Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is Quinoa Not Cool Anymore?

Quionoa is awesome. It's a complete protein that's vegan. It's easier to cook than rice, and it's healthier. You can eat it hot in stuffed squash or cold in a salad. It'll keep on the shelf in your pantry for months and be there when you need it to round out a meal. And you still get to feel like part of the in crown on occasion when you serve it to someone for the first time and teach them how to pronounce it properly.

In short, quinoa is the new soy.

Remember how all of a sudden a few years ago, we started reading everywhere about how maybe soy isn't so healthy after all, and most of it is genetically modified, and it's second only to corn on the grown-in-a-way-that-makes-absolutely-no-sense-and-is-slowly-destroying-the-land scale?

Yeah, quinoa's time has come too, apparently. I guess it's true that if something seems too good to be true it usually is. A recent article in The Guardian went and burst everybody's bubble when it declared that the rising demand for quinoa in first world countries has bumped prices up to the point where people in quinoa's native South America can't afford to eat it anymore, and they're opting for less expensive meal choices, like fast food.

Which would be bad enough if irrefutably true, but, like most things that are important, it's much more complicated than it seems at first, and the truth lies under a big pile of oversimplifications, exaggerations, misunderstandings, and facts that have been stretched to make a point. In the two weeks since the Guardian article came out there has been a flurry of criticism for it. According to Slate, there's no way rising export prices could be a bad thing for growers, and the Guardian article was blowing everything out of proportion. Other sources are saying that, while the short-term economic repercussions might not be great, we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater, and certainly there's a way to make quinoa economically sustainable. Although the general verdict seems to be that we first-world consumers are doing what we do best and forgetting to use everything in moderation, and if we're not careful we'll probably kill this golden goose, too; the implication being that we can probably go ahead and add quinoa to that ever-expanding list of things to feel guilty or, at the very least, confused about.

But I have a theory. I don't think quinoa is hurting local economies at all. I think all this bad-news stuff was started by some guy out in California who has been buying quinoa from his local, independent market since before you could get it at Whole Foods, never mind Shaws. He's annoyed that it's starting to go all mainstream, and has started a bunch of rumors to make it uncool again so he can feel counter-culture. I'm not falling for it. Nice try.

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