International Year of Pulses


The United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, and Seed the Commons made sure to join in the festivities. The goal in choosing pulses as this year’s topic was to highlight their potential for improving nutrition cheaply and sustainably and to encourage their use in food and agriculture. Seed the Commons celebrated IYP2016 with a beautiful outdoor event that featured an educational discussion and a vegan Indian cooking workshop with author and seasoned cooking instructor Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff.

© FAO 2016 A Journey Around the World with Pulses Accessed Nov. 1, 2016

Pulses, or legumes, are an important food and crop throughout the world. They provide protein, fiber and other nutrients to our diets, without the saturated fat and cholesterol that accompany animal-based protein. They are grown with a small fraction of the resources it takes to produce meat, and because they fix nitrogen in the soil, they can help avoid fertilizer use, making them key to the sustainability of our food systems.

From falafel to ash reshteh to baked beans, pulses are prepared in a variety of delicious ways in different cultures. And yet, they are often overlooked and under-appreciated. Indeed, as incomes rise, people usually move from eating beans to eating meat. Pulses are amongst the cheapest foods one can buy, but despite this – or perhaps because of this – they are not all that popular.

In this blog post, we mentioned that in Mexico, beans can be negatively viewed as working-class food. This theme repeats itself time and again. Legumes are central to agricultural systems and culinary cultures around the world, and as shown in our cooking workshop, they are far from boring. But while meat has always been associated with wealth and class, legumes are commonly thought of as the food of the poor. It is therefore unsurprising that meat consumption increases with purchasing power, and that legumes, for all their tasty versatility, are never quite given the role of a celebratory dish.

It’s wonderful to see the rise in voices promoting plant foods, but for them to find resonance, we also need to address why people tend to prefer meat. We consider International Year of Pulses to be an excellent initiative not only because it promotes health and sustainability, but also because it promotes humble foods. It is inherently anti-classist and provides the opportunity to lift up working-class, rural and indigenous foods. This was the idea guiding our event: it was an opportunity to speak about the classism of our food choices and to celebrate foods and traditions that are often unnoticed.


Our celebration for International Year of Pulses was held on a sunny August afternoon at the beautiful Secret Garden. The vegan Indian cooking workshop was followed by a delicious communal meal, and the discussions covered topics such as:

  • The importance of legumes both from a nutritional and environmental standpoint
  • The role of legumes in various food cultures and how to creatively incorporate them in our diets
  • The reasons for our food choices – why is it that despite the benefits of eating legumes instead of meat, meat continues to be so favored?
  • How to promote the consumption of legumes in our families, communities and beyond.

img_20160813_143635848Missed our IYP2016 event? You can still participate by exploring pulse-based cuisine, or better yet, organize your own IYP2016 event with our useful handout! Here are some other great resources:

Easy recipe videos: Instant Khaman/Steamed Chickpea Cake and Broccoli with Besan Subzi
Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff
More about Shanta and her most recent book, Other Avenues Are Possible.