Beans are protein-rich, sustainable, and delicious. Why doesn’t the U.S. eat more of them?
As one global campaign to double bean consumption by 2028 frames it, the answer to the question of how we can get inexpensive protein without sacrificing animals or the planet is simple: 'Beans is how'.
JULIETA CARDENAS: Besides the health, ethical, or religious reasons why people choose to stop eating meat, the way animals are raised to be food has enormous impacts on land use, deforestation, and carbon emissions. And as the global population continues to grow, per-capita meat production to meet that demand is growing even faster.
In the last decade, alternative meat options, like Impossible and Beyond, rose as a potential solution, a product that can substitute for animal meat without the ethical and planetary penalties. But plant-based proteins have been hitting a wall: inflation, politicization of food, and supply-chain hurdles punctured the hype — at least for now.
However, there’s a simple way to provide plenty of protein that doesn’t require animals or plant-based startups: beans. Beans are high in protein, efficient to grow, and can even improve soil health. They cost less than conventional or new plant-based meats, and they’re increasingly getting attention among foodies.
As one global campaign to double bean consumption by 2028 frames it, the answer to the question of how we can get inexpensive protein without sacrificing animals or the planet is simple: “Beans is how.”
There’s just one problem: Beans and legumes suffer from a public relations problem in the US, where the average person eats only around 7.5 pounds of beans per year, compared to 12 pounds in the UK and as much as 130 pounds in countries like Rwanda and Burundi. Beans can make you gassy, there’s a cooking learning curve, and a socioeconomic stigma around them still lingers.
But if we’re serious about changing how we think about our agricultural resources, beans can be a champion for delicious, sustainable, and affordable protein…
The good thing about beans is that they’re a food that already exists with a long cultural history. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel to get them in grocery stores or on restaurant menus. But the food system as it is now disproportionately favors the meat industry, which is difficult to regulate.
Raising cattle, pigs, and chickens uses 77 percent of the world’s agricultural land, while only providing 37 percent of the global protein supply, according to Our World in Data. For beans, the ratio is almost the inverse: Just 23 percent of land is used to grow plants for human consumption, from which the world gets 63 percent of its protein. The difference in efficiency is clear: Plants and in particular pulses (the dry seed of a legume), like beans and lentils, give you more protein while using less land. SOURCE…