Posted by: A Part of the Solution | February 19, 2013

What’s Wrong with Quinoa?

What’s wrong with Quinoa? What kind of a question is that? Quinoa provides dense values for nutrition, aminos and fiber. Quinoa works for diets ranging from low-carb to gluten free to vegan. Quinoa replaces grains in salads, sides, stews and more. Quinoa cooks in a third the time of brown rice.  What’s not to love about Quinoa?

Therein lies the rub. Unlike false food fads, say the Agave trend, Quinoa lives up to its billing. Quinoa delivers on the goods. Quinoa’s phytonutrient anti-inflammatory properties are just coming on line. The more we know about Quinoa, the more we like it as heart patients, diabetics, arthritics, celiacs, vegans, and the immune compromised.

How much does the industrialized world like Quinoa? Quinoa prices rose 300% or more over the last six years. Oh, and the UN has declared 2013 the International Year of the Quinoa. Still don’t see where this is leading? Let’s get down to business.

Where does Quinoa grow? Quinoa grows in the Andes at elevations of 3000 m.and up. Quinoa grows in saline, nutrient poor soil. Quinoa grows where there’s little  oxygen and less water.

Who grows Quinoa? Indigenous people living in remote regions of Bolivia and Peru.

How does the popularity of Quinoa affect these people? High-altitude farming is the new gold rush in the Andes. Andean farmers devote every square foot of cultivatable land to the production of the new cash crop. Often including the vegetable plot for the family. In the high mountains, folkways dictate eating Quinoa every day, often with every meal. Subsistence farmers don’t eat their cash crop. Now these indigenous people incorporate processed industrialized foods into their daily regimen. Experienced farmers used to leave fields fallow for llama pasture, to build up the soil for several years between cropping Quinoa. Now? Commodity prices blind these stewards of the high mountains to their traditional values. New farmers by the thousand started cultivating Quinoa without any idea of the difficulties, limitations and fragility of the environment in which they’re farming.  Oh, and violent boundary disputes are a growing phenomenon.

Why do I care? You care because you have enough depth to your value system to perceive your health shouldn’t come at the expense of the health and sustainability of the lives of others or the eco-system providing your nutrition. You know the carbon-footprint on Quinoa grown in another hemisphere is shameful. You understand the effects of unregulated capitalism on emerging economies and don’t want to fuel that fire.

What can you do? Eat the Quinoa you have in stock. Now, don’t go to the store and buy more. See, the solution is easy. Low- altitude Quinoa is being developed by agricultural researchers right now. In a year or three, North American Quinoa may be cheap and plentiful. Let’s throttle back before another unique environmental niche disappears completely and forever.

Friends help friends cut back on Quinoa consumption. Little by little, supply and demand will equalize. Eat Millet. Eat Teff. Try Sorghum. Experiment with Wild Rice if you need to pay a lot for your non-grain staple. Do your part. Do it for the Andes.

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