This quinoa superfood is getting loads of press about it's incredible package of healthy attributes. Many people in America and other western countries have embraced this amazing seed. There are plenty of good reasons for the positive hype. It is loaded with essential nutrients. It is a low fat food that is not only high in fiber, but heavy on potassium and iron. As for protein content, quinoa offers more than any other grain. And it is considered gluten free.
It is a good source of calcium and magnesium, the latter of which is very valuable in promoting healthy blood vessels. Quinoa also provides powerful antioxidant capacity. People can use it in various recipes or just eat it alone, similar to oatmeal.
The quinoa superfood is really the rising star of the health food world. In fact, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared 2013 as "The Year Of Quinoa." That organization called it, "the only plant food that contains all the essential amino acids, trace elements and vitamins and contains no gluten."
Since we're always on the lookout for quality food choices, quinoa would seem to be a natural fit. So what is the problem with this very healthy seed?
Maybe a little history will bring the contradictions of the quinoa superfood into focus. First of all it is not new at all. It has actually been around for over 5000 years. Quinoa was grown in the Andes regions of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador and was considered a staple food source in that region
Spanish colonists didn't see similar value in this crop. And maybe because natives of these countries being occupied held quinoa in high favor, the invaders did what they could to nearly wipe out the crop.
As these South American nations escaped the grip of occupying armies. the farmers again grew quinoa for their own food. It was nutritious and plentiful.
Then the word got out. This quinoa superfood was great for improving heart health. It was excellent as a weight loss food. The "modern" world wanted it. And lots of it.
Some of the poorest regions of Bolivia also produce large amounts of this booming product. So it has been a financial boost for those who grow this seed. That seems to be a good thing too. So what is the problem. Or problems?
The first challenge is that as the price goes up, many of the people who live where this superfood is grown can no longer afford to buy it for themselves. And a chunk of those who are making money off the export of the product are choosing to buy much cheaper western white rice for their own tables. It is more valuable as an exported product than it is as a consumable food choice.
So the very people who grow this heart healthy nutrient package are switching to far less healthy foods loaded with white flour and white sugar. The irony is striking.
Here is another problem. As the appetite grows for quinoa, more and more land is being turned into quinoa fields. Here is a brief quote from Time magazine. "Traditionally, quinoa fields covered 10% of this fragile ecosystem, llamas grazed on the rest. Now, llamas are being sold to make room for crops, provoking a soil crisis since the cameloid's guano is the undisputed best fertilizer for maintaining and restoring quinoa fields. (Other options like sheep poop appear to encourage pests.)"
We've witnessed this scenario before. The last time it happened was in the coffee business. South American farmers were raking in money as coffee was shipped to other countries. Then other nations in lands far from Argentina and Peru jumped into the coffee business. The bottom fell out of that market for a while. This drop took out many coffee growers in South America.
In our own country back in the late 70's and early 80's, farmers in the Midwest were encouraged to plant "fence row to fence row" to satisfy a worldwide demand for grain. Farmers were enticed by very easy borrowing rules backed by the Farmers Home Administration, (FmHA). They went deeply into debt with new machinery and bigger fields.
Then the market changed. A U.S. embargo of grain sales to the former Soviet Union as punishment for invading Afghanistan was the first blow. And a tightening money market that led to higher interest rates was the next hammer shot.
Suicides, attacks on bankers and domestic abuse rose rapidly in the farm belt as generations old family farms were wiped out by the bust that followed the boom.
There was a very good movie made about this economic disaster in the corn belt. It was called "Country" and starred Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard. If you can find it on the shelf of older movies in your local video rental store, it will be a good 90 minutes for you.
Already, quinoa is being grown in Colorado. If it can be grown successfully in other areas, these Bolivian and Peruvian small farmers will face a tough test.
So here in lies the moral question? Is it alright for more affluent western civilizations to import this food source in such high volume as to triple the price of the product? It does provide more income for many people. But in an impoverished country such as Bolivia, are those not benefiting by the sale of quinoa being marginalized? If this very nutritious food that is native to their land and in fact held sacred by the Incas, is out of their economic reach, is that making their bad situation even worse?
Are national economies in danger from the other end of this current boom? Because as with all booms, there is always a bust eventually. Call it cyclical or market correction, but what what goes up must come down at some point.
Its a tough call. I'm all for letting the market reward those who take risks. And I'm all for improving heart health with nutrient packages like this quinoa superfood.
But I'm not so certain about doing it on the backs of struggling nations. We already have very good grain sources of fiber, vitamins and essential amino acids. Oatmeal is a great example. We already have excellent natural protein sources in beans. We already have unsweetened almond milk that provides 50% more calcium than dairy milk.
I think using a proper combination of the foods I mentioned in the superfood benefits page and by following Dr. Chauncey Crandall's advice in his books, "Fix It" and his very good followup "The Simple Heart Cure", we'll be able to get more than enough natural nutrients and vitamins for long, healthy , productive lives.
It will be up to you to make that decision for yourself. We all have that little voice inside us. I've ignored it on too many occasions in my own life. And every time I've regretted it. That small, quiet messenger seems to have big wisdom. A lesson from which I'm trying to learn and follow. That voice is telling me something isn't quite right. That there is a better way.
It will be up to you to decide if this quinoa superfood is a good choice from a combination of health, cost and conscience perspectives.