Author Archives: Bhikkhu Bodhi

Pulses: The Key to Long Life and a Sustainable Environment

BGR Staff

In 2013 the United Nations declared that 2016 would be the International Year of Pulses. The hope of the 2016 International Year of Pulses (IYP 2016) is to position pulses as a primary source of protein and other essential nutrients. IYP 2016 will promote broad discussion and cooperation at the national, regional and global levels to increase awareness and understanding of the challenges faced by pulse farmers, be they large scale farms or small land holders.

Pulses and Nutrition

Pulses are part of a healthy, balanced diet and have been shown to have an important role in preventing illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Pulses are a low fat source of protein, with a high fiber content and low glycemic index. Pulses are very high in fiber, containing both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps to decrease blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels, and insoluble fiber helps with digestion and regularity.

Pulses provide important amounts of vitamins and minerals. Some of the key minerals in pulses include: iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc. Pulses are also particularly abundant in B vitamins; including folate, thiamin and niacin.

Pulses typically contain about twice the amount of protein found in whole grain cereals like wheat, oats, barley and rice, and in most developing countries constitute the main source of protein for most populations.

In addition to contributing to a healthy, balanced diet, the nutritional qualities of pulses makes them particularly helpful in the fight against some non-communicable diseases.

The World Health Organisation estimates that up to 80% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes and over a third of cancers could be prevented by eliminating risk factors, such as unhealthy diets and promoting better eating habits, of which pulses are an essential component.

Pulses can help lower blood cholesterol and attenuate blood glucose, which is a key factors in against diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Eating pulses as a replacement to some animal protein also helps limit the intake of saturated fats and increases the intake of fibers.

Pulses have also been shown to be helpful in the prevention of certain cancers, because of their fiber content but also because of their mineral and amino-acid contents, in particular folate.

Pulses are included in all “food baskets” and dietary guidelines. The World Food Programme (WFP), for instance, includes 60 grams of pulses in its typical food basket, alongside cereals, oils and sugar and salt.

Encouraging awareness of the nutritional value of pulses can help consumers adopt healthier diets. In developing countries, where the trend in dietary choices tends to go towards more animal-based protein and cereals, retaining pulses is an important way to ensure diets remain balanced and to avoid the increase in non-communicable disease often associated with diet transitions and rising incomes.

Several studies have shown that legumes are been associated with long-lived food cultures such as the Japanese (soy, tofu, natto, miso), the Swedes (brown beans, peas), and the Mediterranean people (lentils, chickpeas, white beans) and that they could be an important dietary factor in improving longevity.

Pulses and Sustainability

 Pulses play an important role for sustainability in many ways. They are an important component of crop rotations, they require less fertilizer than other crops, and they are a low carbon source of protein.

Legumes are part of the rotational crops farmers can use to maintain soil fertility. In Canada for instance, where pulses are often integrated in good soil management practices, a good crop rotation includes a variety of crops grown in sequence, including cereals (wheat, barley, oats), oilseeds (canola, flax, sunflowers), and legumes (pulses). Pulses have a positive impact on soil quality because they help fix nitrogen in the soil. This contributes to higher yields in subsequent crop rotations.

Moreover, pulses have a direct positive impact on soil quality because they help feed soil microbes, which benefits soil health. Pulses have also been shown to produce greater amounts and different types of amino acids than non-legumes and the plant residues left after harvesting pulse crops have a different bio-chemical composition than other crop residues.

It is this diversity in soil composition that comes from a good pulse rotation, which help crops to thrive and which offers greater protection against disease-causing bacteria and fungi.

Pulses are also a protein source with a low footprint, in both carbon and water. For instance, the water footprints to produce a kilogram of beef, pork, chicken and soybeans are 43, 18, 11 and 5 times higher than the water footprint of pulses.

Pulses have a lower carbon footprint in production than most animal sources of protein. In fact, one study showed that one kilogram of legume only emits 0.5kg in Co2 equivalent, whereas 1kg of beef produces 9.5 kg in CO2 equivalent.

The very low contribution of legumes is well illustrated in the graph below.

Full Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions From
Common Proteins And Vegetables

The graph shows that lentils are one of the foodstuffs that contributes the least emissions, far fewer than turkey, salmon, or other common sources of protein.

Nitrogen is the nutrient most needed in crop production and nitrogen fertilizer is manufactured using natural gas. Pulses are quite unique among other crops, as they draw their own nitrogen from the air, so they do not require the same application of nitrogen fertilizer as other crops do.

By fixing nitrogen in the soil, pulses also help reduce the footprint of other crops, so the benefits extend much further into the food production cycle. For example, a recent study showed that durum wheat preceded by a biological nitrogen-fixing crop, such as chickpeas or lentils the previous year, lowered its carbon footprint by 17% compared with durum preceded by a cereal crop. The impact was even stronger is a pulse-pulse wheat system, with the carbon footprint of the durum wheat down by 34% compared to a traditional cereal-cereal–durum rotation.

To learn more about pulses, go here. If you would like to participate in the 2016 International Year of Pulses, contact the GPC IYP 2016 team.





Fixing a Broken Food System

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

As the presidential campaign heats up, a coalition of organizations has launched a new initiative that’s also taking aim at the White House. The initiative, called The Plate of the Union, brings together the Union of Concerned Scientists, Food Policy Action, the Food Policy Action Educational Fund, and HEAL Food Alliance in a campaign intended to fix our broken food system. Starting its drive at the top of the political hierarchy, the coalition seeks to confront the US presidential candidates with the challenge of recognizing that the US food system is in crisis.

The food system, which should be promoting people’s health, has instead been a cause of chronic illnesses and early deaths. The system thrives on the proliferation of junk food—food stuffs high in calories but low in nutritional value. Junk food is cheap and everywhere abundant, while truly nutritious food, essential to good health, is expensive and often hard to find. Poor and working class people are especially victimized by the food system. Compelled to subsist on the cheap foods sold at convenience stores and supermarkets, they are preyed on by an industry bent more on profit than on health. The spread of diet-related illnesses not only wastes precious lives, but adds billions each year to a national health-care bill that is already severely bloated.

The disparity in prices between junk food and nutritious food has an impact that extends to generations that have not yet reached the prime of life. Statistics show that children born from the 1990s on have a lower life expectancy than children born in earlier decades. Rates of obesity and diet-related diseases like diabetes and hypertension have spiked. Families of color are particularly vulnerable. Fifty percent of youth of color, it is said, will develop diabetes in their lifetime.

This crisis is not due to chance. The root of the problem is US agricultural policy, shaped and determined by commercial interests that favor easy profits over nutritious food. The farm lobby, representing large agricultural and food corporations, pressures the government to subsidize an industrial farming system that produces vast quantities of cheap crops like corn and soybeans, the essential ingredients of processed foods. These then stack the shelves of supermarkets and infiltrate almost everything that comes in a package, can, or bottle. Subsidies of similar scale are not offered where they are truly needed: to farmers who want to grow healthy food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, in ecologically beneficial ways.

The large chemical corporations also have a stake in maintaining this system. The industrial model of agriculture depends on chemical inputs, on fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that degrade the soil, contaminate our water, and pollute our air. Chemical preservatives and coloring are added to the food, where they exist along with the toxic residues that remain from pesticides and herbicides. The system is thereby also largely responsible for the shockingly high rate of cancer in this country.

Together big agriculture, the food industry, and the chemical corporations constitute a powerful bloc having cozy relations with the most influential people in Congress. But scientists and nutritionists are ready to stand up to this Goliath. The Plate of the Union initiative is issuing calls to transform federal food policy at multiple levels, with the aim of ensuring that “every American has access to healthy, affordable food that is fair to food workers, good for the environment, and ensures that farmers can keep farming.”

Among the changes in government policy and programs called for by the initiative are the following:

·         support for farmers who want to grow fruits and vegetables
·         investing in research to improve farming practices
·         fostering ideas to make healthy foods available and conveniently priced
·         paying food and farm workers fair wages
·         promoting the success of small, independent farms
·         protecting rural communities from harmful chemicals that pollute the air             and water.

According to the campaign partners, the first step is getting the presidential candidates to recognize that our food system is indeed broken and then asking them to make a commitment to address it. Since the giant corporations have a strong hold on government, change will not be easy. Firm commitment and the will to resist are necessary. But if we don’t change our food policies, the consequences for ourselves, for this country, and indeed for the world will be disastrous.

To add your voice to the campaign, go here.

Here is an informative video with Dr. Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists explaining the background and purpose of the initiative:


Feeding Schoolchildren in Cameroon

BGR Staff

A few days ago we received the following message and photographs from Kwangene Princely, Executive Director of our partner in Cameroon,  CENCUDER (Centre for Community Development and Environmental Restoration)


The feeding program sponsored by Buddhist Global Relief has so far been  a fantastic success. We are proud to say that many pupils who initially did not like going to school are now the first persons to come to school with their plates. Some even attempt to come on Saturday, which is not a school day, thinking that they are going to be served with food. So far, the performance of the children in the first results has improved by 60% compared to last year’s first term. The health of the children is also becoming better. Children who suffered from diseases due to malnutrition, like Kwashiorkor, which affected their performance in school, are doing quite well.

Many primary schools in the subdivision are coming to our office to have the program extended to their school as well. There is a lot of pressure on our side from the children, the parents, and head teachers of other schools. In fact, our feeding program is the first of its kind to be instituted by an NGO in the southwest region of Cameroon. The program is making great news.

We thank you all at Buddhist Global Relief. It is really a veritable change in the lives of these children and the most powerful tool to increase the school attendance rate in rural areas of Africa



The Revolutionary Message of Martin Luther King Jr.

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

In the half-century since his tragic death at the age of 39, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has been turned into a national idol. His birthday has been made a public holiday. His memorial stands in the heart of our capital city, close to the memorials of our greatest presidents. His name is invoked by politicians on both the left and the right, treated almost as sacrosanct. In the process of being glorified, however, King has been domesticated, sanitized, and tamed. His powerful voice, which once sent tremors down the spines of the power elites, now speaks in muffled tones. His speeches are quoted selectively, stripped of their fiercest and most insistent words. Nowadays we can even visit his memorial in D.C., read the quotations blazoned on the walls, and still chat blandly about the weather and the baseball scores.

MLK is most remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech, which in the mid-1960s became the anthem of the civil rights movement. But King was more than just a civil rights leader representing the concerns of African Americans. He was above all a man of deep faith who was ready to follow the call of conscience no matter where it led him, even into dangerous waters. He stood up against all travesties of human dignity, against all violations against the integrity of the human person, without concern for the identity of the victims.
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On Hope and Hype: Reflections on a New Year’s Tradition

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

2016 New Year's at CYM

At the dawn of a new year it’s customary to suspend our habitual cynicism about human nature in order to express joyful hopes for the year that lies ahead. While this practice helps to spread good cheer, at least for a day, it often seems to me an exercise with no practical consequences. How, I ask myself, can declaring my hopes to others make a dent in a world oblivious to our dreams? How can we expect the mere change of a date to alter the conditions under which we live?

The practice, I fear, may not be very different from a drug habit. Both seem to serve a similar purpose. If I find my life’s circumstances intolerable, I may try to numb my pain and frustration by taking a drug. If I perceive the world descending into chaos, I  try to console myself and cheer up others by declaring that this year things will be better. In this way, hope may turn out to be little more than hype: a psychological hypodermic needle filled with a mind-numbing narcotic, a hyperbole that obscures the grim reality that engulfs us all.
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Bolstering a Food Budget for Hungry Kids in Haiti

BGR Staff

This past May BGR approved a six-month renewable grant to the Art Creation Foundation for Children, in Haiti, to bolster its food program, which a budget shortfall had forced to be cut in half. This is a brief report on the project.


Kids enjoy a meal together

The Art Creation Foundation for Children is an arts-based non-profit organization created for the personal growth, empowerment, and education of children in need in Jacmel, Haiti. The Foundation provides art instruction, tutoring, medical care, daily food and water, and educational expenses for students in the program. Its mission is to build a passionate community of future leaders, visionaries, and dynamic thinkers who are empowered to better their lives and their world through the arts and education. “Rather than hand out a temporary fix,” they say, “we focus on empowering our students with the tools to create their own reality and decide the course of their lives.”
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Climate Change as a Moral Call to Social Transformation

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Image: NASA

As negotiators gather in Paris this week and next for the COP 21 conference, it is important to recognize that solving the climate crisis is not merely a matter of adopting new policies but of transforming our ways of relating to the world. It entails adopting a new sense of responsibility for the fate of humanity, for the planet and the entire global community. The realization that human activity is altering the earth’s climate assigns to human beings the gravest moral responsibility we have ever faced. It puts the destiny of the planet squarely in our own hands just at a time when we are inflicting near-lethal wounds on its surface and seas and instigating what has been called “the sixth great extinction.”

As an ethical issue, however, climate change cannot be viewed in isolation. To understand its ethical aspects adequately, it is necessary to recognize the close links between climate change and a host of other factors that initially may appear to have little to do with the disruptions affecting the earth’s geophysical processes. Today we face not merely a climate emergency but a single multidimensional crisis whose diverse facets—environmental, social, political, and economic—intersect and reinforce each other with dizzying complexity.
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