(At last, the post on quinoa I promised several months ago! Crossposted at Gender Across Borders.)

Well, I was going to write to you about how the increasing popularity of quinoa around the world is negatively affecting Bolivian growers, but Mary Anne Limoncelli at Persephone Magazine did it for me. I was going to resent her for writing it up before I could, but she did a much better job than I would have, so we’re all going to have to live with it. From her post, International Women’s Issues: Quinoa, Malnutrition, and Women in Bolivia:

[…]over the past five years, the global price of quinoa has tripled, while Bolivian consumption has fallen by 34 percent. In the regions of Bolivia where quinoa is grown, malnutrition amongst children under five is increasing, contrary to the national trend. It is far less expensive to buy wheat-flour noodles or rice, which don’t pack the nutritional punch of quinoa.

[…]Women, as we know, are the majority of the world’s farmers, and women do a significant portion of farming in Bolivia. The prevalence of women farming in Bolivia is on the rise, thanks in part to the 2009 constitution, which clarified women’s rights on land inheritance, something that is still a sticking point in parts of Bolivian society. Women are inheriting, owning, and working land at an unprecedented rate.

There are a few problems that are made evident with the parallels between the society of production, Bolivia, and the societies of consumption, like the United States or my own Australia. In Bolivia’s quinoa-growing regions, rampant malnutrition is being fostered by the push to export the nutritious food. The consuming societies are snapping quinoa up in the name of being health-conscious. In Bolivia, imported styles of food are lowering nutrition. European and American organisations were the ones to introduce these, and also to encourage Bolivians to grow quinoa for export (see this New York Times article).

It’s circumstances like this that thoroughly intervene in the idea that struggling regions are struggling because they’re lazy and incompetent. Here, hard work, and particularly women’s hard work, is being twisted to their disadvantage. Who is reaping the crops and who the benefit here? And of whose health, exactly, are consumers conscious?

These kinds of obvious disconnects around whose lives are worthy and whose aren’t really make one’s head spin. A piece of advice: if you’re buying quinoa and you’re not in a quinoa-growing region, do check where it has come from and the circumstances under which it got to you.