Whether you’re a devout vegetarian or have pledged to cut back on meat in 2013 (or, at least, through January), you’ve likely already consumed quinoa this year.
But the more of it you consume, the more expensive you make it for people in Peru and Bolivia – the people who have subsisted on it for centuries and are often responsible for getting it to our plates.
Indeed, as an article in The Guardian makes clear, the increased demand for quinoa has driven up its price to the extent that “imported junk food is cheaper,” writes columnist Joanna Blythman. “In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities … the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.”
And so presents an ethical dilemma for all of us late adapters (yes, even the vegans who have been eating it for a decade): Continue to consume quinoa for our own nourishment, or cut back to stabilize the market and ensure it is available – at a fair price – to all?
The quinoa seed – it’s often confused for a grain – almost always ranks high as a recommended “super-food” (other examples include kale, salmon and berries) and is praised for its protein content, fibre and all-around nutritional value. It can be eaten as a breakfast cereal in place of oatmeal, as a side or main dish for lunch or dinner, and even liquefied into smoothie-type drinks or baked into cookies or crackers.
It is said that the Incas referred to it as “the mother of all grains,” but it did not catch on in Western countries until more recently. Today, quinoa is so revered that the United Nations declared 2013 the Year of Quinoa. Yes, it’s that big a deal.
But this is not the first time concerns have been raised. In March, 2011, The New York Times reported that quinoa prices tripled over the past five years, while “Bolivia’s consumption of the staple fell 34 per cent over the same period, according to the country’s agricultural ministry.”
It also suggested a rise in malnutrition among children in quinoa-growing regions.
The Guardian article compares quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wa, if you still have no clue) to other “problematic imports” such as asparagus and soy. Their popularity among those outside their native geographies comes at the expense of not only the local peoples, but also the land.
Blythman uses the quinoa quandary to point out that Western countries need to be more committed to food that can be grown closer to home and doesn’t have such negative consequences. “Viewed through a lens of food security, our current enthusiasm for quinoa looks increasingly misplaced,” she writes.
But it’s unlikely that people will cut back on quinoa with the same gusto that has lead to the widely adopted Meat-free Mondays initiative. Quinoa Saturdays (all you can eat!) just doesn’t have the same kick.
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