Quinoa, long the staple grain of the Andes, has become a hit with first-world foodies. Once only available in natural-food markets, quinoa is now on sale in grocery stores just about everywhere. Adventurous eaters have embraced it as a slightly bitter alternative to rice or couscous. Vegans gobble it up as a substitute for meat, thanks to its high protein content (up to 18 percent). But as the popularity of the "miracle grain" has soared, so has its price, tripling since 2006. Now, some say, the "unpalatable truth" is that the appetite for quinoa in wealthy countries has pushed up its price so much that poorer Peruvians and Bolivians can no longer afford it. "Call it the quinoa quandary," says Paul Wachter at Esquire. Is this a case where eating healthy is causing others harm? Should foodies and vegans go easy on the quinoa?
That's "an oversimplification at best," says Ari LeVaux at Slate. "At worst, discouraging demand for quinoa could end up hurting producers rather than helping them." It's true that people in quinoa-growing areas are now eating less of the longtime staple, but that's partly because the extra income farmers are seeing from rising quinoa prices is allowing them to diversify their diets, adding things like fresh vegetables that they once couldn't afford.
So far, quinoa has "generally been a success for the people who grow it," according to Tom Philpott at Mother Jones. But it's also getting so popular that farmers are now growing it in the Colorado Rockies and testing it in the Pacific Northwest, and if we wind up with a global glut, Peruvians and Bolivians really could pay dearly.
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Look, some Bolivians are quinoa consumers feeling the sting of rising quinoa prices, and some are farmers reaping the benefits, writes Virginia Heffernan at Yahoo News. Agricultural economists still haven't sorted out how the good measures up to the bad.
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