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Friday, February 1, 2013

Quinoa Controversy

It was only a few weeks ago that I learned how to pronounce the word correctly.

Please don't discount this post if you think I'm an idiot for not knowing how to pronounce it. (Friends who don't know, it's keen-wah FYI!)

Before becoming uber popular as of late, quinoa was an obscure grain-like seed you could only buy at wholefood shops in the US. It's kind of in the same family as couscous, and if you're like me, it's only on the food shows you love to watch! Dieticians love this stuff. It's full of protein (14-18% by mass), amino acids and it's gluten free. It's a super crop. People have gone nuts over it!

So, no surprise the price has tripled since 2006. Think about wheat, a crop readily produced in the US, being $9 a bushel - quinoa is almost $340 a ton. Economics teachers of my past go ahead and be proud:
Supply-Demand Graph from Econ 101

Across the globe, quinoa isn't a fad. It's not the new protein source that makes people feel better about their food choices.Our country eats so much quinoa that the people of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia (countries where quinoa was the staple food source for many years) can no longer afford it.
In Lima, quinoa is now more expensive than chicken.

This isn't the first tale of how a premium fad food source in American damages the country it is produced in. Peruvian asparagus production is concentrated in the Ica region and because of demand for exports, growing this vegetable is threatening the water resources the local people depend on.

The UN has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. So now you have to learn how to pronounce it!

My opinion? We can take these food products, put them in our grocery carts and get all excited about a novel, healthy protein option. That's fine, but don't go home feeling all warm and fuzzy about it. While we are preoccupied with a fad, peasant's can no longer afford a staple grain and are literally starving.

That's not the direction we want our society to head in. We have a lot of people to feed and not all of us are willing to be farmers.

What are your thoughts?

Tera

5 comments:

  1. I read the article that this blog post was based on. The question that came to mind was... aren't many of the poor in these countries actually the farmers that grow quinoa? Thus wouldn't they be the ones experiencing a tremendous advantage in the global marketplace when it comes time to sell their product? From the outside it looks like a fairly dire situation for the poor of these South American countries, but I would be curious to see how it is impacting quinoa growers and if they are actually benefiting from added purchasing of their product. The good news is... chicken is much tastier than quinoa.

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  2. The benefit of added interest in quinoa looks promising, that is, if the farmers who grow quinoa are working in a free market and are the direct beneficiary of the inflation of export. I'm not an expert on Bolivian agriculture, so I'd like to do more research on it to find out more about the structure of the farms that produce the most quinoa. If you find a good resource or article, please post it here!

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  3. Now I feel totally guilty about the quinoa sloppy joes in my fridge. Sadness.

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  4. Quinoa prices going up benefit the growers of the crop. And you must know that the people that harvest quinoa are on the verge of poverty since it grows in the most unhospitable places in the Andes (must be 3000 meters above sea level). This income allows them to have a better livelihood. Seriously, before it was exported, quinoa was so devalued that people used it to feed chickens.

    The fact that quinoa is recogniaed world wide has brought attention also within Peru and now it is getting the respect and value it deserves, thus amplifying the benefits to its growers.

    Now, most peruvians dislike quinoa, but it is because they are not used to eat healthy, prefer tastier less nutritious foods. And we proud ourselves on it--sadly.

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