The International Year of Quinoa – Every silver lining has a cloud.
Some time ago, we wrote a blog post, singing the praise of the humble potato.
But of course the potato is not the only super food, and this year, we are being asked to look at the many benefits of quinoa.
As you can see on the website of the International Year of Quinoa:
“Quinoa is the only plant food that contains all the essential amino acids, vitamins and trace elements and is also gluten free. Moreover this crop is extraordinarily adaptable to different agro-ecological floors…”
And here is another quote, from this article by Tom Philpott:
“Twenty years ago, NASA researchers sung its praises as potential astronaut chow, mainly for its superior nutrient density. No less an authority than the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization hails it as “the only plant food that contains all the essential amino acids, trace elements and vitamins and contains no gluten.” The FAO is almost breathlessly enthusiastic about quinoa—it has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa and even runs a Facebook fan page for it.”
But more recently, criticism has been on the rise. The rise of global demand for the grain has meant that prices have tripled, meaning that many people in Bolivia and Peru, the countries of origin, can now not afford their staple food.
“There are concerns this could cause malnutrition as producers, who have long relied on the superfood to supplement their meagre diets, would rather sell their entire crop than eat it. The rocketing international price is also creating land disputes.”
The criticism was quite strong:
- Time magazine spoke of “the dark side of an Andean Superfood”.
- The Guardian ran a piece asking “Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?”.
- Then there was the article titled “How many Bolivians are dying because foodies love quinoa?” on Yahoo News.
- And “The More You Love Quinoa, the More You Hate Bolivians”.
- Other simply asking “Is It Ethical for Rich Countries to Eat Quinoa?” or “Who Needs Quinoa More Than You?”
As this article by Sami Grover observes:
“Above all else, the quinoa controversy is a useful reminder that nothing is ever simple.”
To make up your own mind, you could do worse than reading these articles:
- Quinoa, Commodities and the Gentrification of the Food System, by Sami Grover.
- Quinoa: Good, Evil or Just Really Complicated?, by Tom Philpott
- Quinoa Nonsense, or why the world still needs agricultural economists, by Marc Bellemare
- Eating quinoa may have Bolivian farmers but eating meat harms us all by Mimi Bekhechi.
Other articles on the same controversy:
- “Quinoa boom offers hard lesson in food economics” (18 Jan)
- “It’s OK to eat quinoa” (25 Jan)
- “An open letter to NPR regarding quinoa and their myths” (30 Nov)
- “Doug Sanders: Killer Quinoa? Time to debunk these urban food myths” (19 Jan)
- “Go ahead and eat quinoa” (17 Jan)
- “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Quinoa” (Aug)
- “Can Fair Trade save quinoa?” (June)
- “Move over quinoa; Ethiopia’s teff poised to be the next big super grain” (Jan 2014)
In 2014, the FAO published its assessment of the impact of the International Year of Quinoa, listing a range of activities, but presenting very little information on whether more people are actually now eating the grain, or improving their nutritional status as a result of it.
Entry filed under: Development Effectiveness. Tags: Andes, Bolivia, Consumer choices, criticism, development, Development Education, Effectiveness, Ethiopia, Food markets, Food prices, Food Security, Food use, global poverty, Global trade, gluten, Hunger, International Year of Quinoa, Latin America, MDGs, Meat, Millennium Development Goals, nutritients, Nutrition, Overseas aid, Peru, policy coherence, Quinoa, Smart Aid, Solutions to Hunger, South America, super food, super foods, super grain, Superfood, Teff, UN, Vegans, Vegetarianism, Vegetarians.