In short, the problem with quinoa is that the conditions necessary to grow it don’t naturally exist in many places. But the high deserts of Peru and Bolivia are the perfect environment, and that's where it has grown for thousands of years — and been the staple of the indigenous peoples’ diets. The governments of those countries have been heavily promoting the export of quinoa with such success that it has now become too valuable not to export. As a result, the poorest of those populations can no longer afford to eat it; rice and even chicken is cheaper to buy. But nowhere near as nutritious.
And that’s a problem for those of us who want to eat healthily and ethically (and also critter-free, as I recognize that many people do not consider ethical eating as strictly vegan). Quinoa is a nearly perfect food, containing all 10 essential amino acids, a variety of vitamins and minerals, and is an excellent substitute for animal protein (though veg*ns are probably getting enough protein without it). But it apparently comes at a cost to those who’ve long depended on it, since growers prefer the money they make from selling it over eating it themselves. Clearing lands and starving the native people of their most nutritious food just to feed the middle class around the world isn’t particularly ethical (nor sustainable, most likely).
For me, the news makes me look at my dietary choices a lot more closely.
A perusal of the boxes of quinoa at the grocery indicated that all of them were products of either Peru or Bolivia. Is the expense of quinoa locally in South America more or less important than the boost that its export has given to those economies? And I love going to international markets and stocking up on exotic foods, but what about all the work and resources that went into those products? How is it that a can of loquats or mock pork shipped here all the way from Asia can cost so little? And who am I taking them from? At what cost to the farm workers and the environment?
These are, of course questions raised only by someone with access to immense resources. They’re not questions that would have been raised by my grandparents or preceding generations. Though I don’t know for sure, I would guess that they were true “locavores,” having eaten food that was mostly supplied locally, either from their own farms or neighboring farms (with the exception of grain products such as wheat flour and rice). At least well into their later lives. Though I can say with a degree of certainty that none of my grandparents ever ate sushi. Not while living in Tennessee. Is the “locavore” movement just a fad? And is it progressive or regressive? Is it important to the United States and other countries to have a global food economy? Or is it destructive?
These are just some of the questions I have with no definitive answer. Anyone else have any thoughts/comments?