Quinoa, the once-obscure lost crop of the Incas, shot to popularity in the last decade after NASA published a report in 1993 stating that the “new crop” was the perfect food for astronauts, rich in protein and containing all 9 essential amino acids. As the world caught onto the health benefits of quinoa, demand has skyrocketed and prices have tripled since 2006. Often mistaken for a grain, quinoa is actually a chenopod, which is part of the beet family, and is the only vegetable which is also a complete protein. The “superfood,” marketed as an ethical, protein-rich meat substitute, which is also low-fat and gluten-free to boot, is selling out of supermarkets across the country. But the effects of the quinoa craze are felt far beyond our borders.
Few people are aware of the effect quinoa’s popularity has on growers in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. What was once an ancient, nourishing staple for thousands is now out of reach. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken, according to the Guardian. Because of soaring prices, farmers in the Andes are now turning land that once produced a variety of crops into a quinoa monoculture.
This is not the first time a Western food fad has threatened food security in other parts of the world. In the past, raising prices of soybean have made tofu inaccessible to millions in Asia who rely on the staple. Read more about the effect of quinoa’s popularity on the Andean people at the Guardian.