Quinoa, once familiar only to hard-core vegans, has become so popular that the United Nations has made 2013 The Year of Quinoa.
Pronounced keen-wa, quinoa has an ancient origin, in the Andes Mountains of South America, where it was one of the three staple foods of the Inca civilization, along with corn and potatoes. The Incas called it “the mother grain,” and today the quinoa seed is considered a super-food, valued for its high protein content, fiber, essential amino acids and overall great nutritional value.
You can eat it as a side dish or a main dish for lunch or dinner, have it for breakfast in place of oatmeal, bake cookies with it, or even use it in drinks. It’s light, tasty, and easy to digest and tastes great!
For all these reasons, sales of quinoa have exploded, and this increased demand means that the basic price of this seed has tripled since 2006, while the more unusual black, red and “royal” types come at an even greater cost.
But there’s a dark side to this popularity. From The Guardian:
There is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.
The idea that it’s cheaper to buy imported junk food in Bolivia and Peru than to purchase a pound of healthy quinoa is a frightening one. In the U.S., there are numerous studies showing how eating junk food contributes to our soaring obesity rates. And as American junk food spreads to other countries, with McDonalds, Burger King and Pizza Hut, among others, opening up franchises in Vietnam, China and Japan, so the obesity rates start growing there too. In El Salvador, there’s been a dramatic increase in rotten teeth, the result of an influx of American soft drinks.
That’s one disastrous aspect of this situation.
Another is the notion that with all our well-intentioned nutritious eating habits, by consuming so much quinoa, we are driving up poverty rates in Bolivia and Peru.
The Guardian article goes on to compare quinoa to other imported produce such as asparagus and soy, and reports that in both cases, increased exportation of these foods has led to environmental destruction and poverty in parts of South America.
Should we all cut back on our consumption of quinoa to stabilize the market and make sure it’s available to everyone at a fair price? Will that solve the problem?
Obviously, it’s not as simple as that. If we all stop buying quinoa, then farmers in Bolivia and Peru will lose their jobs, and they won’t have money to buy any quinoa. A better solution is to begin growing quinoa in other parts of the world.
Every crop originally came from a specific place, so quinoa production will spread, given demand, as has the production of corn and potatoes, the two other staples of the Inca diet.
What do you think?
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