Is It Still OK to Eat Quinoa?

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Once upon a time, quinoa was an obscure, humble ingredient from the Andes. A basic food staple for Peruvians and Bolivians, it occasionally appeared at hippy potlucks and week-long yoga retreats. But no more. This healthy, high-protein seed is now having its time in the spotlight, and some say the unintended consequences of this popularity aren’t good for Bolivians and Peruvians who rely on this super healthy food as a part of their diet. In short, the world demand has driven the price so high that some can no longer afford it.

According to recent articles in The Guardian, NPR, and The New York Times, world-wide interest in quinoa means that it “now costs more than chicken” in places like Lima, Peru, making this once accessible high-protein food now out of reach for most poor people. The price has tripled (and some say quadrupled) since 2006, which has also caused farmers to create quinoa monocultures on lands that once grew a more diverse set of crops.

Of course, the situation is a little more complicated. Alter Eco, a food company that imports and sells quinoa (among other items), points to one of their farmers who can now send his seven children to school because he is growing quinoa for the world market. The company also says that many Bolivian quinoa famers are now no longer among the poorest in rural Bolivia. In a letter responding to these articles (link below), Alter Eco defends their practices and offers a point of view which is based on their years of hands-on relationships with quinoa farmers:

“For once, we see an opportunity where market growth and demand can actually be the solution for getting some of the poorest of the people of the planet out of poverty. Yes, there are still many challenges farmers face, some of which are brought on by the growing demand for quinoa, and yes, their community is impacted and development will take time, but no one can deny the opportunity that the growing global demand in quinoa offers them.”

How about you? Are you a quinoa lover? Have the NPR and New York Times articles changed your mind about quinoa? Do you seek out quinoa that is imported by socially responsible companies?

We support our readers with carefully chosen product recommendations to improve life at home. You support us through our independently chosen links, many of which earn us a commission.