Quinoa: The World According to the Pseudocereal
I started eating quinoa almost ten years ago, having sought out advice on a martial arts forum about inexpensive protein sources that were easy to prepare in bulk. I was informed that several forum users were avid quinoa-consumers and that it made a great breakfast. To avoid making myself feel older than I am, this was when there wasn’t a Whole Foods on every corner, and the only way to find quinoa was at a local Raley’s (add in something about walking ten miles in the snow-covered streets of Sacramento for full effect) in what was (at the time) a seemingly massive natural-foods section compared to any other large-scale chain of grocery stores. One could only get quinoa by scooping it out of bins and into a bag or plastic container, along with many other nuts, legumes, dried fruits, etc.
I used a rice cooker to prepare the pseudocereal for the first time after soaking it in water for a few hours and served it up with honey, dried berries, and a handful of almonds. It was good but not the sort of thing I was prepared to eat every day ad-infinitum, and it seems from that day forward, moving through the years, the popularity of quinoa simply exploded, and the presence of large organic bags of it at Costco certainly tend to justify this perception. The proof lies in the following: The price has more than tripled since 2006 (+$3000 per tonne), with colored varieties such as red quinoa selling for $4500 per tonne and black quinoa selling for $8000 per tonne. It’s such an ordeal that Bolivians and Peruvians can no longer afford to buy up their land’s bounties due to the popularity boom in North America and Europe (a drop of approximately thirty-four percent in consumption in Bolivia).
What we’re seeing is an interesting dynamic in how large-scale consumption and trade can significantly alter the lives of the producers’ population. In the case of Bolivia,
Global demand means less quinoa is being eaten in Bolivia and Peru, the countries of origin…there are concerns this could cause malnutrition as producers, who have long relied on the superfood to supplement their meagre diets, would rather sell their entire crop than eat it. The rocketing international price is also creating land disputes.
While both Bolivia and Peru’s governments claim that local consumption is up, it appears that quinoa’s status as a growing ‘luxury’ item is pushing consumers toward more westernized diets, that they “want rice, noodles, candies, coke…”
This is disconcerting and somewhat ironic, given that quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse and sustainable crop (and not a particularly thirsty one). It stands as one of the best veg-friendly supplements to one’s protein intake thanks to its status as a complete protein (contains all nine essential amino acids)…but its economic effects ought to also lead to sustainable practices, and this boom could instead be spiking demand for notoriously unhealthy foods and worse yet – practices, in parts of the world that were already struggling with malnutrition.
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/43/Red_quinoa.png
Information sources: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/20/world/americas/20bolivia.html