This story continues our partnership with New Worlder, the site that responsibly covers food and drink, chefs and restaurants, farmers, fishermen, and conservationists of the Americas in a way that appeals to both an American and a Latin American audience.
By Nicholas Gill
The arid, cold, and windswept altiplano, the Andean plateau that rises 12,000 feet above sea level and straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia, is where most of the world’s quinoa has traditionally been grown. Yields are small here, though there aren’t a lot of pests or diseases.
The unpredictable landscape requires farmers to often plant more than a dozen varieties at a time, ensuring some will withstand fluctuations in temperature and rainfall, while pasturing llamas on fallow fields, then rotating them to another, stabilizes the soil and minimizes environmental impact. Several thousand years of cultivation has led to astounding agricultural biodiversity, though it could all be undone by the choices you make at the supermarket.
After about 2005, quinoa went global. It wasn’t so much the nutty flavor or versatility of the plant, or its cultural significance, that caught everyone’s attention, but the marketing of it as a health food. It was kosher, gluten-free, and a complete plant protein at a moment when those attributes were highly sought after. Oprah Winfrey put it on her health food cleanse diet, and the masses went crazy for it. Soon, it jumped from niche hippie grocers to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and eventually every major supermarket chain in North America. In 2007, the U.S. imported 7.3 million pounds of quinoa. By 2017, that number had ballooned to nearly 74 million pounds. That’s aside from the growing demand for quinoa in Europe and Asia. Supply could not keep up, so, naturally, prices jumped.
The living standards of rural farmers rose dramatically, giving them not just food security, but food sovereignty. They had the economic stability to choose what they ate, and farming cooperatives…