Lately, there have been some strongly worded articles implying that vegans don’t think about the global economics of quinoa because we care more about non-human animals than Andean subsistence farmers who grow this ancient grain.
It’s a fair question for people who strive not to value one species over another. Can Coloradans (vegan, and otherwise) have our quinoa and eat it too? The short answer: yes.
Quinoa is heady stuff. It boasts a hefty 15% protein and a complete amino acid profile. It’s naturally free of the eight common allergens and cooks in a mere 15 minutes. It’s versatile and (in my opinion) delicious; I’ve used in everything from tabbouleh to hot morning cereal.
Vegans are not automatically excused from all food-related ethical issues. We choose to eliminate animal products but still need to be conscious of what we are eating instead. Yes, one could technically survive on a “plant-based” diet eating only fried doughnuts and produce from the moon, but I would not recommend such an unhealthy and unsustainable life decision. Occasionally we might need to make tough choices (“Palm oil or non-organic?”) but for the most part we should not view organic/in season/local/etc. foods as at odds with one another.
So we return to the issue at hand. The growing popularity of quinoa in wealthy countries over the past few years has profoundly impacted the Andean farming communities that grow this grain. Quinoa price spikes have prompted land disputes and environmental problems, and dietary problems are on the rise because quinoa farmers are eating less of the crop themselves. What to do? Quinoa is grown in North America, including by Colorado’s White Mountain Farm, so we can start by supporting our local economies and reducing the distance our food travels.
This issue is larger than quinoa, though. Plant-based foods can and should be a part of solving the global hunger crisis.
It does not make sense to use one-third of our arable land to produce animal feed when eating animal foods has a much greater environmental impact. Because eating animal foods is such an inefficient use of resources, veganism is a food justice and human rights issue. In fact, water scientists estimate that if current diet and population trends continue, the world may be forced to adopt vegetarianism by the year 2050, which would be a radical transition but fine by me.
Concern for human welfare and international food security are a key part of why I live the way I do. A vegan life does not offer an easy escape from critical thinking and global consciousness. Rather, it’s an invitation to examine the impact of all of our choices and to show compassion for the entire world.