Upcycled Foods, Circa Late 2020

The first time I saw upcycling in action, I did not know the word. It became part of my vocabulary in 2012. And then I started seeing it more frequently, but only years later before I would see it in relation to food. Now it is more mainstream, but this PBS news segment shocked me anyway, with the revelation of how much waste there is in the production of tofu. In my experience growing up in the USA, tofu was one of the first “green foods” on the market. Little did we know. Shock is sometimes followed by awe. Case in point: Renewal Mill is providing solutions to tofu production waste and other forms of food waste that seem obvious once you see them do it. But first, someone had to do it. I have not tasted their products yet but I am confident I would savor it on multiple dimensions.

Getting Real About Plastic

A worker examines plastic bottles at a recycling center in Santiago, Chile. MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

We admit to optimism as recently as three months ago on this issue, which we have been reading about since five years ago. Thanks to Jim Robbins for keeping it real:

Why Bioplastics Will Not Solve the World’s Plastics Problem

Coca-Cola’s new PlantBottle is made from 30 percent sugar cane and other plants, with the rest made from traditional oil-based plastic. COCA-COLA

Bioplastics are being touted by industry marketers as the solution to plastics pollution. But the idea that bottles and packaging made of plant-based material can simply be discarded and then break down and disappear is false – recycling and reuse are the only strategies that can work.

Coca-Cola calls it the PlantBottle — a new kind of recyclable plastic container, 30 percent of which is made from sugar cane and other plants, with the remaining 70 percent made from traditional oil-based plastic. The company says that PlantBottle packaging now accounts for nearly a third of its North American bottle volume and seven percent globally. Continue reading

New Machines, New Skills, New Hope

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Renewable-energy projects are now finding capital faster than fossil fuels. Photograph by Ken Cedeno / Getty

Since our platform name change, each daily post has been either about coffee or about birds. We have not neglected or forgotten our commitment to all the other important environmental, conservation, culture and related themes this platform has showcased, under whichever name. Today, Bill McKibben, one of our favorite sources of both depressing and heartening environmental news, is our go-to for some good news:

North Dakota Oil Workers Are Learning to Tend Wind Turbines—and That’s a Big Deal

I enjoy big machinery, and it punched all those buttons,” Jay Johnson told me. “They really are big, and, if you like machinery, then there you go.” Johnson has one of the jobs that might, with luck, come to define our era. At Lake Region State College, in Devils Lake, North Dakota, he trains former oil workers for new careers maintaining giant wind turbines. The skills necessary for operating the derricks that frack for crude in the Bakken shale, he says, translate pretty directly into the skills required for operating the machines that convert the stiff winds of the high prairies into electricity. That is good news, not only because it’s going to take lots of people to move the world from oil and gas to solar and wind but because people who work in hydrocarbons are going to need new jobs now that the demand for hydrocarbons is dropping. “It’s impossible to overstate the stillness” in the oil fields now, Johnson says. “Nothing is happening, zero work, and it sure is scary.” Continue reading

Bureo & Tin Shed Ventures

tsv-main-logoBureo is news to us, and we like good news. We are always on the lookout for fellow travelers, and while Tin Shed Ventures is by no means new it is news to us. And newsworthy based on the partners they have chosen:

Tin Shed Ventures is Patagonia’s corporate venture capital fund, which invests in start-ups that offer solutions to the environmental crisis. Originally launched as $20 Million and Change in May 2013, Tin Shed Ventures partners with businesses focused on building renewable energy infrastructure, practicing regenerative organic agriculture, conserving water, diverting waste and creating sustainable materials. Continue reading

The New Commute

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Jim Wilson/The New York Times

If they displace congesting and polluting four-wheel alternatives, they are worth a look:

E-Bikes Are Having Their Moment. They Deserve It.

The benefits of owning a battery-powered two-wheeler far outweigh the downsides, especially in a pandemic.

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Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Many of us are entering a new stage of pandemic grief: adaptation. We are asking ourselves: How do we live with this new reality?

For many Americans, part of the solution has been to buy an electric bike. The battery-powered two-wheelers have become a compelling alternative for commuters who are being discouraged from taking public transportation and Ubers. For others, the bikes provide much-needed fresh air after months of confinement. Continue reading

What To Do With Expired Trees

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Dead trees in a California forest in August 2016. U.S. FOREST SERVICE

It sounds like the inverse of rewilding’s restorative approach, when there is a large patch of expired trees; decisions must be made. Thanks to Jane Braxton Little for laying out the questions:

In California, A Push Grows to Turn Dead Trees into Biomass Energy

As forests in California and the Western U.S. are hit by rising numbers of fires and disease outbreaks related to climate change, some experts argue that using dead and diseased trees to produce biomass energy will help to restore forests and reduce CO2 emissions.

Jonathan Kusel owns three pickups and a 45-foot truck for hauling woodchip bins. He operates a woodchip yard and a 35-kilowatt biomass plant that burns dead trees, and he runs a crew marking trees for loggers working in national forests. Those are a lot of blue-collar credentials for a University of California, Berkeley PhD sociologist known for his documentation of how the decline of the timber industry affects rural communities. Continue reading

Crisis Inspired Pivots

The Strade Aperte plan includes temporary cycle lanes and 30kph speed limits. Photograph: Stefano De Grandis/REX/Shutterstock

Looking for silver linings during the current times isn’t always easy, but reviewing how cities strategize over plans to open economies while keeping the public safe is a possible place to start. (It can also be a source of discouragement, so we’re glad to highlight the enlightened…)

In Milan the concept of pivoting toward carbon-free commuting within the city was a far-reaching goal for a future decade. The current crisis has helped to create a thought shift toward action now.

Seriously working on solutions to both the health crisis and climate crisis together could be a silver lining, indeed.

Milan announces ambitious scheme to reduce car use after lockdown

Milan is to introduce one of Europe’s most ambitious schemes reallocating street space from cars to cycling and walking, in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The northern Italian city and surrounding Lombardy region are among Europe’s most polluted, and have also been especially hard hit by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Under the nationwide lockdown, motor traffic congestion has dropped by 30-75%, and air pollution with it. City officials hope to fend off a resurgence in car use as residents return to work looking to avoid busy public transport.

The city has announced that 35km (22 miles) of streets will be transformed over the summer, with a rapid, experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space to protect residents as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

The Strade Aperte plan, announced on Tuesday, includes low-cost temporary cycle lanes, new and widened pavements, 30kph (20mph) speed limits, and pedestrian and cyclist priority streets. The locations include a low traffic neighbourhood on the site of the former Lazzaretto, a refuge for victims of plague epidemics in the 15th and 16th centuries. Continue reading

Non-Gastronomic Mushroom Utility

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Thanks, as always, for the interesting news on creative use for mushrooms beyond the gastronomic, from the Guardian:

Mushrooms and orange peel: could biotech clean up the building industry?

A biotech startup is researching building materials that could revolutionise construction. Not only are they biodegradable – some also absorb toxins

Cocoa husks, dried orange peel, ground blue pea flowers: the ingredients read like a tasting menu. They are, in fact, waste products that are used to make Orb – a sustainable building material that is carbon neutral. It’s versatile enough to be used for furniture or as a substitute for a wood-based sheet material. Continue reading

Prepping For Less Food Waste

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Clare Schneider/NPR

End of year stories about what to do differently in the new year may seem overdone, but we find them worth sharing when they touch on a theme we cover regularly. This column has the added value of some funny, some even bizarre suggestions:

Food waste is a big problem in the United States, where a typical household of four tosses out about $1,600 worth of food annually. So, Life Kit did a deep dive on how how to reduce food waste.

In planning that episode, the office was abuzz with conversations about our own tricks and tips to save food — from recipes to compost tips. This made us wonder what other wisdom was out there. So we asked you!

We were overwhelmed by your collective knowledge and thriftiness. Our roundup is by no means an exhaustive list, but below are a few tips we felt inspired by. (If you want to join the conversations, you can find them here on Instagram and Facebook.)

Your tips from Instagram

1. Used coffee grounds can be dried and used in a steak rub or mixed with coconut oil and sugar and used as a body scrub. — @Chefanniecarroll Continue reading

Orlando Is The New Walden

Every day begins with a search for a story to share here, something evocative, sometimes provocative, hopefully useful in some manner. When my own name will go on the post there is some personal connection to the story being linked to, or it is a story of my own. When the there is an important story or an essay that fits our framework but does not require my own personal reflection, I will post using the La Paz Group name instead of my own.

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Community fruit trees provide for everyone. Photograph: http://www.livewonderful.com

Today’s linked story is personal in a very simple way. Since a teenage visit to Walden Pond I have celebrated Thoreau unthinkingly, even considered his exemplary life as a kind of compass relevant to all of us all of the time. I do not retract any of that, but the story below challenges the isolation of Thoreau’s example, and turns our attention to how important community is for many of the same self-reliance outcomes I have celebrated in relation to life on Walden Pond. Thanks to the Guardian for bringing this to my attention:

I didn’t buy any food for a year – and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been

Rob Greenfield gardened, fished and foraged to eat more sustainably and encourage others to do the same. But to succeed, he needed the community

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Rob Greenfield with greens grown in his garden. Photograph: Sierra Ford Photography

For the last year I grew and foraged 100% of my food. No grocery stores, no restaurants, not even a drink at a bar. Nature was my garden, my pantry and my pharmacy.

Most people would imagine I live in the countryside on a farm, but actually I live in a city; Orlando, Florida, a few miles from the centre. When I arrived here, I didn’t own any land, so in order to grow my food I met people in the neighbourhood and turned their lawns into gardens and shared the bounty of food with them. I’m a big believer in the philosophy “grow food, not lawns”.

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Rob Greenfield in his tiny house in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Sierra Ford Photography

I also needed a place to live for my two-year stay in Orlando and I also found this through the local community. I put the message out that I was looking for someone with an unused backyard who could benefit from my being on the property. After a short search I found Lisa, a woman in her early 60’s with a lifelong dream of living more sustainably. I built a 100 sq ft tiny house in her backyard and in exchange I turned her entire front yard into a garden, set up rainwater harvesting, composting and grew her fresh produce. Together, we helped meet each other’s basic needs through an exchange, rather than using money. Continue reading

Are We Willing To Do What It Takes?

Thanks to John R. Platt, by way of EcoWatch, for this:

Could inventing a better air conditioner help to save species from extinction?

It’s an idea so crazy it just might work — and it’s just one of many new and innovative conservation initiatives in development around the world to help stem the tide of biodiversity loss. Continue reading

Moderating Methane

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Cristina Byvik

During June and July last year we were in residence on a dairy farm, and the prospective benefit of cows having seaweed added to their diet came to my attention. Today another briefing on this topic, from Rowan Walrath writing in Mother Jones, notifies me that this idea is making progress:

One day in January 2014, police rushed to a farm in Rasdorf, Germany, after flames burst from a barn. They soon discovered that static electricity had caused entrapped methane from the flatulence and manure of 90 dairy cows to explode.

Headline writers had a field day. But the incident pointed to a serious problem: Ruminant livestock, mostly cattle, account for 30 percent of all global methane emissions, pumping out 3 gigatons of the gas every year in their burps, farts, and manure. Methane is an especially potent greenhouse gas: During its 12-year lifespan after being released, it traps 84 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, and its effect on global warming over a century is 34 times that of CO2. According to the United Nations, reducing methane emissions from cows could be one of the quickest ways to slow climate change. Continue reading

Plants, Meat & New Food

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Thanks to the Guardian for a bit more insight into one of our favorite topics of the last year or two:

Plant-based meat could create a radically different food chain

Meat no longer has to be murder

A journalist walks into Honest Burgers, a small chain of restaurants in Britain. Mindful of the carbon emissions that come from raising cows, he orders a plant-based burger. It tastes convincingly beefy, at least when encased in a brioche bun and loaded with vegan Gouda and chipotle “mayo”. Continue reading

When Andeans Dream Of Electric Buses

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An electric bus in service on the streets of Medellín, Colombia. METRO DE MEDELLÍN

Happy to see our neighbors to the south taking the lead in greening public transportation:

An Increasingly Urbanized Latin America Turns to Electric Buses

From Colombia to Argentina, major cities in Latin America are starting to adopt electric bus fleets. In a region with the highest use of buses per person globally, officials believe the transition will help meet climate targets, cut fuel costs, and improve air quality.

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Medellín will have 65 electric buses in service by the end of the year, making it the second-largest electric bus fleet in Latin America. MARIA GALLUCCI/YALE E360

In Medellín, Colombia, passengers cram aboard a battery-powered bus during the morning commute. Inside, the vehicle is a respite from the crush of cars, taxis, and motorcycles winding through traffic outside. The driver, Robinson López Rivera, steers the bus up a steep ramp, revealing views of hillsides covered with rooftops of tile and tin. The bus dashboard indicates that the batteries are mostly charged, with enough power to last through the evening rush hour.

“It’s a little smoother and more comfortable to drive. And there’s hardly any noise,” López Rivera says from behind the wheel. He gently brakes as a street vendor pushes a fruit cart across the dedicated bus lane. At night, the bus will return to a parking lot by the airport, recharging its 360-kilowatt battery pack while the city sleeps.

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An electric bus charging terminal in Santiago, Chile, which draws power primarily from solar panels. ENEL X

The other 77 buses in the city’s bus rapid transit system, called Metroplús, run on natural gas and move about 251,000 passengers daily. Thousands more privately owned coaches and minibuses burn diesel as they traverse the sprawling metropolitan area of 3.7 million people, with older models leaving a trail of sour-smelling smoke. Faced with chronic air pollution and concerns about climate change, Medellín is now trying to move quickly to electrify its entire mass transit network. Continue reading

Mayors Mitigating Climate Change Impacts

(Credit: CarbonCure )

Interesting technology innovation for addressing climate change. We’re glad to hear that local level leaders have this on their radar.

How ‘green’ concrete can help cities fight climate change

The built environment produces over 40% of global CO2 emissions. U.S. mayors are taking the lead to cut emissions with CO2 mineralized concrete.

As cities look to cut carbon emissions in their construction sector, the use of low-carbon concrete over other alternatives could help them do just that.

“Green” or carbon dioxide (CO2) mineralized concrete has received support from the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and private companies for its use in public projects as part of the national response to climate change. A resolution passed at this year’s USCM annual meeting in Honolulu urged its members to use the concrete over less environmentally-friendly alternatives.

Low-carbon concrete involves injecting recycled CO2 from industrial emitters like fertilizer and power plants into concrete. The CO2 then chemically converts into a mineral and gets embedded in the concrete, making it stronger and helping concrete producers use less cement for roads and buildings.

The built environment is responsible for over 40% of the world’s CO2 emissions and global building stock is expected to double by 2060. Concrete is the most widely used construction material in the world due to its affordable and durable nature. And its key ingredient, cement, contributes to up to 7% of the world’s CO2 emissions. Companies like CarbonCure are helping lead that charge with CO2 mineralized concrete.

“The cliche really stands that cities are the laboratory of innovation,” CarbonCure CEO Robert Niven told Smart Cities Dive. “And cities are really committed to taking a leap on solving this climate change issue.”

Continue reading

Perennial Grain’s Future

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Harvesting heads of Kernza, a newly developed perennial grain, on a research plot in Salina, Kansas. THE LAND INSTITUTE

Thanks to Jim Robbins, as always, and Yale e360 for brightening our day just a bit:

With New Perennial Grain, a Step Forward for Eco-Friendly Agriculture

A cereal and beers are now being made with a new variety of perennial grain known as Kernza. Proponents say this marks a significant advance for a new agriculture that borrows from the wild prairie and could help ensure sustainable food production in a warming world.

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A tractor plows a field of wheat stubble on a traditional farm near Pullman, Washington. RICK DALTON/ALAMY

Some 40 years ago, Wes Jackson, a plant geneticist, founded The Land Institute on the prairie near Salina, Kansas. Concerned that modern agriculture destroyed native grasslands, he asked a question that came to define his life: How can we harness the inherent strengths of the prairie ecosystem — the natural resistance of native plants to insects and weeds, the ability of those plants to grow perennially, and their evolved resistance to cold and drought — and marry those traits to the task of growing domesticated crops for food?

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Kernza’s long roots stabilize soil and prevent erosion. THE LAND INSTITUTE

Jackson, the recipient of a 1992 MacArthur “genius grant,” set out to create a new kind of farming he called “natural systems agriculture,” which has the “ecological stability of the prairie and a grain and seed yield comparable to that from annual crops.”

After four decades of breeding and testing, the institute has introduced its first commercial grain, a trademarked variety called Kernza, a domesticated wild grass — intermediate wheatgrass — that has a long, slender head that resembles wheat seeds. Described as sweet and nutty, it is now being made into a cereal called Honey Toasted Kernza by Cascadian Farms, and Patagonia Provisions — an offshoot of the clothing company — has brewed it into beers, including Long Root Pale Ale. Both are being produced now in limited runs.

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The perennial grain is currently being used to make small batches of cereal and beer. THE LAND INSTITUTE

The development of Kernza is being held out as a prime example of a new way of doing agriculture that borrows from the perennial nature of the wild prairie. “The goal is to mitigate a lot of the problems inherent in annual grain farming systems,” said Tim Crews, research director at The Land Institute. For example, he noted, “Farmers write off 50 percent of their fertilizer as not being taken up by the crop.” Continue reading

Creating A Market For Misfits

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Thanks to Henry Alford for all the references in this New Yorker short piece on efforts to establish market value for produce normally treated as misfits are treated, which is to say shunned at best:

For “Ugly” Produce, Beauty Is Rind Deep

Misshapen fruits and vegetables and the farmers who love them.

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Illustration by João Fazenda

You did not anticipate this plot point: you’ve decided to pony up twenty-three fifty a week to receive a regular shipment of organic “ugly produce,” perhaps because you’ve read that about half of the produce in the United States goes uneaten, or maybe because you’ve been charmed by a Web site that boasts of “rescuing” foodstuffs such as “onions that are too small, potatoes that are shaped like your favorite celebrity, and carrots that fell in love and got twisted together.” You glow with a sense of mission. But, when your first shipment of ugly produce arrives and you peer inside the recyclable cardboard box, you do a double take: the produce is not ugly. And not a single potato looks like Abe Vigoda.

“I would first redefine it as misfit produce,” Abhi Ramesh, the founder and C.E.O. of Misfits Market, said on the phone the other day. (It is Misfits Market’s Web site that is quoted above.) “The market calls it ugly produce, but ‘ugly’ ends up being only a small portion of it. The variations are standard: produce that’s too small or too large or that has slight discoloration.” Continue reading

The Not-So-New New Renewable

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A manure and food waste-to-energy facility at Bar-Way Farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts. VANGUARD RENEWABLES

Biogas came to the attention to most of us contributing to this platform while in India. It has remained on our radar as an important, if quaint farmland quirky skunkworks. Thanks to Yale e360 for highlighting its emergence as a scaling alternative to other forms of natural gas:

Could Renewable Natural Gas Be the Next Big Thing in Green Energy?

For decades, small-scale biogas systems have collected methane from landfills, sewage plants, and farms. Now, in Europe and the U.S., the growth of this renewable form of natural gas is taking off as businesses capture large amounts of methane from manure, food waste, and other sources.

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A truck delivers food waste to an anaerobic digester at a Massachusetts farm. VANGUARD RENEWABLES

In the next few weeks, construction crews will begin building an anaerobic digester on the Goodrich Family Farm in western Vermont that will transform cow manure and locally sourced food waste into renewable natural gas (RNG), to be sent via pipeline to nearby Middlebury College and other customers willing to pay a premium for low-carbon energy.

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A covered lagoon manure digester on Van Warmerdam Dairy in Galt, California. MAAS ENERGY WORKS

For the developer, Vanguard Renewables, the project represents both a departure and a strategic bet. The firm already owns and operates five farm-based biogas systems in Massachusetts; each generates electricity on site that is sent to the grid and sold under the state’s net-metering law. The Vermont project, however, is Vanguard’s first foray into producing RNG — biogas that is refined, injected into natural gas pipelines as nearly pure methane, and then burned to make electricity, heat homes, or fuel vehicles.

“Producing RNG for pipeline injection and vehicle fueling is the evolution of where everything is going” in the biogas sector, says John Hanselman, Vanguard’s CEO. Continue reading

Private Conservation Probably Leads To Good Outcomes, But We Need To Know More

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The boundary of land under conservation easement in Marion County, Oregon. TRACY ROBILLARD/NRCS

Richard Conniff does not always have the answers, but he always asks the right questions:

Why Isn’t Publicly Funded Conservation on Private Land More Accountable?

Taxpayer-funded conservation initiatives on private land cost the U.S. public hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Yet information on where these lands are and how they are being protected often is not monitored or publicly available, raising questions about the programs’ effectiveness.

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Earle Peterson walks through his 1,200-acre property in Burlington, New York, which is protected through a conservation easement. WILL PARSON/CHESAPEAKE BAY PROGRAM

A few years ago, an environmental lawyer named Jessica Owley set out to learn how well it works when the federal government allows development in the habitat of an endangered species. Under the terms of these deals, introduced in the 1980s to mollify opponents of the Endangered Species Act, the developers provide mitigation, typically with a conservation easement on some other parcel of private land.

Owley focused on four California examples, out of the almost 700 so-called Habitat Conservation Plans (or HCPs) that now exist nationwide. She had a long list of questions, from “Where are the protected parcels?” to “How do endangered species fare in the face of these deals?”

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Coyote Ridge, part of the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Conservation Plan in Northern California, is a vital habitat for threatened species. BJORN ERICKSON/USFWS

“I ended up being stopped at the first question,” says Owley, now a professor at the University of Buffalo Law School. “It wasn’t just that I couldn’t find the HCP sites, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t know and couldn’t find them.” In one case, an HCP to protect the Mission blue butterfly outside San Francisco, nobody had even bothered to record the easement in municipal land records. Owley came away thinking that a lack of transparency is standard for conservation practices on private land — even when these practices are paid for by taxpayers and meant to serve a significant public interest. Continue reading

Pulses Improving Life In Multiple Ways

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Chickpeas are often called by their Spanish name, garbanzos or garbanzo beans, in the United States. Inga Spence/Getty Images

Whitney Pipkin, appearing for the second time here, has another great story about healthy food with environmental benefits:

Your Hummus Habit Could Be Good For The Earth

Hummus is having a heyday with American consumers, and that could be as good for the soil as it is for our health.

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High in fiber and protein, chickpeas are playing a starring role on menus at fast-casual chains like Little Sesame in Washington, D.C., where hummus bowls abound. Chickpeas also good for soil health — and growing demand could help restore soils depleted by decades of intensive farming. Anna Meyer

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.

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Anna Meyer

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. Continue reading