Okay I'll admit - I don't follow the same economic indicators as the pundits in Washington. The rising price of gas or the challenge in obtaining home financing doesn't phase me. Yet, I too felt a hit this week, in an unexpected place. The price of my dear quinoa was up 30% at my local co-op.
People are catching on to this protein rich, whole grain from South America. Last year was a record year with demand increasing by over 25%. And at the Park Slope Food Co-op, where I shop, quinoa is the top seller in its bulk bins.
While thrilling to see the public catching on to this nutritious food, I must admit my feelings are bittersweet. The price of quinoa now costs three times that of brown rice! And with my gluten-free diet, I tend to rely on this dear grain almost as much as our country depends on foreign oil.
Armed with Google, I searched for explanations. I was led to the website of Andean Naturals, one of the large growers of quinoa. Apparently, 2008 was a tough year. A frost in November wiped out 40% of the annual product. Which only compounded the struggles farmers already had in keeping up with demand. It seems quinoa continues to be grown mostly by traditional methods, e.g. harvesting by hand, rotating with other crops, using no pesticides. While largely sustainable, these methods have made it challenging to increase production. As a result more farmers are giving way to modernization, using tractors and rotating crops less.
The Economist might cheer these moves, but I'm all for the status quo. I'd hate for farmers to change their entire method of production (I think they've been growing this way for 4000 years), just because this gringo wants his quinoa fix. What good is this nutritious food if it produces a less healthy planet?
My solution: Eat more rice. And pray for rain, lots of it.