The Quinoa Craze: The Occasional Problem with Buying Better Food

The Quinoa Craze: The Occasional Problem with Buying Better Food January 29, 2013

Personal experience tells us that it costs money to buy food. And it’s also obvious that it costs more money to buy better food, the sort often labeled “organic,” “fair trade,” “free of preservatives,” and so on. A somewhat recent food trend in the latter camp is quiona (keen-wa), a Peruvian whole-grain full of amino acids and known as a complete protein. This item is praised in the food-conscious, vegan, and “granola” crowds. It provides a serious dose of protein, can be a meat replacement, and has a delicious nutty taste.

But there’s a sad, little-known fact about this whole-food item: the people that grow the crop can’t afford to eat it anymore.

When Americans got wind of the health benefits of this grain, sales took off and the main countries growing quinoa began to suffer as a result. It is now cheaper for Peruvians to buy chicken and “junk food” so that Americans can have quinoa at an affordable price. The demand for quinoa in America is so high that farms in Peru and Bolivia are shifting from a variety of vegetables grown on those farms to being a quinoa monoculture. And even then, what was once the main item in their diet is now too expensive for their own consumption.

This is why it’s important to know how certain foods get on the grocery store shelves here in America. Our demands for healthier foods are good, but they don’t impact the eater alone. Knowledge of the affect our quiona-craze is having upon the communities where it is produced will not likely change our demand for it. But as eaters are more informed, there may be more concern for quinoa farmers (and those of the next food craze) that could result in better regulation for the foods we think we our diet must have. We’ve long known that it matters what we eat. But the truth is, the food we eat has a long history that we consume with every bite.

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