Tuesday, January 22, 2013

All hail quinoa, slayer of poverty

It looks like the poor farmers in Bolivia and Peru are seeing some decent profits because of growing demand and exports of the food crop quinoa. This has lead to major improvements in the standard of living for poor people in these countries.

Like clockwork, rich busybodies from Western nations feel they have to put a stop to this. As know-nothing foodist Joanna Blythman writes in The Guardian, this increased demand has lead to an increase in the domestic price of quinoa.

The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.

Note the scare word "monoculture." Blythman, who spends a considerable amount of time railing against genetically modified food and other forms of progress, leaves out that rice is still plentiful and costs a fourth of the price of quinoa. It's true that some people in Peru and Bolivia are now eating things like pizza and pasta, but it's not the poor. It's the middle class, and they are eating it because they prefer it and can finally afford it.

Thus, it's clear her biggest problem with quinoa is that it makes poor people wealthy. She would rather live in a world where impoverished serfs toil in the fields all day and sleep on dirt floors than let Bolivian farmers send their kids to school because they might try to bring a cupcake for a snack. Don't mistake her stance as ethical, it's downright cruel.


  1. Let's compare it to wealthy Japanese folks who eat the Bluefin Tuna off of which many fisherman in New England and, indirectly, I make our living. We can't afford the outrageous price that a quality fish will demand in Japanese markets (hundreds/lb.). But, we're still happy as lobster in mud to catch and sell them!

  2. Michael, it's good to read your perspective on this issue.

    I have been starting to develop a page about quinoa. My family and I have benefited from it (we're gluten-free), so we wanted to share some of our recipes and assorted knowledge about quinoa.

    But with all the bad publicity recently as a result of this Guardian article I have been discouraged from carrying on.

    Thank you for interpreting what is happening and offering an alternative explanation of the data.

  3. Thanks for writing Paul. I'm glad to hear that my knowledge has helped protect someone from a misinformation buzzkill.

    Remember when you buy quinoa you're not just helping your family, but poor families in South America who are very happy to cooperate with you.

  4. Then I guess making a web page about it is even better! :)

  5. Thank you for your comments, Michael. I am glad that you came to find out the truth through your research and common sense. We work with thousands of small-holder, organic quinoa family farms in Bolivia. We've seen first hand the impact of the increased incomes on the lives of those who were formerly some of the poorest in the western hemisphere (with an income of $35/family per month about 6 years ago- today make $220 per family per month). Thanks again for speaking out