If I were sent to a desert island with one type of food only to sustain me, I would choose quinoa. Like many people since quinoa began gaining visibility, I became a convert with my first spoonful. I love the satisfying pop of the tiny translucent beads in my mouth. I love the taste, so unique and yet so versatile as to provide the perfect stand-in for pasta, bread, rice, potatoes–you name it. And of course, I love the nutritious goodness of this gluten-free seed–its balance of essential amino-acids equals that of meat, its protein content surpasses any grain’s, to name but a few. Pregnant, I laughed when I realized that quinoa was the only food whose very evocation would nauseate me. Thankfully, I was able to make my peace with it as soon as breastfeeding became my new priority in life. And I gratefully incorporated it back in my diet several times a week.
That was over three months ago. Since then, I haven’t been able to stop pondering over all sorts of issues surrounding this staple food of mine, the bulk of which is imported from the high desert plateau (Altiplano) of Bolivia. Am I just a hypocrite for evangelizing the virtues of buying local while relying heavily on a food that is anything but local? A food whose exports have multiplied tenfold between 2000 and 2009, and whose price tripled over the last decade? A food that has become so expensive, in fact, that the people who’ve been living off it for millennia can barely afford it anymore, and must replace it with cheap commodities like noodles–or so I hear? Should I search for sources closer to home, and, barring local production, should I banish my favorite food from my table?
I decided to do some research. As it turns out, those questions have no straightforward answers.