On pulses: The key to sustainable surviving

On pulses: The key to sustainable surviving

Source: CSIRO/Wikimedia Commons

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I recently was invited to attend and speak about the GW Food Institute’s work on sustainable diets at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) nomination ceremony for FAO Special Ambassador for the International Year of Pulses (IYP) 2016. Are you thinking about your pulse right now? The one that reminds you that you are alive? Well, we’re talking about a different kind of pulse. Pulses can help you and the environment stay alive, healthy and sustainable just like a heartbeat. In fact, you’ve probably eaten pulses in the past month. The FAO wants to spread awareness of the environmental and nutritional importance of these tiny, powerful foods, so they’ve dedicated this year to promoting them.

Joyce Boye, the FAO Special Ambassador for the IYP for North America and the Director of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada organization, shared a comprehensive explanation of the importance of pulses: they are full of Protein, have diverse Uses, promote healthy Living, are Sustainable, good for the Environment, and provide food Security. 

So what are they? Pulses are an ancient plant species that can add nitrogen to the soil, maintain their protein and essential amino acid rich content throughout their long shelf life, and survive with little maintenance or resources. They belong to the Leguminosas family and many people will recognize a variety of pulses as legumes. I won’t list every pulse in the world, but a few popular varieties include dry beans such as cannellini, pinto, navy, and mung, lentils, chickpeas, and broad beans. The FAO notes that although soybeans, fresh peas, green beans, and alfalfa are taxonomically considered pulses, the FAO categorizes them as vegetables instead.

In addition to an in depth explanation of pulses, FAO’s book “Pulses: Nutritious seeds for a Sustainable Future,” includes recipes of pulses from 10 renowned chefs across the globe. The highlighted chef from the United States was Ron Pickarski, executive chef of Eco-Cuisine Inc. in Boulder, Colorado, and author of “The Classical Vegetarian Cookbook.” Still not convinced that pulses are superheroes? Check out this tasty recipe from Ron Pickarski.

Cannellini Bean Polenta Loaf

Serves: 6 entree servings or 12 side dish servings


170g finely diced onions

170g finely diced red bell pepper

1 tbsp minced fresh garlic

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

115g pitted and chopped Kalamata olives

1 tbsp fennel seeds

450g cannellini beans

1 ½ c yellow cornmeal

3 ½ c water

1 tsp salt

55g chopped fresh cilantro


  1. Place the oil in a 3-quart sauce pan; add the onions, red bell peppers, garlic, cilantro, fennel, and salt.
  2. Saute over medium heat for 8 minutes, or until onions are transparent. Add the water and cornmeal. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the mixture is soft and thick.
  3. Stir in the beans and olives.
  4. Serve and enjoy!

— Kathleen Merrigan, GW Food Institute Director


This story was shared with permission from the GW Food Institute Commentary section. Learn more about the GW Food Institute.

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