Do You Like Quinoa?

I love quinoa and always have at least 3 varieties of the grain at home (regular, red, and black.) But now it turns out that it’s not such a harmless food preference after all:

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.

Of course, I don’t want people in Peru to eat junk. But I don’t want to eat junk either. Is there a chance quinoa will start being grown locally? Does anybody know how it works?

The article is from The Guardian, which means, obviously, that this can all just be a hoax that the tabloid has invented to boost readership.

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22 comments on “Do You Like Quinoa?

  1. Couscous is also delicious, but I don’t know if it’s any more ethical, I believe it originated in North Africa, so it could have a similar tragic role to play in being out of the hands of the locals while lining grocery stores in wealthier countries.
    Food access and monoculture are very huge, complex issues, and unless one grows 100% of what they eat, there’s no way to escape it, unfortunately.

  2. Another large part of the increase in the prices of staple foods (especially corn) has been the use of them to provide starch/sugar for the production of ethanol. The increased demand this imposes on grains drives the price up, depriving people who use it as a staple and who have no adequate substitute of victuals.

    Grain prices are also high because of increasing use of those grains as animal feed, due to increased demand for meat. Many people in the western world (in particular the US) eat way too much meat to the point that they are gradually killing themselves (because animal fat is usually highly saturated). You can therefore make a difference in providing food for the less well off by eating less meat. You’ll reduce demand for animal feed, allowing more grains to be used as human food.

    I don’t prepare meat (unless I’m invited for dinner and someone else makes it), and I hardly ever eat quinoa (I can’t afford it). I do it the old-fashioned way: protein combining (mostly using true cereals and legumes, and eating a lot of vegetables and fruit).

    • “You can therefore make a difference in providing food for the less well off by eating less meat. You’ll reduce demand for animal feed, allowing more grains to be used as human food.”

      – I’ve been thinking for a long time that I should do it. For me, that’s hard because I can’t imagine any meal without meat. But maybe it’s soemthing that just needs to be done.

      • Mammal (red) meat uses more feed energy per unit of output than poultry or fish. Ruminants (cows and sheep) are the worst, and pork is in the middle. So, if you can’t give up meat, substitute poultry for red meat and dairy. This is still better than doing nothing to change your diet.

      • In terms of how much food calories produce each food calorie of meat, poultry requires less input. Something like 2-4% of the food calories eaten by a cow ultimately becomes calories in beef. The percentage is higher in poultry, but still well below 50%. Pork is somewhere between beef and poultry. I have no idea about rabbit. In other words, if you must eat meat, eat as much from the right side of this spectrum as possible:

        Mutton/beef>Dairy>Pork>Poultry

        Less food calories will lost in the process of creating your plate.

        It’s still more energy efficient to become a vegetarian, however. So, in this sense, poultry does count.

        Based on your comments, I get the impression that you eat a lot of poultry. If you are unable to become a vegetarian, then perhaps you can have go one or two days a week (say Monday and Thursday) meat free. This is easier than becoming a vegetarian, while at the same time still indirectly reducing demand for feed grains.

    • I understand this argument against eating beef. Beef is very much unsustainable.
      But I don’t believe this argument works against eating lamb/mutton. You can’t grow grains on the steep Welsh mountains where the sheep graze.

  3. If the relative prices of these commodities increases presumably the revenue from exports from poor countries will increase. This will allow more investment in those countries and/or more imports of other desired commodities. Also the higher prices will stimulate production in of these commodities in the poor countries, increasing the income of the inhabitants.

    The Guardian writer evidently has never read Adam Smith or David Ricardo on the wealth-enhancing implications of trade and the division of labor. Sad commentary on British journalists. No doubt he/she has read Das Kapital.

    • “If the relative prices of these commodities increases presumably the revenue from exports from poor countries will increase. This will allow more investment in those countries and/or more imports of other desired commodities. Also the higher prices will stimulate production in of these commodities in the poor countries, increasing the income of the inhabitants.

      The Guardian writer evidently has never read Adam Smith or David Ricardo on the wealth-enhancing implications of trade and the division of labor. Sad commentary on British journalists. No doubt he/she has read Das Kapital.”

      – This is EXACTLY what my husband said about this article, almost word for word. :-) :-)

      • I rather doubt she’s read Das Kapital either. Apparently she’s mostly a food writer and tv personality — sorry, “investigative journalist and broadcaster.” I’m sure she’s reasonably bright but she’s not an economist. Here’s her about page, if you’re curious. And click on her name in the Guardian article for her list of articles.

        As for quinoa, is it really that much of a thing in the Western world? I rather doubt it’s been flying off the shelves anywhere that there aren’t a large number of upper-middle-class white liberals.

      • I like this article of hers, showing how much she cares about the common people: it’s all about how awful that Tesco’s, a chain store, has started up a chain of coffee shops. Quote: “Truly great coffee shops – think Tazza D’Oro in Rome or Caffè Pirona in Trieste, are one-off indie operations, often family-run.” She goes on to extol the virtues of these one-of-a-kind places, which of course are safely out of the reaches of the sort of common people who shop at Tesco’s instead going to artisanal farmer’s markets and what-have-you. In other words, she’s a fucking posh upper-class foodie twit and all her “caring” about the poor people of Peru is just a load of status-seeking bullshit.

      • “other words, she’s a fucking posh upper-class foodie twit and all her “caring” about the poor people of Peru is just a load of status-seeking bullshit.”

        I was going to write something a lot longer and (slightly) more diplomatic suggesting the same thing but you put it so well I don’t have to.

        Honestly is the Guarndian the most useless ‘newspaper’ on the face of the earth?

        Okay, I’ll add one thing: You’re not going to be helping poor Peruvians and Bolivians (or putting any quinoa into their bellies) by not buying Peruvian and Bolivian products.

    • That would only be true if the revenue went back to the people doing the work or at least got invested somehow where they live, so that they benefited albeit more indirectly. The more likely scenario is this: goes to a Peruvian, the owner of the land, but he puts it in his Miami bank account and then invests it in US/Canada/Europe/China, somewhere profitable him but that does not benefit Peruvians or Peru.

  4. I kind of like the texture. I really find it frustrating to read stuff like this when all the boxes of quinoa I see in stores talk about how good it is for the poor people of Peru and Bolivia to sell it to us.

  5. The Guardian isn’t a tabloid, it’s supposed to be one of the broadsheet ‘quality’ newspapers, like The Times. I can’t stand it, but that’s just me.

    As for prices going up, I was reading an article on the issue of global debt, in particular that of the Euro. There is much discussion at the moment about injecting money from the European Central Bank into sovereign states to stabilise the banking system (essentially) which they cannot afford to have go bankrupt.

    The question is asked, what will happen to all the cash that will be available as a result. Speculators and investors will avoid risky investments in a time of economic turmoil so will turn to safe bets, like gold, precious metals and food, where there will always be a constant demand from consumers.

    This speculation chasing short-term profits will inevitably push up prices, but the profit will not go to the producers, but to the speculators. This is why the situation is a bit more complicated than an increase in prices benefiting the inhabitants.

    Speculation on food used to be forbidden because of the damage it causes. When it was deregulated it became obvious why it had been previously forbidden.

    Here’s the website I was reading with the post on the end of the Euro, written by Pascal Roussel (analyste au sein du Département des Risques Financiers de la Banque Européenne d’Investissement (BEI)) from his new book:

    http://liesidotorg.wordpress.com/2013/01/

    (in French)

  6. Cash crops are going to be better than subsistence farming, ultimately, because if you grow enough grain to eat yourself, but don’t have much else, then you are going to remain very poor. It is also true that people working on coffee plantations cannot afford to drink coffee. So you could be working to grow a cash crop, and still be very poor.

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