Though our diets today are becoming increasingly reliant on processed foods, this has not always been the case. It was only after World War II, thanks to the rapid economic development in many parts of the world, that traditional dishes considered “poor” were replaced by low-quality animal proteins made accessible by the Big Food industry. From that point onwards, among other foods, the presence of legumes in our diets was drastically reduced.
Yet, legumes have always been fundamental in agriculture, being the cornerstone of crop rotations due to their nitrogen-fixing capacity, which is capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen thanks to the symbiosis between the nodules in their roots and soil bacteria, therefore being able to fertilize the soil naturally, avoiding synthetic fertilizers.
Legumes are not only an asset for the soil but they are also treasure chests of micronutrients, the best friends of our intestine. This aspect is highlighted in the report of the EAT-Lancet Commission, according to which a substantial change in our diet is necessary by 2050: double our consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, and reduce by 50% red meat and refined sugars. Precisely because of their important nutritional value, their shelf life and relative low cost, the FAO considers legumes to be a key to food security for humanity, and has dedicated a World Day to them, celebrated today, February 10! This year the theme is “Pulses to empower youth in achieving sustainable agrifood systems”, which recognizes the key role that both young people and legumes play in agriculture.
by Ottavia Pieretto