Monday, March 21, 2011

The more we eat the protein-rich non-grain quinoa, the less Bolivians eat it ... or drink it.

I love quinoa. It's as useful as rice, but much more nutritious. Here's my own rough recipe for quinoa with carrots and parsnips, which I often make. And just glancing through the first link, I'd like to try the butternut squash and black bean wrap, quinoa primavera,  quinoa burgers, acorn stuffed with quinoa . . .

But the New York Times reports:

[D]emand for quinoa (pronounced KEE-no-ah) is soaring in rich countries, as American and European consumers discover the “lost crop” of the Incas. The surge has helped raise farmers’ incomes here in one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. But there has been a notable trade-off: Fewer Bolivians can now afford it, hastening their embrace of cheaper, processed foods and raising fears of malnutrition in a country that has long struggled with it. . . .

While malnutrition on a national level has fallen over the past few years thanks to aggressive social welfare programs, . . . studies showed that chronic malnutrition in children had climbed in quinoa-growing areas . . . in recent years. . . .

“I adore quinoa, but I can’t afford it anymore,” said Micaela Huanca, 50, a street vendor in El Alto, a city of slums above the capital, La Paz. “I look at it in the markets and walk away.” . . .

At supermarkets here, a 1,000-gram bag of quinoa, just over two pounds, costs the equivalent of $4.85, compared with $1.20 for a bag of noodles the same weight and $1 for a bag of white rice. . . .
Veggie Quinoa
This is disturbing. A few things, though:

1. Bolivians are already working on solutions:
President [Evo] Morales said this month that he planned to make more than $10 million in loans available to organic quinoa producers, and health officials are incorporating the plant into a packet of foods supplied to thousands of pregnant and nursing women each month.
2. The Times is clearly fascinated by talking about how rich countries' voracious (albeit healthy) appetite is hurting Bolivians. This skews the reporting. Oh, the Times does mention that we're also enriching Bolivians farmers by buying so much quinoa. But this point just gets a sentence or two; it isn't amplified with statistics or anecdotes or color photographs. The observation that rich countries are helping a poor country by buying its exports doesn't make for a fascinating New York Times article.

3. Buried 15 paragraphs into the piece, we discover that the reporters aren't just talking about Bolivians choosing to use white rice or noodles instead of quinoa when they cook dinner. The article says that "changing food preferences" might "play a role." How so? Well, a government official explains:
"[I]f you give the kids toasted quinoa flour, they don’t want it; they want white bread . . . . If you give them boiled water, sugar and quinoa flour mixed into a drink, they prefer Coca-Cola."
So, kids prefer drinking Coke to drinking quinoa! I'm not sure anything would have stopped that from happening in the modern world.

Blueberry Maple Quinoa

(Both photos are from SweetOnVeg, which has a website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.)