Quinoa - Does This Trendy Food Have Unintended Consequences?
Quinoa, the trendy, gluten free complete protein grown in the arid altiplano regions of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador is only a super food for those who can afford it.
Cultivated since 3000BC, "chesiya mama," mother grain in Quechua did not gain prominence outside of indigenous cultures until the 1990's when NASA discovered its high protein value, lysine content, and sulfur containing amino acids."While no single food can supply all the essential life sustaining nutrients, quinoa comes as close as any other in the plant or animal kingdom (White et al., 1955)."
The transition from potential space food to health food was hardly immediate, but in recent years demand has increased. Since 2006, the price has tripled to $1 per lb and the indigenous Bolivian population that subsisted on quinoa cannot afford it. To compensate, the Bolivian government is now including quinoa in school breakfast programs.
While there is little chance that Evo Morales, Bolivian's leftist president, will allow foreign agricultural interests to access this local gold, the income imbalance between between quinoa farmers and llama herders has caused conflicts over land rights. Unfortunately, most Bolivians have never heard the Rogers and Hammerstein song "The Farmer and the Cowman" and this February, hundreds of people were injured. The llamas are necessary to prevent erosion and naturally fertilize the soil to maintain quinoa's organic classification. A balance between herders and farmers rights must be achieved. Mitigating the problem, but not the conflict, growers associations are increasing the number of grazing llamas per acre.
The question is whether feeding first world foodies is enough reason to change a subsistence food into a commodity. While profits from quinoa will transform some of Bolivia's poorest communities in the short term, it is evident that the environmental and social costs will be great. Our 1% is fickle. If quinoa is just a flash in the proverbial pan, the only other offering from the arid plains of the altiplano is the low cholesterol red meat llamas and alpacas. Unfortunately there is USA homegrown competition. And the acquired taste, it's nothing like chicken.