial moment in our story when it is absolutely vital that we return to feeding everyone with clean food and water instead of continuing to play havoc with the health and well-being of ourselves and all the earth’s creatures.
Pulses can be easily grown without herbicides and pesticides if we size down the North American model of industrial agriculture.
To this day, millions of small farmers grow beans without chemicals. And I have been growing beans myself successfully for 30 years without ever resorting to poisons. Pulses are also light on water, increasingly important on this planet where drought is becoming more and more a daily concern.
Pulses’ Role in Sustainable Agriculture
Being the nutrient-dense and easy-to-grow foods that they are, pulses can point us in the direction of a safe and sustainable agriculture that gives everyone access to clean food and water, along with the possibility of living in health, harmony and mutual benefit.
Renewable energy is everywhere, every day for the celebrating. Pulse plants can show the way by enabling humans to be renewed by our daily food. Like the pulses within our bodies, they are slow and deep and at the heart of things.
Pulses require between 20 to 40 times less fossil fuel to produce than meat, yet they provide incredible protein and nourishment. And meanwhile, these same pulses regenerate our earth, nourishing the soil that nourishes our food.
I hope this post shows how much power there can be in a handful of beans, and how much delight there is to be had in growing and cooking pulses.
Dan Jason is dedicated to popularizing beans as something North Americans should be growing and eating. When he started Salt Spring Seeds in 1986, he sold seed packets for a dozen bean varieties, plus quinoa and amaranth. Thirty years later, Dan is still selling those same crops, but now offers seeds for over 700 different herbs, vegetables, beans, grains and flowers. You can find Dans’ book The Power of Pulses on his website, and Saving Seeds as if Our Lives Depended on It in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store.
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