Apparently whatever I eat is going to hurt someone in the world. Capitalism doesn't seem to work without suffering for some. I have this awesome quinoa recipe I was going to post, now I need to change the grain.
The people who first cultivated the grain can't afford to eat it.
January 18, 2013 |
Not long ago, quinoa was just an obscure Peruvian grain you could only buy in wholefood shops. We struggled to pronounce it (it's keen-wa, not qui-no-a), yet it was feted by food lovers as a novel addition to the familiar ranks of couscous and rice. Dieticians clucked over quinoa approvingly because it ticked the low-fat box and fitted in with government healthy eating advice to "base your meals on starchy foods".
Adventurous eaters liked its slightly bitter taste and the little white curls that formed around the grains. Vegans embraced quinoa as a credibly nutritious substitute for meat. Unusual among grains, quinoa has a high protein content (between 14%-18%), and it contains all those pesky, yet essential, amino acids needed for good health that can prove so elusive to vegetarians who prefer not to pop food supplements.
Sales took off. Quinoa was, in marketing speak, the "miracle grain of the Andes", a healthy, right-on, ethical addition to the meat avoider's larder (no dead animals, just a crop that doesn't feel pain). Consequently, the price shot up – it has tripled since 2006 – with more rarified black, red and "royal" types commanding particularly handsome premiums.
But there is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.
Just did a little search and if your in Auss especially Tassie, And Quinoa is now grown there by Kindred Organics,
But Wait there's more
Urban Myths an Article written by Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail. Gives a better picture of Quinoa and its production.
That was a good article, Davy. Good reply to this one posted above, and seems to make more sense. But who knows, really.
So, I went snooping around in Spanish language websites from Perú and Bolivia. Interestingly, the middle class and urban poor snubbed quinoa for being the "food of the Indians", referring to the Altiplano dwellers. Now they are beginning to reconsider eating it instead of rice or noodles because it is actually more nutritious. It seems hard to create huge monocultures of quinoa because there is not much arable land and the bush actually grows where other plants do not grow, it's a tough little bush. It resists frost and drought, perfect for growing in the Altiplano. 45% of the quinoa consumed globally comes from Bolivia, 30% from Peru, 10% from the US. The good news is the US is starting to produce it. Those of us who enjoy quinoa have to find where to buy US grown, if we prefer to buy local. Apparently the growing popularity of the grain (seed) has helped the poor people in quinoa growing regions, though, because they sell it for more money. That's what I could gather from reading a few articles. One article mentioned malnutrition in some children from the region because the parents feed them rice or noodles because they want to sell all their quinoa. Another article reported that in Bolivia, the government started including quinoa in free school breakfasts and that breastfeeding moms can get it for free through governmental programs.
I could not find a single article saying the people who produce it cannot afford to eat it. It is pretty clear that not too many people ate it to begin with, it was a crop specific to the high Andes, not really consumed in the cities.
That is what the article I linked to was basically saying as well. Funny what you can learn when you do a little bit of snooping ain't it?
Nice. I'm very happy to see this article refuted, it was aggravating me. I bought a box, (small), of red quinoa; costs me $6.50. Pretty damn expensive compared to other vegetarian sources of protein. That's why I thought the article had some truth to it.
It is discouraging and unfair to Bolivians and Peruvians, but I kind of agree with Adriana. No matter what you eat or wear, someone somewhere will tell you you are wrong for doing it because it is hurting some person, animal, or environment. And usually that is correct, but how to avoid it? Everything is bad for you, for someone else, or some place.
I also agree that the article seems highly biased, but in this day and age there are so many articles "planted" as news which are little more than advertisements for this or that. For example, a pro-meat of pro-fava bean group could be behind it. Did anyone notice after all the bad, bad, bad news about eating quinoa, there just so happens to be an alternative: "There are promising initiatives: one enterprising Norfolk company, for instance, has just started marketing UK-grown fava beans (the sort used to make falafel) as a protein-rich alternative to meat." How convenient is that?
Also, most meat is not grown locally either. In the US we get tons of beef from Canada, and vice versa.
Lastly, importing foods isn't the problem per se, and buying local doesn't solve all the problems. If you grow it locally, then you import the labor instead via migrant workers. The problem is that we live in such a stratified global society. The "have nots" always get the short end of the stick, no matter what, while the "haves" get the lion's share, and then some.
But how to fix it?
To the added delight of politically correct health nuts, it's produced by small-scale Andean farmers like Huarachi who reap direct benefits of its international popularity.Recently, those benefits have skyrocketed: quinoa's price has tripled since 2006, triggering a boom in the poorest region of South America's poorest country. "Now we've got tractors for our fields and parabolic antennas for our homes," says Huarachi, who's also a board member of Bolivia's largest quinoa-growers association, ANAPQUI.
Growers relish in the moment and the attendant prosperity. "My quinoa sells like hotcakes," says Fidencia Huayllas, grinning. She's spent her boom cash on expanding her mud-and-brick home. Seventy percent of the region's high school graduates can now afford to attend university, Huarachi says, "thanks to quinoa." He leans forward, face brightening: "In 1983, 100 lb. of quinoa sold for 25 bolivianos — the price a T-shirt. Now that sack goes for $100 [700 bolivianos]. That's a lot of T-shirts."
But the windfall could become a double-edged sword. In February, violence over prime quinoa-growing territory left dozens injured, and land conflict is spreading. "Sure, the price of quinoa is increasing," says Carlos Nina, a local leader in Bolivia's quinoa heartland, "but so are our problems." Apart from increasing feuds over property rights, these include the collapse of the traditional relationship between llama herding and soil fertilization, with potentially disastrous consequences of quinoa's "organic" status, and the ironic twist that the children of newly prosperous farmers no longer like eating quinoa, contributing to dietary problems....
[D]espite good intentions, a dangerous cycle may be under way. "When you transform a food into a commodity, there's inevitable breakdown in social relations and high environmental cost," says Tanya Kerssen, a food-policy analyst for the U.S.-based food and development institute Food First. February's conflict is a harbinger, notes Kerssen. Global warming has led to fewer frosts, resulting in more prime land available for quinoa cultivation. That has led to a near free-for-all. For three days in February, hundreds of farmers fought over what was once abandoned land. Four people were temporarily kidnapped, dozens were injured and, according to local leader Nina, a dynamite blast left one man armless. "I've never seen anything like this in my life," says Nina, 70, adding that since the government is ignoring pleas for military monitoring of the upcoming harvest, the situation will likely worsen.
For centuries, it was cultivated the ancient way by communities who could barely scrape a living on the edge of the salt flats that stretch their sterile canvas between mountain peaks. Now, for the first time ever, those communities can afford to send some of their children to college. Elsewhere, other groups are rediscovering the ancient art of growing quinoa, occasionally with the help of Western organizations and individuals, supplementing their diet with this super-food while reaping the bounties of the expanding global market.
Interestingly enough, quinoa growers seem to be relatively protected from business predators, Peruvian smugglers notwithstanding. “Quinoa fetches a guaranteed high price affording farmers economic stability. This economic power has also translated into political power though producers’ associations and cooperatives,” writes Emma Banks, of The Andean Information Network. “Since the 1970s, these organizations have worked toward greater producer control of the market, spurring other political actions such as blockades and protests for greater economic and environmental rights in quinoa-growing regions.” (my emphasis) It’s also worth noting that, given its ecological profile, quinoa does not lend itself to large-scale intensive farming, remaining the exclusive prerogative of small farmers so far. In that context, distributors have developed trusted relationships with their suppliers, building their business on a model that aims to revitalize and sustain local communities. American company Inca Organics has done so in Ecuador. French fair-trade importer Alter Eco, among others, has been working with growers in Bolivia. It remains to be seen whether their values will be upheld as the growth of the market lures big players in the game.
Now, what about reports that Bolivians can’t afford quinoa anymore because of the price inflation caused by the explosion in global demand? There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that makes me cringe. I, the wealthy consumer in the North, haven’t failed to notice that the price of quinoa more than doubled since I started buying it over five years ago. I haven’t reduced my consumption however. Now, should I quit, and encourage everyone I know to do the same so as to alleviate the pressure on demand, hence on price, that affects consumers in the countries of production?