A lot happened in 2016. But here’s one important thing that many people don’t know about – the United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulses.(1) So what’s a pulse anyway, and why does that matter?
Well, pulses are the seeds of plants in the legume family, which includes dry pea, beans, and my favourite – the lentil.(2) The International Year of the Pulses highlights that pulses are a key part of a more sustainable food system, meaning that they can improve food security, nutrition, reduce our impact on climate change, and not to mention – they make a damn good chili!
Avalon, an engineering student at the University of Waterloo is on the hunt for the perfect ingredients for her lentil chili at St. Jacob’s Market.
Is our food system sustainable?
The term “sustainable development” was coined by a famous report “Our common future” by the Brundtland Commission in 1987, and is defined as:
“… development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Is our current food system considered a product of sustainable development under this definition? I would argue that it isn’t. This is because climate change is a defining environmental issue of our time, and the global food system is accountable for about a quarter of our world’s climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions.(3,4)
How about a side of climate change with that steak?
Who’s to blame? In large part – it’s the meat industry.
As the world’s population grows, so do the emissions of greenhouse gasses due to agriculture.4 Globally, there is a shift in demand to foods higher in refined fats, sugar, oil and most significantly – meat.5 According to a 2016 report by CBC News, many North American’s believe that protein must come from meat. As more of the world’s population emulates the North American lifestyle, meat is seen as having high status and becomes increasingly in demand.(6)
If the current trend of agricultural growth continues, it is predicted that by 2050 the agriculture industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 80 percent.(5)
Lentils and market fresh vegetables are key ingredients for a great meal. Instead of growing grains to feed cows for red meat, eating pulses, grains, and plants directly is often a more energy efficient source of protein.
Pulses are here to save the day
Here’s the good news: pulses and legumes have about 250 times less greenhouse gas emissions for every gram of protein than red meat!(5) Instead of growing grains to feed cows, eating pulses, grains and plants directly is a more energy efficient source of protein.(3,6)
Pulses such as lentils can also have a positive effect on the environment because they increase the amount of nitrogen in the soil through nitrogen fixing, and therefore reducing the amount of fertilizers needed to grow crops. (5) Pulses can be included in rotation cropping, meaning that farmers will alternate between grain crops and pulses such as lentils or peas. A study looking at lentils grown in Saskatchewan found that when lentils were introduced into a crop rotation, emissions and resource use were reduced by 25%.(2) This is because in Western Canada where lentils are grown, up to 70% of the non-renewable energy used in crop production is due to fertilizers, one of the major fertilizers being nitrogen.(7) Pulses reduce farmer’s reliance on nitrogen fertilizers and increase yields of the grains in the crop rotation.(2,5)
Chopped vegetables are ready to be transformed into chili.
Students, you can stop starving now
Put down the Kraft Dinner and fix yourself some lentils instead!
Pulses are high in protein and super cheap – especially compared to meat! Not to mention pulses are packed with minerals including magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and B-vitamins. Pulses in general are made up of about 20-25 percent protein by weight, and when eaten with grains form what’s called a ‘complete protein’ – which is high-quality protein that will keep you full and build your muscles.(8) When eaten as part of a healthy diet, pulses can prevent diabetes, heart conditions, and cancer.(1)
Dried lentils can keep for a long time, and are ready to use when you need them.
Waste not, want not
Those lentils sitting in the back of your cupboard since you moved into your apartment? Yep – still good!
Food waste is a huge issue relating to food security and sustainability – about one-third of all food is wasted.(9) The great thing about pulses is that they are dried and shelf stable, therefore don’t spoil easily resulting in less waste.(10)
University students, Avalon and Sebastian are enjoying their lentil chili for dinner.
Take the pulse pledge
Try how delicious lentils can be, and feel good about your health and reducing your impact on the environment. Why not start with our delicious lentil veggie pasta? It’s cheap and easy to make, and a big pot is perfect for weekday lunches, or to freeze for later. Think you could challenge yourself to cook a meal featuring a pulse once a week?
– RECIPE –
Winter Lentil Chilli with Pasta
• 2 tbsp of oil
• 1 onion, diced
• 1 carrot, diced
• 1-2 celery stalks, diced
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 bay leaves
• 1/2 tsp each sea salt and black pepper
• 2 tbsp chili powder
• 2 tbsp ground cumin
• 1 tsp smoked paprika
• 2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes or chopped fresh tomatoes
• 3/4 cup dried green lentils
• 1 3/4 cup water, plus more as needed
• 1.5 cups chopped kale or Swiss chard
• 4 cups penne pasta, or other tube pasta
*garnish (optional): finely sliced green onion and red cabbage
In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat; cook onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bay leaves, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and paprika, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes or until softened.
Stir in lentils, tomatoes, and 13/4 cups water; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 35 minutes or until thickened and lentils are tender. Stir in the chopped kale or Swiss chard within the last 5 minutes of cooking. Discard bay leaves.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta for about 8 minutes or until tender but firm. Drain and return to pot or place in serving bowl. Spoon sauce over top.
Serve garnished generously with finely sliced green onions and red cabbage for crunch and colour.