Whitney Pipkin, appearing for the second time here, has another great story about healthy food with environmental benefits:
Hummus is having a heyday with American consumers, and that could be as good for the soil as it is for our health.
Formerly relegated to the snack aisle in U.S. grocery stores, the chickpea-based dip has long starred as the smooth centerpiece of Middle Eastern meals and, increasingly, plant-based diets. Occasionally, it even doubles as dessert. Last year, Americans spent four times as much money on grocery-store hummus as they did a decade before, according to the latest consumer surveys, and a growing number of snacks and fast-casual concepts also feature the fiber- and protein-rich chickpea as their pièce de résistance.
Part of a subcategory of legumes called pulses, chickpeas — along with lentils, dry peas and several varieties of beans — have been a critical crop and foodstuff for centuries in Middle Eastern and Asian countries. The crops are so promising that the United Nations deemed 2016 the “Year of Pulses” to expand interest in these ancient foods and their potential to help solve dueling modern-day conundrums: hunger and soil depreciation.Some American farmers were already well on their way to embracing pulses, seeing the role they could play in improving soil health and setting the stage for better harvests of cash crops like wheat. Last year, U.S. farmers planted more chickpeas than ever to satisfy growing demand for plant-based protein alternatives — which, in turn, could help restore soils depleted by decades of intensive farming.
Unlike corn or wheat, these pulses fix their own nitrogen from the atmosphere, leaving extra stores of the nutrient in the soil for future crops to consume. For this reason, pulses can play a vital role in crop rotations, especially those that don’t rely on chemical fertilizers. What’s more, if managed well, these crops can be part of a farming system that sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and helps mitigate climate change.
“I see this diversification and these legumes as a way to get away from the use of synthetic nitrogen,” says Casey Bailey, a farmer in Fort Benton, Mont., who grows organic chickpeas as the lynchpin of a rotational planting program. “They’re a tricky crop to grow, but I’m a huge proponent of trying to figure out how to do it.”…
Read the whole story here.