Quinoa, the Grain We Must Feel Guilty About?

Quinoa (keen-wah), an excellent grain-like food from South America, has become quite popular in the United States, Britain, and other prosperous nations.

Can you believe we’re now being criticized for increasing demand for quinoa and thus starving our neighbors down south of the border? Did it dawn on these critics that money might actually be flowing south to these same neighbors?

We have a lot of allergies in our family and wish to rotate our grains and their equivalents (like the quinoa seeds) quite a bit. Rotation diets can help keep food allergies to a minimum.

For us, that’s where quinoa comes in. Equally as important, we find it tasty and appreciate that it’s higher in protein than most of the alternatives. And it has no gluten–a natural component of wheat and some other grains. Two of us can’t tolerate gluten. So all of those are very practical reasons.

We’re hardly the vegan types–though I have no problem with those who chose to eat that way. Well, maybe one. Some of the B vitamins are found in red meat and the omega-3 fats are found in fish, especially cold water varieties. Vegans can develop neurological problems from the lack of those brain nutrients unless they find other sources.

So now ABC News tells us quinoa is one of Five Healthy Foods That are Harmful. Darn, just when we thought quinoa was a good thing:

The darling of foodies and health nuts alike, quinoa is a grain that is both low in fat and a good source of plant-based protein and amino acids.

Now the dire alarm must be sounded–not because quinoa itself is toxic or harmful–but because we greedy gluttons are buying too much:

The upsurge in demand for quinoa in places like the U.S. has pushed up prices for the grain to the point where poorer people in Peru and Bolivia — for whom the grain was once a dietary staple — can no longer afford it. “In Lima,” the report notes, “quinoa now costs more than chicken.”

So buy the chicken already! Or find some other substitute food within your budget. This is Economics 101.

ABC News got the story from the liberal UK Guardian. The Guardian’s story is a conglomeration of class warfare aphorisms such as: “The quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange.” So let’s just stop trading across the equator?

And it’s not just quinoa, don’t enjoy your asparagus from Peru either:

NGOs [non-government organizations] report that asparagus labourers toil in sub-standard conditions and cannot afford to feed their children while fat cat exporters and foreign supermarkets cream off the profits.

Yeah, what about those stinking supermarkets stealing food right out of the mouths of Peruvian babies! I can hear the cries now of the young and the restless: Occupy Kroger! Occupy Publix! Occupy Safeway! Occupy A&P! Occupy Meijer!

Okay, what’s the real problem? If there is a problem here, it’s probably that those countries have bureaucratic regulations, ignore corruption, and squelch free markets. Those unethical things cause harm. In a healthy free market, our food purchases in South America will help them and us.


So, everybody, enjoy your quinoa. If you’re still troubled, send some money to a reputable free market education outreach that works in Bolivia and Peru.

In the mean time, man up. Try a quinoa recipe with lots of Indian spices, quinoa pilaf in lettuce cups, from the Food Network. We enjoy it so much that we often double the recipe. Using a rice cooker is an easier way to prepare the quinoa.

And we vary the daylights out of it. We often substitute dried cranberries for the cherries, lemon zest and juice for the grapefruit, and almonds for the pine nuts. We make up our own garam masala in quantity (not that hard).

The quinoa in the lettuce cup can make for messy eating–so cut up the lettuce or ditch the greens. And add some meat if you like. Or some Peruvian asparagus.

Bon appétit! (Say it loud and with a Julia Child voice.)