The More You Love Quinoa, The More You Hurt Bolivians

Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite. It was originally published on January 18, 2013. Enjoy!

Quinoa, once familiar only to hard-core vegans, has become so popular that the United Nations 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?

Related Care2 Coverage

Obesity In Asia: American Fast Food Is Fare For The Rich

Global Demand For Quinoa Means Those Who Grow It Can’t Afford It

Junk Food Makes American Kids “Too Fat To Fight”

Photo Credit: thinkstock


Helga Ganguly
Helga Ganguly3 months ago

True or not, I'll stay on the safe side of history and abstain from it. I have many choices. It's also very expensive. Better to buy plain rice and lots of kinds of lentils and beans.

Helga Ganguly
Helga Ganguly3 months ago

thanks for the article.

Helga Ganguly
Helga Ganguly3 months ago

thanks for the article.

Leslie K.
Leslie K3 months ago

thanks for the article.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 months ago

thanks for the article.

Miriam O.

◕╰დ╮ THANK YOU for your time and for posting! ╭დ╯◕

Miriam O.

◕╰დ╮ THANK YOU for your time and for posting! ╭დ╯◕

Cody Pederson
Cody Pederson2 years ago

As someone who's lived in Bolvia for an extended period, I'm glad to say that most of this article is wrong and misleading.
First, American fast food is not spreading to Bolivia or rural Peru quickly. McDonalds actually had to pull out of Bolivia after a few unsuccessful years. International fast food is too expensive to invade rural South America anytime soon. Even local fast food chains have a hard time competing outside the largest cities.
Andeans also don't eat a lot of processed food, and if they did it's not because it's cheap. It's not like America, where processed food has dominated the cheap food market. There basic staples like rice, lentils, potatoes, and bread are abundant. You can buy a shopping bag filled with bread or a kilo of rice for less than a dollar. A cheap home-run eatery will serve basic meals of meat, soup, and rice for less than $2.
I can believe that lots of Andeans drink soda, but it's not because of imported fast food. The cheapest sodas there are local brands like Inca Kola, and most soda there is locally produced by chains like Coca Cola. Even then, it's served with bread or rice and chicken, not with Tombstone pizza, a Big Mac, or hot pockets.
Andeans don't always eat healthy, but most of the junk food like fried chicken is locally produced.
Quinoa is actually starting to reach more Andeans, not fewer, through new Bolivian government nutrition initiatives for schools.
Last, converting diverse fields to cash crops is not a bad thi

Oleg Kobetz
Oleg Kobetz2 years ago


K H.
K H2 years ago

I'm not a fan of quinoa, but regarding this issue, I would like to hear comments from the people in Bolivia who are affected by the quinoa trade. I think that would be the most accurate account of this information.
As for the issue of junk food being cheaper, yes that does need to be addressed if it is happening there. I am inclined to believe it, because that's how things have been for a while here in the U.S., and that's absolutely one of the major reasons we have such a high rate of overweight/obese people. Where I live, you can buy a pack of instant butter/cheese/bacon flavor mashed potatoes that fills 2 people for like $1, but forsooth if you ever want to buy a box of fresh fruit, you gotta shell out at least $4 for a box of half-moldy overripe strawberries. If you are bored with water, you can buy a 2-liter store brand soda for 99 cents, but it's $2.79 for a healthy V8 fruit juice bottle of a similar volume. A box of low-calorie popsicles- about $4; while the tubs of ice cream are literally on sale buy one get one free every other week. It's a flawed system when rich people get to eat healthier than poorer people, but it's not gonna change as long as money has control over so many things.