Quinoa is gluten-free and is a good source of protein, fiber, and other vitamins and minerals. Recently, the previously unassuming grain has become wildly popular in the United States, especially among the foodie community. It is grown almost exclusively in the Andes of South America, although there have been attempts to expand production. Sales of quinoa have quadrupled between 2006 and 2010 in the United States, a boon to the mostly-Bolivian farmers that grow quinoa .
People who pay for quinoa in the United States tend to be in the higher echelons of the socioeconomic ladder in the United States. In 2013, prices for quinoa ranged between $4.50 to $8.00 a pound ; in comparison, a pound of dried beans may be two dollars a pound . Quinoa is more likely to be noshed in salads or protein/energy bars than cheese-drizzled comfort food.
Perhaps due to the “elite” status of quinoa, it has come under criticism in the United States for various reasons. Firstly, it is an imported food. Despite production in Canada, most quinoa in the United States has traveled thousands of miles to reach supermarket shelves. In a time when other food is being sold at a premium due to their local origins, quinoa remains an uncomfortable splurge for those who consume it regularly.
Additionally, quinoa’s price back in producing countries has risen dramatically. Farmers may retain a small amount of their crop for their own consumption, but urban dwellers find that they have been priced out of a staple of their diet . In early 2013, news outlets published pieces about how Bolivians were more likely to turn to processed foods to make up for the lack of quinoa.
While the last statement may be an exaggeration (economics is probably not that simple), quinoa represents the clash between people’s search for food and the effect of their choices on peoples in other countries. The same people who eat quinoa usually vow that they care for the earth, but also care for people in disadvantaged countries.
Perhaps the tone of the articles in 2013 can thus be explained by a self-conscious backlash to quinoa, which itself ran counter to the mainstream and is derided as a food consumed by a certain liberal, young, hipster elite. These people, the articles imply, are greedily upholding their health over the nutrition of many people, and the greenhouse emissions associated with transportation. The continuing debate over quinoa may show consumers’ priorities–health? Environment? Social issues?