Launching the initiative at the UN in Rome earlier this month, the director-general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, José Graziano da Silva, said while pulses have been eaten for centuries – they come in hundreds of varieties and were as popular with the pharaohs as they were with Iron Age Britons – their value across a broad range of categories is often underappreciated.
And given that three-quarters of the agricultural land on the planet is given over to raising livestock, and a third of all cereal crops go to feed animals rather than humans, there has never been a better time to promote pulses.
Rich in fibre, zinc, B-vitamins, iron and protein, pulses are the perfect meat substitute for a Meat Free Monday and beyond. The NHS even recommends omnivores add them to casseroles and soups so less meat can be used, making dishes far healthier.
In poorer parts of the world, pulses have a major part to play in improving diets; they contain twice and three times as much protein as wheat and rice respectively, and as a protein source are five times cheaper than milk. They also more than do their bit for the planet. Growing pulse crops fixes nitrogen in soil, making it healthier, more fertile and more biodiverse, and reducing the need for synthetic fertilisers. Residual crop can be used as an animal feed. As UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon made clear in a statement at the launch of the initiative: “Pulses can contribute significantly in addressing hunger, food security, malnutrition, environmental challenges and human health.”
The Year of Pulses will officially kick off on January 6: International Pulse Feast Day. And among a series of high-profile events planned worldwide will be the London Falafel Festival, held on 1 May in Borough Market, south London, where Lebanese, Israeli, Egyptian and British vendors will compete in a “falafel-off” to discover the best recipe.
If all this has set your pulse racing and got you racing for the pulses then why not try a simple but delicious falafel recipe, created by The Gate Restaurant to celebrate International year of Pulses.