So, the United Nations has declared 2016 to be the International Year of the Pulse! When I heard this announcement in the news last week, I mentioned it to my Mom; she was as perplexed as I was about it. We wondered what the big deal was. Don’t people eat pulses?
On a daily basis, my Mom speaks to the other “aunties” all over the world on Facetime. News of this quickly spread in my family and by the end of the day, the collective gaggle of aunties concluded that the United Nations had made this declaration so the world could eat like Indians!
What’s a Pulse?
A pulse is the edible seed of plants in the legume family – Dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas are the most common varieties of pulses. They are a staple in the diet of millions of people all over India.
Like most South Asian vegetarians, my Mom cooks with pulses, virtually daily. Our pantry always contains a colourful variety of them in glass jars; not a week goes by that we do not have one or another on the grocery list.
Some are whole and others are split. We make soups out of them and use them as a base for thick vegetable stews. We cook them with rice to make savoury porridge dishes, called khichdi. Some are ground into flours to make flat breads, called poodlas, and others are soaked and then blended into batters to make crepes, called dosas. And then, we have savoury cake-like dishes called dhoklas. We toss them in salads and stuff them in paratha breads. And yes, we serve them as breakfast cereals and snacks. In fact, what do you think papadoms are made from?
Seriously, we have so many recipes for pulses that cooking with them everyday is not a problem in our household. This has been the all-important source of protein in my diet for my entire life, as it has for my Mom and her mother before her.
We are the quintessential family the “bad hunter” joke was made for.
So, it was understandable that we remained unimpressed by this “big” announcement that brought celebrity chefs out in drones on TV and radio, beating the drums to herald in the International Year of the Pulse, an ingredient that is as commonplace in a South Asian kitchen as a can of baked beans, which by the way, is a pulse.
The Pulse Pledge
After my work was done, I made myself a cup of tea and went on-line to find out what all the fuss was about. And that is when I came across The Pulse Pledge and Pulse Canada. As I browsed through their very informative websites, here is what I discovered:
1) This is multi-billion dollar industry and Canada is a leading producer and exporter of pulses.
2) Nitrogen is the most needed nutrient in crop production; unlike others, pulses are a rare breed of plants that use the sun to generate most of the nitrogen they require for themselves. They require little to no added nitrogen from fossil fuel generated fertilizers. These are some of the cleanest crops to grow.
3) Pulses spread excess nitrogen through the soil; farmers who use them in crop rotation have healthier soil which are enriched and alive with a diverse array of microbes. Other crops planted on this soil become nutrient-dense. And all due to the pulse.
4) Pulses are gluten-free, high in fiber, a great source of protein, low in fat and contain a lot of essential nutrients. They have a low glycemic index, which means they do not cause a fast rise in blood sugar after consumption. And studies have shown that they reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
I was floored. This is a superfood! I developed a new respect for the pulse and I finally get it. The International year of the Pulse is a very humongous deal, indeed. It is how we will feed a planet with billions of people while keeping our carbon footprint in check. Pulses are a fantastic and sustainable protein source. We should eat them often and that is what the Pulse Pledge is all about.
Canada’s Food Guide
It begs further thought about what the good folks in charge of Canada’s Food Guide will do. If the sign of the times is to eat sustainable food and if we accept that pulses should feature more prominently in our diets for the sake of the planet, then should meat begin its slow exit from this national document? (* see footnote, below)
How about we start by listing meats as “pulse alternatives”?
It’s what Indians have been doing for generations. And with that, I do smugly declare that Tiffinday Curries all contain pulses – they always have. We developed them from traditional recipes well before the United Nations told us it was sexy to do so.
My Mom and the Aunties were right – the world should eat like Indians.
*Feb 6, 2019 A Footnote To the Blog Above
Three years ago, when I wrote this blog, I never imagined Canada’s Food Guide would radically change their tune, shun lobby groups and stand on the side of science. The 2019 version of Canada’s Food Guide strongly endorses plant-based diets that include pulses.