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Can Vegans Stomach The Unpalatable Truth About Quinoa?

Ethical consumers should be aware poor Bolivians can no longer afford their staple grain, due to western demand raising prices
 link to www.guardian.co.uk

Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?

Joanna Blythman
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 16 January 2013 05.14 EST

A Bolivian woman harvesting quinoa negro. 'Well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here [are] unwittingly driving poverty there.' Photograph: George Steinmetz/Corbis

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.

In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there. It's beginning to look like a cautionary tale of how a focus on exporting premium foods can damage the producer country's food security. Feeding our apparently insatiable 365-day-a-year hunger for this luxury vegetable, Peru has also cornered the world market in asparagus. Result? In the arid Ica region where Peruvian asparagus production is concentrated, this thirsty export vegetable has depleted the water resources on which local people depend. NGOs report that asparagus labourers toil in sub-standard conditions and cannot afford to feed their children while fat cat exporters and foreign supermarkets cream off the profits. That's the pedigree of all those bunches of pricy spears on supermarket shelves.

Soya, a foodstuff beloved of the vegan lobby as an alternative to dairy products, is another problematic import, one that drives environmental destruction [see footnote]. Embarrassingly, for those who portray it as a progressive alternative to planet-destroying meat, soya production is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in South America, along with cattle ranching, where vast expanses of forest and grassland have been felled to make way for huge plantations.

Three years ago, the pioneering Fife Diet, Europe's biggest local food-eating project, sowed an experimental crop of quinoa. It failed, and the experiment has not been repeated. But the attempt at least recognised the need to strengthen our own food security by lessening our reliance on imported foods, and looking first and foremost to what can be grown, or reared, on our doorstep.

In this respect, omnivores have it easy. Britain excels in producing meat and dairy foods for them to enjoy. However, a rummage through the shopping baskets of vegetarians and vegans swiftly clocks up the food miles, a consequence of their higher dependency on products imported from faraway places. From tofu and tamari to carob and chickpeas, the axis of the vegetarian shopping list is heavily skewed to global.

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. But in the case of quinoa, there's a ghastly irony when the Andean peasant's staple grain becomes too expensive at home because it has acquired hero product status among affluent foreigners preoccupied with personal health, animal welfare and reducing their carbon "foodprint". Viewed through a lens of food security, our current enthusiasm for quinoa looks increasingly misplaced.

This footnote was appended on 17 January 2013. To clarify: while soya is found in a variety of health products, the majority of production - 97% according to the UN report of 2006 - is used for animal feed.

homepage: homepage: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/16/vegans-stomach-unpalatable-truth-quinoa
address: address: The Guardian

Yeah,, 20.Jan.2013 10:04

Lloyd Hart dadapop@dadapop.com

I like Vegans. Because they are grain fed their meat is nice and tender.

There is enough food. 20.Jan.2013 10:36

Vera Duckworth

Very droll, Mr Hart.
It's not vegans or vegetarians (or anyone who eats quinoa) but the capitalist system of production. In their quest for profit, the capitalists (particularly the US and European ones) have ruined the industries and farms around the world.
There is no reason why 20,000 children die EVERY DAY around the world from easily preventative causes.
There is no shortage of food in the world today. It's just a lack of access to it.

You can grow it ya know 20.Jan.2013 10:40


I have friends that grow Quinoa in their gardens. It takes a little research to process(washing the grain), but other than that it's easy. Five stalks is probably enough for one person a year, unless you go through A LOT of quinoa. You don't even have to buy "seed", just plant the grain as is.

Oh and we eat meat. Stop enabling that vegan vs. meateaters bullshit. If you haven't noticed New Seasons has a meat counter. Obviously vegans aren't the only people who want healthy and sustainable food products.

" And maybe a divide conquer agenda to dominate conversation at IMC? " 20.Jan.2013 12:52




LOL !!!!!!!!!

first of all, the title (as is content) of this Guardian UK article is verbatim __identical__ to that posted on the source web site. (i.e. take your outrage to them / go "bitch" on their web site - to their author/editor about it)

It happens to be an interesting one though, containing facts & information that I bet even some of the vegans-posting-in-distress here didn't know about; i.e. native Peruvians and Bolivians being free-traded out of their native food source.

And yes, of course/OBVIOUSLY the 'real' issue is the capitalist mode of global food production and distribution. (as well as, you gotta admit at least a little bit, privileged Westerners modern-colonizing indigenous people's -- note one of the categories chosen in this very PDX IMC web posting -- out of their own resources due to recent 'trendy' consumption habits.)

also of course, as mentioned by others, one obvious 'solution' to not-free-trading-indigenous-peoples-out-of-their-own-source-crops happens to be, grow your own.

it _is_ simply FUNNY as hell, though, to see the doctrinaire vegans get their panties in a twist about a single chosen word in an original article's head line title ... when really, its just a reflection the typical overly-navel-gazing, Trotskyite-doctrinaire no-shade-of-grey attitude to life in general demonstrated by most of the political postings on PDX IMC.

it's also funny, FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH (?) that this article gets more than half a dozen comments within 12 hrs. of being posted, the Woody Allen one gets 40+, and the 2nd Amendment (currently under threat) ones get little to none.... [ ... .. .... ... whistles Buffalo Springfield ditty ... ... ]

(btw I was 100% straight vegan for an entire year in the 1990s, and still adhere to an ~ 80% vegan-centered diet)

@LOL ! 20.Jan.2013 13:08

geez "lolbackatcha"

Not a vegan...DUMBASS

" geez "lolbackatcha" " 20.Jan.2013 13:28


the "DUMBASS" ? oh it's you after the quad bypass.

" Not a vegan...DUMBASS " 20.Jan.2013 13:46


and additionally, it's funny as hell to see what a button-pushing red flag is the word 'vegan' itself; as well as the general topic of even discussing diet (perhaps trumping even religion as the single most controversial topic for humans to discuss amongst themselves/'fight' over etc.)

such as this clown, who claims not being vegan, dumping here simply to post invective (as though he even read/cared about the topic or article itself anyway).