Last Sunday’s New York Times offered up a heaping plate of complexity to its readers in their analysis of the impact on farmers and other Bolivians of quinoa’s growing popularity with richer American and European consumers.
But while Bolivians have lived off it for centuries, quinoa remained little more than a curiosity outside the Andes for years, found in health food shops and studied by researchers — until recently.
Now demand for quinoa (pronounced KEE-no-ah) is soaring in rich countries, as American and European consumers discover the “lost crop” of the Incas. The surge has helped raise farmers’ incomes here in one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. But there has been a notable trade-off: Fewer Bolivians can now afford it, hastening their embrace of cheaper, processed foods and raising fears of malnutrition in a country that has long struggled with it.
I can sympathize with my European and American brethren as I recently scarfed-down, and thoroughly enjoyed, a delicious plate of curried quinoa salad with mango. And yes, I am aware I just outted myself as a yuppie (what’s up, Park Slope Food Co-op!).
This convoluted tale of how the growing international appeal of an important local staple has changed life for many Bolivians gets to the difficulty of fixing our global food system. There is no silver bullet, even under the best of circumstances. While the increased economic opportunity for Bolivian farmers, many of whom are likely among the poorest and most vulnerable, is an unquestionably positive outcome, achieving that without unintended consequences for poor Bolivian consumers can be tricky.
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