Quinoa: Good or Bad?

Have you ever tried quinoa? I bet you have. Considering that most of my readers are from Santa Cruz and NorCal, and we Californians LOVE our quinoa, I bet you’ve tried it. I love quinoa. Seriously, my dad and I keep a container of it cooked and on hand at all times, ready to mix into salads, eat with vegetables, tofu, you name it. I even use it to make
these vegan quinoa burgers, among other awesome recipes I have found for it.

But I had never thought of the grain on a global scale. Quinoa comes from Bolivia, and was originally domesticated by the Incas, valued as a protein-packed grain. And now, as the market for quinoa has become so profitable, Bolivians are benefitting greatly from an increase in jobs (and not just in urban factory jobs, but it is encouraging people to return to their farms, and to support the agricultural sector of the country). This increase allows Bolivians to stay in their country, as opposed to traveling to Argentina or Chile to seek work. Great, right?

Well, nothing is as simple as that. According to this NY Times  article, this worldwide obsession with quinoa is making the grain  much more expensive. Everywhere. So that means Bolivia too. It turns  out that as Bolivians are benefitting from more jobs and less migration,  they can’t afford quinoa anymore; it’s become too expensive. So now,  people are resorting to cheaper foods, which are inevitably more  processed, and much less nutritious. During the food crisis we are in  right now, cutting access to nutritious foods is not the greatest idea.

This all confuses me. What’s worse, losing access to this staple food that holds such cultural significance and is a great source of protein? Or boosting the economy, keeping people out of the overcrowded cities, allowing people to stay home and supporting the agricultural sector? I don’t know.

In terms of my own role in this, I feel pretty conflicted. I tend to have a pretty big problem with cultural appropriation, and it bothers me to no end that part of what made quinoa so attractive was the fact that it was foreign, exotic, new. So people bought it, and now we have made it part of our regular meals, feeling oh so cultured and healthy doing so. But what about the Bolivians, who domesticated it in the first place, and now can’t eat it?

It makes me think a lot of açai, a Brazilian berry that Americans love, and assign all sorts of magical powers to (which include but are not limited to: weight loss, curative powers, anti-aging powers). If the American consumption of açai meant that Brasilians would have less access to it, I would be pretty mad. Luckily, most of that stuff that is labeled as açai juice is really apple juice and blueberries. Having tasted açai before, I can tell you that it does not seem to exist in any detectable form within those Costco drinks. Trust me. And you won’t lose weight. Or cure your cancer. Or attract a boyfriend. Or whatever. You know, considering the fact that Latin Americans are often stereotyped as superstitious, and Brasil is famous for its Afro-Brasilian population and all the voodoo they supposedly practice–U.S. Americans are pretty gullible themselves.

So, what do you think? What should be done to make quinoa accessible to all?

20. March 2011 by Juliana
Categories: Latino & Latin America | Tags: , , | 3 comments

  • j.b. villegas

    Well said.

  • Juliana


  • https://www.facebook.com/itsmekumar kumar

    why can’t they just grow more and provide quinoa & acai to all?