Slog Music

Music, Nightlife,
and Drunks

Monday, January 21, 2013

White Vegans Making Life Hard for Poor Peruvians

Posted by on Mon, Jan 21, 2013 at 8:36 AM

The Guardian:

Adventurous eaters liked its slightly bitter taste and the little white curls that formed around the grains. Vegans embraced quinoa as a credibly nutritious substitute for meat. Unusual among grains, quinoa has a high protein content (between 14%-18%), and it contains all those pesky, yet essential, amino acids needed for good health that can prove so elusive to vegetarians who prefer not to pop food supplements.

Sales took off. Quinoa was, in marketing speak, the "miracle grain of the Andes", a healthy, right-on, ethical addition to the meat avoider's larder (no dead animals, just a crop that doesn't feel pain). Consequently, the price shot up – it has tripled since 2006 – with more rarified black, red and "royal" types commanding particularly handsome premiums.

But there is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.

This is why solutions to our current social and environmental problems cannot be solved by the market. Indeed, as the crisis of 2008 revealed, even capitalism doesn't solve its problems with capitalism—when in trouble, it turns to socialism. Capitalism is only there for the good times and is smart enough to make for the door when the shit hits the fan. Where as consumers (and consumers are not capitalists—this is something that needs to be said again and again) continually turn to the market for solutions to their or our deepest and most pressing problems:
...[It's a] ghastly irony when the Andean peasant's staple grain becomes too expensive at home because it has acquired hero product status among affluent foreigners preoccupied with personal health, animal welfare and reducing their carbon "foodprint".


Comments (51) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Capitalism can fix this as well. If quinoa is such a valuable crop, then more farmers - all around the world - should start growing it. Then the supply will rise to meet the demand and the price will fall back in line with other grains.

Who says that quinoa can only grow in the Andes?
Posted by Charlie Mas on January 21, 2013 at 9:01 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 2
@ 1, they've tried growing it in Europe, and it was a complete failure. So far, it really is only able to grow in the Andes. Maybe they can modify its genetics so that it will grow elsewhere...
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 21, 2013 at 9:13 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 3
BTW, Slog, inserting ads into comments, as you've done with my comment @ 2, is very, very tacky.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 21, 2013 at 9:14 AM · Report this
It's not only vegans that eat quinoa, or I would guess even primarily since the percentage of vegans in America is very small. It's taken off as an all-around "health food" so let's cast the blame where it really lies - the West in general.

Posted by lilylie on January 21, 2013 at 9:20 AM · Report this
There's some question about the accuracy of the NPR story...…
Posted by dsz123 on January 21, 2013 at 9:21 AM · Report this
JensR 6
@3 wtf? What ads? Are you having hyperlinks in the text? Like a single word will be blue with a link to some god awful ad-site?
It'll turn up a little bit of everywhere for you if so. Its not Slog putting it there its a common stupid little piece of malware on your computer (if you have windows or Apple OS) that may also have been automaticly installed with things like that "free virusprotection" you installed or even when you bought the preinstalled computer as a nifty little part of the bloatware.

Check for viruses, check what add-ons your browser has (if you have IE, switch from that to something a tad more stable) and if possible rinse out your computer or change OS.
Posted by JensR on January 21, 2013 at 9:22 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 7
As famous communist Deng Xiaoping once said "What matter if the cat is black or white so long as it catches mice?" As people learn of the despair, they will find a new solution.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on January 21, 2013 at 9:23 AM · Report this
JensR 8
sry ad-ware not malware.
Posted by JensR on January 21, 2013 at 9:23 AM · Report this
Also, I didn't see in the story where they said the vegans were white.

I guess that's exactly why NPR picked up the story and ran with it in the first place, without actually fact-checking more completely. It just sounds so good -- entitled (white?) people making life hard for far-away native population by stealing their staple food -- it's hard to imagine it's not true. But it doesn't seem like it is...
Posted by dsz123 on January 21, 2013 at 9:27 AM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 10
Who posted this racist shit? "White Vegans". Mr Mudede is racist, why does The Stranger employ him? It's not cute, it's not funny, it's not hip. Is this part of "the discussion" America "needs" to have about race?
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on January 21, 2013 at 9:29 AM · Report this
Of course it's not so simple, as many other activists and journalists have noted:……
Posted by epunch on January 21, 2013 at 9:30 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 12
@ 6/8, thanks for that tip. I'll run it now...
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 21, 2013 at 9:36 AM · Report this
#9,10 - when you're on SLOG, you've entered an alternate universe where white=evil. You just have to get used to it.
Posted by catsnbanjos on January 21, 2013 at 9:37 AM · Report this
ferret 14
First, not all vegans are white, talk about reverting to stereotypes. Second, the area that is grown is also highly suspectible to other things like climate change and El Niño/La Niña weather cycles.

Hopefully, the price of Chuy won't be effected by "White Vegans" or the price of Pisco.
Posted by ferret http://!/okojo on January 21, 2013 at 9:38 AM · Report this
i think the surely non-racist Mudede meant the green vegans. besides, white vegans are all filthy bad guys who only say they buy quinoa but really don't. this piece is such a knee jerk it forgot to link to the article quoted…
and here is a better one on the same subject…
Posted by horrible person who just happens to be white on January 21, 2013 at 9:38 AM · Report this
I agree with number 4; this is bullshit to blame on the vegans. Quinoa is more of a fad that's about class more than a choice of whether you eat meat/eggs/dairy. Vegans existed long before quinoa became popular among trendy foodies, and most of us have nothing to do with it. Before I get crap, I get it, vegans are overly sensitive, blah blah blah. But I don't like being blamed for ruining the lives of starving people when I don't even eat quinoa.
Posted by AndyInChicago on January 21, 2013 at 9:48 AM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 17
It's been 20 years since I met an annoying vegan. It's like those "Men Are Like This, Women Are Like This" jokes that shitty stand up comics used to do.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on January 21, 2013 at 9:53 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 18
@ 11, those linked articles don't appear to contradict or answer the one Charles posted. Skimming through, I saw nothing stating that quinoa prices have not tripled in Lima, or that imported junk is not actually cheaper than quinoa today. They seem to be addressing concerns of quinoa farmers, but not the poor of Peru as a whole.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 21, 2013 at 9:53 AM · Report this
NaFun 19
Quinoa with canned chicken, kalamata olives, and zucchini is the bomb, some of the best camping food ever.
Posted by NaFun on January 21, 2013 at 10:01 AM · Report this
raku 20
I love Charles but agree with the poor headline... There's nothing particularly vegan about quinoa. I'm a vegan (non-white) and I haven't had quinoa in years.

I also wouldn't be surprised if more blacks were vegan in America (percentage-wise) than whites. Veganism/vegetarianism is popular with black celebrities (Russell Simmons, Carl Lewis, Andre 3000, KRS-One, Common, Brandy, Hank Aaron, Bob Marley, etc). The most popular vegan restaurants in Seattle & Tacoma are black-owned (Plum & Hillside Quickies). And there are plenty of black soul food cookbooks.

Also, of course, the vast majority of vegetarians/vegans in the world are Asian. Africans are probably #2 (at least on certain days).
Posted by raku on January 21, 2013 at 10:04 AM · Report this
Of course. Because if "white vegans" would just stop buying quinoa and allowed the market for one of Peru and Bolivia's main exports to collapse, quality of life there would magically be so much higher.

It's really depressing to see this article passed around so much as though it were gospel. It engages in serious cherry-picking around a complex issue, and rich people who are all too eager to have their grocery store purchases given a stamp of moral approval lap it up.
Posted by Morosoph on January 21, 2013 at 10:37 AM · Report this
...because outside of Peruvians and Bolivians only white vegans eat quinoa...
Posted by Sean on January 21, 2013 at 10:47 AM · Report this
TVDinner 23
@14: The word is cuy.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on January 21, 2013 at 10:49 AM · Report this
Because no minority groups ever starved en masse under a left-wing command-and-control economy.

Or maybe a few, like say tens of millions, whatevs, but at least they didn't have to watch their children die so that White Vegans could buy a health grain at Whole Foods.
Posted by Billy Chav on January 21, 2013 at 10:55 AM · Report this
@10, the Stranger employs Mudede because he increases traffic to the site. he posts inflammatory articles, which is all he does if you'll notice, not because they are right or interesting, but because they increase traffic. he's a troll, really, but a necessary one for a website such as this.
Posted by semi-crepuscular on January 21, 2013 at 11:11 AM · Report this
@20, Don't forget Michael Dorn!
Posted by Spike1382 on January 21, 2013 at 11:48 AM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 27
Only white, privileged hipsters pay attention to NPR.

Which I'm sure is what Charles so desperately wants to be.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on January 21, 2013 at 11:57 AM · Report this
Confluence 28
White Seattle vegans in an uproar on Slog, hahaha! Too good. In your face, you holier-than-thou over-privileged asshats. Maybe the fact that you are screwing over poor South Americans will shut up your preachy lilywhite traps for once. Thanks for posting, Charles! And keep posting your "outraged" comments, whiteys - it's super entertaining. You people are so predictable.
Posted by Confluence on January 21, 2013 at 12:04 PM · Report this
This is a variant of the resource curse faced by countries with mineral wealth. The answer is not impovishering the country by cutting off the export if a cash crop. Nor is it hippie punching. If quinoa faced an export tariff or if taxes on agricultural land were raised, the prosperity from the world's demand could be more broadly shared within the producing countries.

In any case, I don't see the irony described as ghastly in the final block quote. Even taking the claims and the framing of the article as true, personal health, animal welfare, and carbon reduction are not in tension with denying food security to others. Food security shouldn't be based on irrelevant accusations of hypocrisy.

I am always amazed by how threatened people are by the dietary choices of others.
Posted by Charles Burney on January 21, 2013 at 12:20 PM · Report this
Soupytwist 30
Maybe I'm confused, but according to the label on my quinoa, it's grown in Canada, too. [shrug]
Posted by Soupytwist on January 21, 2013 at 12:37 PM · Report this
Hernandez 31
Eh, I know some vegans like quinoa, but when I really started seeing quinoa EVERYWHERE was when the "gluten-free" fad started to pick up steam. Now everyone thinks they have a gluten allergy (when it is more than likely they do not), and so they're all eating quinoa as a substitute.
Posted by Hernandez on January 21, 2013 at 12:47 PM · Report this
thatsnotright 32
It is a shame that Charles presented this article so poorly. There are some very good elements to this story, even though The Guardian should be faulted for calling out vegans.The fact is that global consumption changes local conditions and real people suffer while solutions are found. Remember when gasahol legislation during Bush Jr's admin sent corn prices through the roof? Poor people in Mexico couldn't afford to buy their staple food. When a few cents stands between you and hunger, waiting for "market adjustments" isn't the firts thing that comes to mind.
Posted by thatsnotright on January 21, 2013 at 1:13 PM · Report this
This strikes me as a short term problem. Solutions, be they alternatives, breeding, or genetic engineering, take time. Also, the flip side of this is that (this is speculation) some formally poor 3rd world farmers are now likely pulling in a lot more money than they were less than a decade ago. God forbid these guys get out of poverty.
Posted by spoons on January 21, 2013 at 1:42 PM · Report this
I've been eating quinoa for nearly twenty years and I'm not vegan. No matter what food anyone eats, someone will find something wrong with it. Maybe a clearer focus on the fact this planet generates enough food to feed everyone yet people are still starving everyday would be a good place to start putting this into perspective.
Posted by RamonaMayhem on January 21, 2013 at 3:13 PM · Report this
@28 Thanks for joining the hater parade. Douche.
Posted by JimmyCap on January 21, 2013 at 3:42 PM · Report this
Quinoa is grown in the Washington Okanogan. The first I ever bought it was from the co-op in Tonasket, locally-grown. Probably 15-20 years ago.
Posted by rabbitbrush on January 21, 2013 at 4:20 PM · Report this
And what do you mean by "white vegans"? What racist crap is that? Because I've lost all tolerance for Mudede's ethereal twaddle, does that make me racist, too?
Posted by rabbitbrush on January 21, 2013 at 4:23 PM · Report this
Oh please. Has anyone ever met a black vegan? If so, have you met two?
Posted by Mister G on January 21, 2013 at 7:14 PM · Report this
Sea Otter 39
@38 Yes, in fact, I have. Don't be silly.
Posted by Sea Otter on January 21, 2013 at 9:31 PM · Report this
Posted by Sea Otter on January 21, 2013 at 9:34 PM · Report this
#39, how about three?
Posted by Mister G on January 21, 2013 at 10:49 PM · Report this
Soupytwist 42
@36 - Tunk Mountain Hippies selling quinoa at the co-op in Tonasket? I LOVE IT.
Posted by Soupytwist on January 21, 2013 at 10:57 PM · Report this
Here are two responses to Joanna Blyman's piece Slog readers may be interested in, by yours truly and the other by Mimi Bekhechi of PETA:……
Posted by balford on January 22, 2013 at 10:06 AM · Report this
Sea Otter 44
@41, Yes, probably. And I even live in Vancouver, where black people are a smaller minority than in most of the U.S. Now don't move the goalposts again or you'll look like a nincompoop. I'm sorry the world doesn't fit your dumb stereotypes.
Posted by Sea Otter on January 22, 2013 at 7:34 PM · Report this
#44, how about seven?
Posted by Mister G on January 22, 2013 at 11:59 PM · Report this
I love quinoa, but I'm not a vegan. The whole gluten-free fad is the reason quinoa is so popular right now.
Posted by Not gluten-free either on January 23, 2013 at 3:36 AM · Report this
I am not vegan or even vegetarian and I love quinoa. I think it is unfair to demonise vegans. Quinoa has been commercially touted as a superfood by the media, and I think that is why it is so popular. If we all stop eating it, what happens to the jobs of the Peruvians and Bolivians who grow and collect it? This is also a problem to be considered. The importers and sellers of quinoa could easily choose to price the quinoa differently and fairly for local vs international imports, but they choose not to. This is a complex situation. I will stop eating it if it is really the best thing, but I do question if it is.
Posted by CBGee on January 23, 2013 at 9:48 AM · Report this
i'm pro-science and i vote 48
Trying to remember the last time I read a stranger blog post or article about harmful effects of carnivore diet on the environment, people, animals. Of which there are a ton. HMMM
Posted by i'm pro-science and i vote on January 23, 2013 at 4:39 PM · Report this
Ah, fuck the animals. Wait, that's Savage's department. Eat the animals, I say. At least the ones that taste good.
Posted by Mister G on January 23, 2013 at 7:48 PM · Report this
Sorta perused the linked story...

But the economics of this don't smell right. If quinoa prices are being driven up due to high demand, shouldn't poor farmers that farm quinoa be making more money? And can't that money be used to purchase more calories?

And shouldn't more poor farmers be moving towards quinoa as a crop?

And there we go:…

The conditions of life there may not be great. But at least this is offering some further income and a chance to move out of poverty.
Posted by Splibble on January 24, 2013 at 2:01 AM · Report this
#50, the "progressives" love it when Peruvian farmers are poor. It makes them humble, and so photogenic.
Posted by Mister G on January 24, 2013 at 10:46 PM · Report this

Add a comment


Want great deals and a chance to win tickets to the best shows in Seattle? Join The Stranger Presents email list!

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy