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Quinoa, The New Superfood

Quinoa, The new Superfood

Does our consumption take the food out of the mouths of the growers?

 

     Whether you are a meat eater, a vegetarian or you just like to try different foods, at some time this year you may have already tried this new super grain.

The quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wa) is actually a seed not a grain and it is ranked very high with other superfoods such as kale, salmon and berries. It is praised for its protein content, fibre and all around nutritional value besides the fact that it is gluten-free.. I recently bought some flax bread that contained quinoa and found it to be as tasty as the 12 grain bread I usually buy.

 

It can be eaten as a breakfast cereal in place of oatmeal, as a side or main dish for lunch or dinner, and even liquefied into smoothie-type drinks or baked into cookies, crackers or the bread I recently tried.

This seed is so revered that the United Nations has declared 2013 the international Year of Quinoa.

Most of this crop is grown in Peru and Bolivia and it was a local food that gave a great deal of nourishment to the local people. However there are many organizations that claim that since we are consuming quinoa, the price has gone up so much that the local people of these countries cannot afford it any longer. In fact, in Lima, quinoa costs more than chicken. A huge article in The Guardian and reprinted in the Globe and Mail tried to say that the popularity of quinoa in North America had priced this crop out of the reach of the Peruvians and Bolivians who grow it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Are the farmers being exploited?

The people of Altiplano in the Andes Mountains are among the poorest in South America but they are sellers of their crops to the highest bidders. The quinoa price rise is the greatest thing that has happened to them in their history. In fact up until the surge in popularity of quinoa, the Bolivians had stopped growing it and replaced the crop with potatoes and beans. Now that it is popular they can make enough money to import a variety of foods such as fish, chicken and vegetables and fruits they cannot grow themselves. In fact the quinoa market is so good right now it has become more profitable than their number one export crop, cocaine.

In March, 2011, The New York Times reported that quinoa prices had tripled over the last five years while Bolivia’s consumption of the staple fell by 34 per cent over the same period of time. The article suggested there was a rise in malnutrition among the children of Bolivia but this was entirely false. In fact the economy of Bolivia was booming because of this crop.

Up until now, Andean farmers were one of the most exploited groups in Latin America. However with their new found income they have been able to win land rights and political power and the right to protect the ecology of the land. They are eating a more balanced diet and will increase their quality and quantity of life because of it.

Local Food versus Imported Food

Many “foodies” claim that we should only eat local food because imported food has such a huge carbon footprint because of the cost of shipping and the fuel used to ship it. I don’t agree with this philosophy because I believe that your health comes first. I eat two salads a day with a substantial variety of vegetables, most of which are imported this time of year. Should I give up eating healthy for the winter just because I live in Canada? Should the residents of Prince Edward Island be the only ones to eat PEI potatoes? Should the residents of La Paz continue to eat all their quinoa or should they be able to export it and bring into their city a larger variety of foods. In fact, they now use the money from their crop to purchase imported beans, rice, cheese and chicken.

In a country like ours it is actually less expensive to import food than to use carbon-heavy processes of storage and heating. Imported food is often nutritionally better, more affordable and better for the economic development of its producing regions, and less ecologically damaging.

When the Peruvian and the Bolivians had to depend solely on their own crops to feed themselves, the Andes region had alarmingly high rates of stunted growth among children, a key indicator of undernourishment.  By eating quinoa and buying their crop we are helping their society. We live in a global world in which every country trades with other countries and no nation can be an island unto itself.

Has our consumption ruined their culture?

Now that they can import food from other countries, will they lose their identity? Will MacDonald’s and Burger King outlets spring up all over the Andes Mountains and make these natives obese and cause them to die of heart attacks and strokes? I don’t think so. The Incas ate quinoa centuries ago and their descendants will still eat it. However if we also eat their quinoa and sell them chicken will they lose their native identity?

There was a time long ago when only poor people in Nova Scotia had to eat lobster. Then after the post-war explosion of surf and turf, lobster became such a delicacy that the locals could not even afford it. They had to settle for lasagne, pork chops, steak and macaroni and cheese because now they were a lot less poor due to the boom in lobster sales. Does anyone think that if a man from Nova Scotia eats macaroni and cheese he is not an authentic Nova Scotian?

I wouldn’t be surprised if this summer the people of Nova Scotia will be eating quinoa which really goes well with lobster. It may be authentic to be poor but success can make you healthier.

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