On the Pulse

on the pulse(3)

We’re part way into 2016, and being February, you probably already know it’s the lunar Year of the Monkey, but did you know that 2016 is also International Year of Pulses (IYP2016)? To raise awareness of the initiative and celebrate those goodies that pack a punch in soups, dahls, curries, salads and all manner of meals, bloggers What the Ducks! and Palm Rae Urban Potager organised a blogger action day for today, and I’ve joined the bean wagon! I learnt of it via Janice at Ontheland.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) states that designation of IYP2016 by the 68th UN General Assembly:

…aims to heighten public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production aimed towards food security and nutrition.

Sustainability in food production can be viewed from a number of angles (read from start to finish, or jump to the section that takes your fancy). Here, the focus is on:

I’ve also thrown in a couple of other compelling reasons to get in the spirit of IYP2016:

The research and findings presented in this post demonstrate that pulses are great for the environment; can provide a cost saving for farmers when used as part of crop rotation; and, are good value for consumers as a cost-effective source of energy and protein. I can only hope you try the recipe and see for yourself that all that goodness also extends to a great meal.



The benefits of growing pulses are well documented. They are widely used as part of crop rotation for their nitrogen-fixing ability, through their symbiotic relationship with a bacteria called Rhizobium. Together, they draw nitrogen from air which is stored in the pulse’s roots, and when the plant dies and decomposes, that nitrogen is released into the soil, providing it with the valuable nutrient that improves the yield of subsequent crops planted on the rotation.

The use of pulses in crop rotation reduces the requirements for synthetic fertiliser application. Synthetic fertilisers are produced by an energy intensive process and further contribute to greenhouse gases with the release of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere associated with their use. The reduction in synthetic fertiliser use results in a reduction in operating costs for an agribusiness, and a reduction in its carbon footprint. Furthermore, less nasty chemicals in food production means better food on your plate.

Happy farmer, happy planet and happy consumer!




A subject close to my heart is water security (I work in the water industry and I also live without a town supply, so rain (or lack of it) impacts my life in a very tangible way). Water is an important factor in sustainable food production. A study by Mekonnen and Hoekstra (2010) enables a comparison of water required to grow the crop or raise the stock for a kilocalorie (kcal) of energy from pulses, chicken, or beef. To grow enough pulses for 1 kcal of energy, 1.2 L of water is required, almost triple that amount is required for chicken, and a whopping 9 times more water for beef. If you consider water footprint in terms of protein content, pulses still come out on top, requiring 19 L water to grow enough lentils for 1 g of protein. How much water to source that gram of protein from beef? 600% more than that for pulses!



Comprehensive data on water footprint is available via the Water Footprint Network,  including a calculator that allows you to estimate your own water footprint based on your location, income (which is used to estimate typical consumption patterns), and your diet (to factor in the differences in footprint of a vegetarian versus carnivore diet). You can also peruse the site for water footprint of a range of foods and commodities.




If trying to eat on a tight budget, pulses give you a lot of bang for your buck (plenty of room for a pun there, but I will steer clear of that). The humble pulse, mixed with some vegetables and an assortment of spices, can allow you to eat like a prince on the budget of a pauper, while treating your body like the temple it is (packed high in protein, pulses are a valuable addition to a healthy diet and are known to benefit healthy heart function; give you a fill without a consequent bulk, for healthy weight maintenance; reduce the risk of diabetes; and, are a good source of folate).

In the interest of bringing you information as objective (and quantitative) as that in the water footprint assessment, I looked into the cost per kg of chicken breast, ground lean beef and red split lentils in the major supermarkets in Australia. As expected, lentils were the cheapestbut what does this mean in terms of nutritional value? To answer that, I assessed the cost based on each food providing the sum total of the ball park recommended energy intake of 2,400 calories per day (cal/day) for an adult and separately, on the basis of providing the approximate 50 grams of protein intake recommended for a sedentary adult. Why did I choose ground beef and chicken breast for the comparison? To ensure that the figures weren’t swayed by fat content (which would give an “advantage” in terms of cost per kilo calorie of fattier meats compared to the lentils), and in the case of ground beef, I purposely chose the cheapest variety (albeit it lean) so as not to influence the cost comparison too much by the pricier cuts.

The cost for an adult to derive their total daily protein intake from lentils is $1.20, about a third of the cost of getting protein from beef and a bargain basement 80% reduction off the cost of sourcing protein from chicken. Similarly, to provide a typical adult’s daily energy requirement, lentils cost a paltry $4, beef a heftier $24, and chicken, an extravagant $50. No matter which way you count your beans, lentils are cheaper than both ground beef and chicken breast. In a healthy, balanced diet, none of these foods would be the sole source of protein or energy, but

for people in the Majority World or those living below the poverty line in more economically developed nations (MEDC), lentils (and their pulse family members) may be a lifeline.


Food prices used for this assessment are in Australian dollars, but it is the relative costs that highlight the sustainability of pulses, from the perspective of value to the consumer. I would guess the relative cost of each is similar in most countries (without going into the potential variations in food price due to factors such as government subsidies, speculation and hoarding, trade agreements, food scarcity, climate, water availability, and where the food is grown or sourced from).

If  you’d like to see how the costs compare in your country, tell me the cost (by weight) of each food type at your local supermarket, and I’ll do the numbers for you. Alternatively,  reference data with nutritional information is provided at the end of this post, if you’d like to do the sums yourself.



If you still need persuading to get pulses on your plate this year, then how about the words of John Lennon and Yoko Ono:

…all we are saying, is give peas a chance…





Still not on board with this whole International Year of the Pulse thing? Perhaps my On the Pulse & in the Bowl Soup will do the trick! It’s a spicy variation on the Martha Goes Green Carrot and Lentil Soup (the changes: original version does not include garlic, ginger, chilli, coriander; my take doesn’t have extra salt or soy sauce; and, serving suggestions are my own). Martha Goes Green is my favourite recipe book, with the amazing haibun-inspiring pho. Most of the recipe is taken from the book, with the author’s permission – thanks Rosie! Photo is of a serving I enjoyed in the winter of 2014 when the retro 80s world map desk you see was used for my computer, before its current incarnation as a nappy change table. If that desk could tell stories, it would be a complex and sometimes dirty tale – dummy spits, wars, changing boundaries, spills, transitions – and I’m just talking about the world map.

serves 4 . vegan
difficulty: easy PEA-sy!
preparation time: approx 15 minutes
cooking time: approx 40 minutes

Ingredients & Preparation
2 Tbs oil
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves (or more) garlic, finely diced
3 cm piece of ginger, finely diced
1 long red chilli (or more, to your liking), chopped finely
3 carrots, coarsely grated
3 celery stalks, chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water
1 and 1/2 cups red split lentils, rinsed
1/2 cup roughly torn fresh coriander leaves
1/2 tsp ground pepper

Cooking & Serving
Heat oil in large pot, fry onions, garlic and ginger till onion is soft/transparent
Add celery and chilli, fry for 5-10 minutes or until celery is softened

Add carrots, stock, water
and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce
heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes,
stirring occasionally.

If you do the soy sauce, add in the end, once cooking complete, otherwise- salt and ground pepper to taste.

Serve with a sprinkle of torn, fresh coriander and if you’d like to take the edge off the chilli, a dollop of Greek yoghurt may help. A side of crusty bread or steaming hot roti works a treat.




Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. 2010. The green, blue and grey water footprint of farm animals and animal products, Value of Water Research Report Series No. 48, UNESCO-IHE, Delft, the Netherlands.

Grains Research and Development Corporation, 2009. Nitrogen fixation benefits of pulse crops, September 16, 2009, GRDC, Canberra, Australia. Accessible via https://www.grdc.com.au/Research-and-Development/GRDC-Update-Papers/2009/09/NITROGEN-FIXATION-BENEFITS-OF-PULSE-CROPS

Food cost & nutritional information: online price check (February 2016) of the 2 major supermarkets in Australia. Free range chicken breast $AUD35/kg, lean beef mince $AUD14/kg, 375g red split peas $AUD2.30 ($AUD 6.10/kg). *Calorie and Protein content in 100 gram (uncooked): chicken breast 165 calories- 31 g protein; lentils- 353 calories, 26g protein; and, ground beef (95% lean beef/5% fat)- 136 calories, 21 g protein.

*Not a great way to cite a source, but calorie and protein data is from the Wikipedia entries for each food as detailed here (i.e. uncooked, lean etc..). I may revise the numbers slightly at a later date, once I can establish the actual source or find a readily citable source. The problem, if you are wondering, is that there is a short-cut display of the Wikipedia entry that gives me very different data to what is on the actual page. I believe the source is largely the USDA.

Further Reading



26 thoughts on “On the Pulse

  1. Wow, Mek, this must have taken you 10,000 minutes!!! Thanks so much for the super-detailed contribution to our Blogger Action Day event! I love lentils (and curry!) and look forward to trying out the recipe, too. Will be adding everyone’s pieces to the master post a little later today. Look for it on What the Ducks! And thank you again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! An amazing information packed post! You truly got into the heart of the matter. I find that illustration at the top of the post –quite fascinating in its detail . I am interested in your comments on water supply–we get water from a well– is that your situation?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Work in Progress and commented:

    In this season of mass consumption and mass waste that leaves our planet hungover and bleary-eyed long after the party’s over, I thought it timely to share a post I wrote early last year on the impact of food choices on our planet. Further to food choices are how we source and package our foods – I have recently taken an interest in zero waste and would love to hear from people who are living a zero waste lifestyle.


  4. Interesting that it “costs” more to raise chicken than beef. (I’m not a big fan of lentils myself, but I make excellent split pea soup ). And living in Latino NYC we often have rice and beans. I don’t think you will ever eliminate meat from the world’s diet, but encouraging diets that mix a little meat with a lot of other things certainly seems doable.
    When my parents lived in Arizona, their municipality “rationed” the water supply…they only had a certain amount they were allowed to use each month. Not a bad idea I think as well.
    There was an article a few years a go about a city couple that tried to live with zero waste for a few months. They could not comfortably sustain it, but they learned a lot. NYC is composting now, and even the big supermarkets have locally grown food. Little steps…you have to start somewhere.
    But packaging…now that’s a huge problem. How to change that? I don’t know. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Kerfe! Sorry about delayed response! The cost wasn’t that of raising chicken, but rather the cost per kg figure (retail) adjusted to determine the cost for the recommended energy intake for an adult, so chicken cost more for the same amount of energy derived from beef or lentils. Split pea soup is delicious! I make a veg version which funnily has that same smoked meat smell which i realised is just the smell of the split peas! the recipe i use is a pretty indulgent one with gruyere melted into the soup mmmm. I agree, small, doable steps are the way to go…not everyone is going to radically modify their eating and consumption behaviour, but at the same time, we need to acknowledge it is that very behaviour that has caused the environmental damage we are now living with and something’s gotta give. There was a recent period of drought in Australia which has been dubbed “The Millenium Drought” during which there were targets for water consumption. People’s behaviours changed around how they consume water- it was great! Packaging- I think just thinking about it is the first step then considering the possible alternatives- buying bulk foods, carrying own bags, using containers rather than plastic wrap for leftovers…But just today I bought lunch as I hadn’t taken my own to work and felt really bad walking away with a bulky single use bento box 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah yes, take out food containers! Definitely guilt inducing…
        Awareness is a first step, but I do see lots of people changing their consumption patterns also. We certainly aren’t getting any support from our current government, so it’s up to us to do what we can.
        I’ll have to try some cheese with my soup…it’s good on onion soup, so it makes sense!
        Happy New Year, see you in 2018! (we’re taking a break until then)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No, can’t leave it to governments to fix this…while the sociopaths squabble for power, it’s up to us all to do what we can. Sorry I’ve not kept up with your posts lately…I typically switch mobile off early evening and hence less time checking posts on reader. Thanks so much, a happy new year to you and Nina! Have a lovely break and see you in 2018 xx

        Liked by 1 person

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