Quinoa-the mother grain-the little white fluffy Andean pseudo-grain that we have all come to know and love over the last few years. I’m a huge fan of quinoa and have been ever since I lived off plenty of it when travelling in South America in 2009. We all know quinoa’s upsides- packed with protein and b-vitamins, a great source of iron and potassium, it has become a staple for many. I personally use it almost every day, whether in salads, soups, porridge or snack bars. Lately there has been some evidence that our demand in the Western world is having a very negative impact on the countries whose staple grain it has been for centuries.
This article appeared in the Guardian last week and on first read of the first few paragraphs I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Our appetite for the mother grain has grown so much that it has more than tripled prices, as a result the poorer sections of places like Bolivia and Peru-whose people rely on quinoa as their staple grain-can no longer afford the grain, and as a result are choosing cheaper junk food alternatives, which is incredibly sad.
Although the article did trouble me, as I read deeper I became disillusioned with the tone and the direction of the article. Aside from it’s ridiculous attention grabbing headline: ‘Can Vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa’, the article also goes on to suggest that all the essential amino acids are very difficult to find in a veggie diet- really? Didn’t the protein argument die in like 1974? It also suggests that it is Vegans high demand for soya (really? I barely eat soya) that is causing incredible rainforest and environmental destruction. It further suggests that meat and dairy eaters diets are much better environmentally because Britain produces abundant amounts of those, suggesting that vegetarians/vegans food miles are extremely high as they rely on exotic products from faraway places…
I could not believe my eyes when I read the article, it’s so incredibly poorly researched and written. The writer did not even clear up about the soya production until a day or two later, when in a footnote she makes reference to the fact that actually the majority of soya production and thus rainforest production is down to soya grown for cattle feed not for vegans to eat!!
Also I think it’s ridiculous to blame us vegans for pushing up the price of quinoa, we make up probably 1-2 percent of the world population, so if it was just us eating quinoa then I don’t think there would be such a problem. The problem in my opinion is down to more publicity and highlighting of the benefits of the pseudo-grain and lack of control and restriction over exports from places like Peru and Bolivia. I work in the health food industry and I can say from personal experience that quinoa has shot up in popularity of late but it certainly isn’t just vegans or even just veggies buying quinoa.
Although I do to some extent rely on products from other countries, I also try to buy locally and in season, which I will continue to try and increase as I am aware of food mileage. However I don’t believe that a vegans food mileage would cause anywhere near as much environmental destruction as that of a meat eaters diet.
I admit it is sad what has happened to the price of quinoa and it’s effect in Latin America and clearly we need to look at solutions. The Guardian article is so poorly researched and written that it was almost a vitriolic attack on vegans. What’s more annoying is that most people won’t even read the entirety of the article or the footnote and thus it adds to the cluelessness of the majority of the population about nutrition.
What are your thoughts on the quinoa controversy?
Are you conscious of your diets effect on the environment?