Quinoa and the Global Citizen

Quinoa harvest in Bolivia

A true global citizen strives to be mindful, at all times, of their actions and the impacts that these actions have on the other citizens of the world. This responsibility is greatly applicable to the consumption of food in the context of the increasingly globalized food markets in our modern world.

A food item that exemplifies the need of globally mindful consumers to take into consideration the impacts of production on local producers and consumers is quinoa.

Quinoa is a food product that has recently skyrocketed in popularity, as more Americans and Europeans have become introduced to the chenopod’s unparalleled quality of acting as a significant source of amino acids and protein. The food item is almost exclusively produced in the South American Andes region, in the countries of Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Perú. In the past, it has acted as a staple food in the diets of the local peoples of these nations but as of yet, the item has been flying off the shelves in such American stores as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and “…quinoa prices have almost tripled over the past five years,” with organic quinoa retailing for about $3.99 from Trader Joe’s. This increase in global demand has led to an inevitable increase in price and has had both positive and negative consequences for the people of the Andes.

On one hand, the rise in popularity of quinoa and increased access to global markets has led to a rise in economic success for Andean farmers and has provided them with higher incomes and improved living standards. A Bolivian farmer, Ernesto Choquetopa, was able to put his daughter through medical school with his quinoa earnings and thankfully acknowledges the increases in educational and vocational opportunity for local producers that result from quinoa’s upsurge in popularity. “Before, people didn’t go to study… they were born, they grew up, and that was it. They went on to herd sheep and llamas. Nothing more. Now people here, we think about doing something with our lives,” (Murphy). The globalization of quinoa as an export has acted as a catalyst for the re-investment of interest in rural development and rural agricultural investment in the Andean region by citizens who would traditionally move to urbanized areas or more developed countries such as Argentina and Chile. The commercial director of the National Association of Quinoa Producers Miguel Choque Llanos, is quoted as saying, “…rising quinoa prices have also encouraged city dwellers to return to their plots in the countryside during planting and harvest seasons.” And yet, despite all of these benefits to the people of the Andean region that is serving as the sole producer of quinoa, there are also negative consequences.

The international demand for quinoa as an export and the rising costs to meet that demand has made the product, formerly a staple food for the people of the Andes, too expensive for them to afford anymore. “The shift offers a glimpse into the consequences of rising prices and changing eating habits in both prosperous and developing nations (Romero, Shahriari).” Due to the lack of economic access to quinoa, natives of the South American countries become consumers of less-expensive, highly processed imported foods. In Lima, Perú, “…quinoa now costs more than chicken,” and “…imported junk food is cheaper” (Blythman). A nutritionist at a public Bolivian hospital, Hospital de Clínicas, says that, “While malnutrition on a national level has fallen over the past few years thanks to aggressive social welfare programs…studies showed that chronic malnutrition in children had climbed in quinoa-growing areas… in recent years” (Romero, Shahriari).

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Quinoa is not the only food item that has come into popularity on a global stage that presents moral issues for consumers. There are many imported foods that call for attention and lobbying from concerned, responsible global citizens in terms of its production and consumption. Another import that has had startling consequences on its local producers is cacao, the bean fondly known to produce chocolate, that is primarily farmed in West Africa, namely the Ivory Coast and Ghana. The billion-dollar industry relies heavily upon slave labor to keep up with the needed level of production and in order to keep production costs low. Oftentimes, vulnerable children from the neighboring countries of Mali and Burkina Faso are trafficked into “…some of the 1.5 million small cocoa farms in West Africa. These farms produce more than half the world’s cacao that’s processed into candy, cookies or cocoa butter used for cosmetics” (Aaronson). There are an “estimated 200,000 children working the fields, many against their will, to create chocolate enjoyed around the world. Many of the children don’t even know what chocolate is” (CNN Freedom Project).

So how do we, as global citizens, move forward after acquiring this knowledge?

A way for global citizens to be responsible purchasers of food is to consume locally produced food items. As Joanna Blythman, from the news organization, the Guardian, says, there is a “…need to strengthen our own food security by lessening our reliance on imported foods, and looking first and foremost to what can be grown, or reared, on our doorstep.” The most effective way of making our voices heard is to voice our opinion through our purchases as consumers and by choosing to purchase locally and in cases where locally sourced food items are not an option, fair trade purchasing needs to be a priority.

Global citizens also need to be the ones to step up and demand positive change in the context of globalized food markets. As members of the developed, Western world, we act as a “…vector for Western ideas and mode of behavior,” and whether we are conscious of it or not, the choices we make as consumers have consequences. It is of the utmost importance that global citizens take on the role of being responsible consumers that connect with legislators. It is important to inform our lawmakers in order to ensure that they are mindful of negative consequences perpetrated unknowingly by Western consumers in the hopes that they can enact global legislative change that will put an end to such things as child slavery within the self-regulated cacao industry. This does lead to change, as Congressmen Elliott Engel and Senator Tom Harkins felt called to act and “…created a multi-sectoral partnership, the Cocoa Protocol, to address the conditions that perpetuate forced child labor on these cacao plantations” (Aaronson).

Global citizens need to take strides to offset any imbalances or negative consequences for local producers caused by the globalization of food. It is the role and responsibility of global citizens to pursue the truth surrounding the food they purchase and consume. There are consequences that result from globalized food markets for the people that produce the food items. An obvious way to combat this is to actively seek out information on food, where it is coming from, and determine whether or not it is ethically sourced. Allowing this information to dictate one’s choices as a consumer is crucial and dispersing the information to others is deeply valuable.

Aaronson, Susan Ariel. “Globalization and Child Labor: The Cause Can Also Be a Cure.” Globalization And Child Labor: The Cause Can Also Be A Cure. Yale University, 13 Mar. 2007. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/globalization-and-child-labor-cause-can-also-be-cure>.

Blythman, Joanna. “Can Vegans Stomach the Unpalatable Truth about Quinoa?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 16 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 June 2013.

Donini, Antonio. Abu-Sada, Caroline. In the Eyes of Others. MSF-USA, 2012. Print.

“Ferrero Sets Date to End Cocoa Slavery.” The CNN Freedom Project Ending Modern Day Slavery. Cable News Network, 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 01 July 2013. <http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/20/ferrero-sets-date-to-end-cocoa-slavery/>.

McKenzie, David, and Brent Swalls. “Child Slavery and Chocolate: All Too Easy to Find.” The CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern Day Slavery. Cable News Network, 19 Jan. 2012. Web. 01 July 2013.

Murphy, Annie. “Demand For Quinoa A Boon For Bolivian Farmers.” NPR. NPR, 13 Jan. 2011. Web. 29 June 2013.

Romero, Simon, and Sara Shahriari. “Quinoa’s Global Success Creates Quandary at Home.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 19 Mar. 2011. Web.

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