Lauren Adams

If you are a lover of the superfood grain known as quinoa, this piece will be a rollercoaster for you.

I recently realized that it has been quite a while since I wrote about any real issues, so I thought that there was no better time to start than today. The issue of quinoa is one that I have known about for a little while now, but it is something that a lot of Americans are unaware of. If you do not know what I am talking about yet, sit down, buckle up and get ready to have your world rocked, quinoa lovers.

Quinoa is a grain whose popularity has seen an incredible increase in popularity in the U.S. and other wealthy countries over the last 15 years or so, but few know the origins of this superfood. Indigenous people in the heights of the Andean region of Bolivia and Peru have been growing quinoa for the better part of the last 7,000 years (crazy, right?), and there are over 3,000 different varieties of it. Quinoa has been a staple crop of indigenous people for the same reasons that it has gained popularity so quickly in wealthier countries of the world: It is incredibly nutritionally dense, resilient against all kinds of weather conditions and inexpensive to grow.

However, as we know, an increase in popularity almost always comes with an increase in price. This was exactly the case for quinoa when it tripled in price from 2006 to 2013, at its peak popularity. Andean farmers were used to growing crops that were not appealing to the masses of the world or even Bolivians and Peruvians living in urban centers. They were also used to earning little to no money for their work, and they simply did it to feed their families, so when the price of quinoa rose to as much as four USD per pound, this was a very exciting time for the farmers.

This excitement was short-lived, however, because overall consumption of quinoa in this region fell by 4% over the same period of time. As one of the more impoverished and food-insecure regions in the world, Andean people relied on this crop for its nutrient-dense quality, and it is something to which they no longer have easy access.

Additionally, there are more than 3,000 varieties of quinoa grown in the Andes and other countries of South America such as Chile, Argentina and Colombia. However, there was only an international demand for a very select few of those. Think about it — you probably see only two or three different kinds on the shelf at the grocery store. This has left farmers to only focus on growing those few types and abandon their traditional practices of preserving biodiversity, leaving them more vulnerable to the damages that climate change will cause in the near future.

Moreover, the price of quinoa has since fallen back to around $0.60 per pound. Since many farmers abandoned other crops such as rice and asparagus to produce the profitable and coveted quinoa, they are now left with tens of thousands of hectares of exhausted soil that produce the less-profitable and not-as-coveted quinoa.

I do not want to tell you not to purchase quinoa. However, I think it is of the utmost importance to realize the economic, environmental and human impacts that our consumption has on people all around the world. It is important to know your food’s origins — not only for knowledge of pesticides used on it, but also for the very real impact that it has on others’ lives. 

Lauren Adams is a senior studying Spanish and political science with a minor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. She can be reached atladams30@vols.utk.edu.

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