Quinoa is a delicious edible seed that is eaten and cooked as a grain, nicknamed the “Mother Grain.” It is extremely nutritious and high in protein and amino acids, the reason why people consider it a “super food.” I have to admit that I am huge fan. As a vegetarian, its a great source of protein. It is also extremely versatile and can be used in many different types of plates.
Quinoa has been planted since at least 300 B.C. in the Andean region, from Chile to Colombia. Considered a sacred seed by natives, it was used in religious rituals and did not become extremely popular in the West until five to seven years back.
So, what happens when a crop that was exclusively consumed by only Andean farmers becomes a top choice for all western foodies?
The two main countries that produce quinoa are Peru and Bolivia. In Bolivia, the country’s crop expanded almost 40 times in production from 2000 to 2009. In Peru, production grew almost 20 percent more from 2008 to 2009. Peru exported a worth of $30 million in quinoa in that same year.
For ethical eaters, concerns grew in terms of the tripling of the price of the grain, as well as the potential environmental effects of growing the crop at such an accelerated rate. 2013 was named the International Year of Quinoa. A year where quinoa production reached its peak and where most consequences started to become clear.
In a positive sense, it is providing an income to farmers whose only source of retribution comes from quinoa. On the other hand, the demand for quinoa is so great that it is prompting Bolivian farmers to dispose of traditional farming practices, something that can endanger the ecosystem of the Andes region. The problem is that quinoa is a very delicate crop, which only grows in high lands with cold weather.
It is not a feasible solution to begin planting it in other countries. The crops simply do not flourish as similarly as they do in the Andean region and this will only take away from the farmers who have worked the crop for years.
The real environmental problem with quinoa crops is the potential desertification of the growing region. Changing quinoa from a subsistence crop to a mass commodity leads to farmers working the soil year-round, which degrades the land and damages the soil. This could lead to higher incidence of pests and for the need of farmers to begin using pesticides, making quinoa no longer organic (one of its main appeals for some people.)
Another factor are the llamas. Once they roamed free and grazed the lands where quinoa was planted cyclically but now, they are being moved away to farm even more quinoa on untreated soil. Production of quinoa, and the maintenance of the soil was dependent on the llamas which no longer get the chance to do their work.
So, what is one as a consumer to do?
I would say the first thing is to buy it moderately. You do not need to eat quinoa every day. Make it some what of a treat.
Most importantly, I would say learn where your quinoa comes from. Buying fair trade quinoa (even though its more expensive than the one they sell at Trader Joe’s) will reassure you that the farmers are getting paid for their hard work, while you enjoy the nutritious grain.
Now that you are informed of the wonders, and consequences of eating quinoa, these are some suggestions to how you can enjoy the “Mother Grain.”
- Toss it into your salad, or just about anything else! Make sure to cook it before hand. Quinoa tastes so good on its own, that it is a great compliment to almost any meal. Replace rice or pasta, and use quinoa instead for a healthier meal.
- Make Quinoa Patties. So easy!
- Make Quinoa Chocolate Cake. Yes, it’s real, delicious and gluten free!
- Quinoa Black Bean Burgers
- You can also find quinoa bread and quinoa pasta in store as gluten free alternatives.