Quinoa: 'Miracle Grain' Not Good for Everybody
Growing love for this high-protein grain drives up prices in the developing world
For vegetarian and vegan athletes who want to build muscle, quinoa is a new go-to food. One cup of the cooked grain delivers 8 grams of complete protein and only 3.4 grams of fat.
Although quinoa is relatively new to the United States, recently it's seen a surge in popularity. Thanks to clever marketing, quinoa quickly developed from an obscure South American staple to the “miracle grain of the Andes.” Sales skyrocketed and since 2006 the price of quinoa has tripled.
But with its rising popularity, quinoa has also become more expensive in the countries that produce it—notably Peru and Bolivia. Now, locals who once included the grain as a nutritious part of their diet can no longer afford it.
In Lima, quinoa is now more expensive than chicken, and farmers are being pressured to devote their fields entirely to the popular grain.
But the monoculture approach has produced troubling results in the past. For instance, Peru’s Ica region dominates the asparagus market, but the thirsty crop has led to water scarcity issues. Although asparagus pulls a good price on the international market, argicultural workers labor in poor conditions for negligible wages. Similarly, the soy crop is one one of the top two causes of deforestation in South America (cattle ranching is the other).
So while quinoa may support good health and promote animal welfare in general, it still comes with tradeoffs at home.