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UN-sanctioned international years of this, that and the other have been with us since 1959 and World Refugee Year. In 2004, we were fed the first direct food year with the international year of rice, and since then we’re had potatoes, quinoa, pulses, fruits and vegetables and millets. Food-adjacent years have included biodiversity, family farming, soils, plant health, and artisanal fisheries and aquaculture. Next year promises camelids, with rangelands and pastoralists due in 2026.

What are they for? The UN says they exist “in order to promote, through awareness and action, the objectives of the Organization” including the objectives of the food and food-adjacent specialised agencies of the UN. So I am mystified by my inability to find a single study examining the effective longer-term impact of these jamborees on either awareness or action.

Well, not quite.

This diatribe was prompted by an article What the heck are pulses? European unawareness stands in the way of this “green” superfood that I happened to notice at the bottom of another article I was reading. According to the press release, a large online survey of peoples’ awareness of pulses, the varieties they recognise and the frequency with which they eat pulses revealed that “Europeans aren’t all that familiar with pulses”. Danes are apparently average on awareness, but bottom on pulse diversity and bottom equal with Germany on frequency of consumption.

My point here (and I refuse to be drawn by the appeal of the term “bottom”) is that this is despite everything that went into the International Year of Pulses (2016). I have no idea what was spent, overall, by all the stakeholders. I know only that I spent quite a lot of time working on it without seeing huge financial gain. From my perspective, the pulse industry seemed to be calling the shots, rather than, say, nutritionists or climate activists. So, what happened to global pulse consumption in the years after 2016? Did any countries enjoy greater exports? How about cheaper imports? I would love some facts, and yet I cannot find much at all.

Sure, FAO listed the achievements of the IYP in its usual fashion, where the occurrence of an event somehow indicates that it actually had an impact. And they successfully lobbied for a World Pulses Day; February 10 — start planning now. But did anyone’s actual behaviour change as a result of the International Year of Pulses?

Maybe. A team at Colorado State University used a citizen science approach to make it easier for people to learn about, cook and eat pulses, with 54 recipes for a 14-day trial. Related research fed into an Extension Bean Toolkit and activities that substantially increased how often people ate beans a month later. Will that last? One can hope. Were those projects directly inspired by the IYP? I’m trying to find out.

To be clear, I have nothing in particular against pulses; in fact, I have been an enthusiastic pulsophile for decades. I even still make Sarah Brown’s Red Dragon pie from time to time. That Copenhagen press release and a recent resurgence of quinoa (IYQ, 2013) conspired to make me think again about international years of food, and to conclude that they are a waste of time, money and goodwill.

Correct me, please.

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