Current Food Trend: Quinoa

One of the latest health food trends has definitely hit Connecticut College. Quinoa, a nutritious grain, can be found in every dining hall on campus. The versatile, low-calorie grain can be paired with virtually any meal and is high in iron, fiber, magnesium and protein – all of which boost your metabolism and help you lose weight. Its high protein content also means it’s an excellent substitute for meat for vegetarians and vegans. It’s no wonder that with all its benefits, quinoa has become the newest superfood, joining the ranks of kale, chia and flax seed.
I recently sat down with Selena Sobanski ’16, founder and president of Connecticut College Animal Rights and Equity Society (Conn CARES), to discuss quinoa and its global impact. According to a recent article published by The Guardian the increasing demand for quinoa in the West has led to such high prices in the countries that produce the grain, primarily Bolivia and Peru, that the farmers can no longer afford it for themselves. Instead, they must consume more affordable food, which tends to be high in fat and calories, and low in nutritional value. The article blames vegans and vegetarians for the increase in demand for quinoa, although the grain’s popularity extends beyond those who choose to live a meat-free lifestyle. Sobanski suggests that all people, not just vegans and vegetarians, need to be more aware of the food choices they make to ensure that they are partaking in ethical and responsible consumerism.
A vegan or vegetarian lifestyle has immense benefits for sustaining the environment and promoting the welfare of both animals and people. Conn CARES member, Glindys Luciano ’16, who brought the articles to Sobanski’s attention, states, “It is crucial that we see the bigger picture and how our actions impact the environment.” While the first article by The Guardian places blame on vegans, the truth is better captured in a follow-up article also published by the newspaper. This article illustrates exactly how damaging the meat industry is due to its inefficient use of grains. According to The Guardian journalist, Mimi Bekhecki, “With hundreds of millions of hungry people worldwide, it is criminally wasteful to feed perfectly edible food to farmed animals in order to produce meat, rather than feeding it directly to people – especially when you consider that it takes 4.5 pounds of grain to make one pound of chicken meat and 7.3 pounds of grain to produce one pound of pork.” These facts demonstrate fallacies in the first article; while increased consumption of quinoa harms Bolivian and Peruvian farmers, meat consumption has been harming hungry people worldwide for much longer.

While it is important to recognize the new realities that accompany increasing demand for quinoa, a reduction in the amount of meat consumed can also have incredible implications for the global hunger crisis. According to The Guardian, “The world’s cattle alone consume enough food to sustain nine billion people, which is what the world’s human population is projected to be by 2050.” Each person who elects to live a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle makes an impact. Vegans eat plant-based food directly, rather than indirectly consuming pounds of grain through meat consumption. Vegans that eat food products grown in other countries make a far smaller impact on the environment in comparison to meat eaters, many of whom also participate in food trends like quinoa. Studies have determined that enough food can be produced for a vegan on 1/6 of an acre, whereas 3¼ acres are needed to produce enough for one meat eater.

As put by Sobanski, “Animal-based foods are inherently much more resource intensive than plant-based foods, and given the other ethical and environmental issues associated with consuming animals and their byproducts, we are past due for a serious reevaluation of our daily choices.” To learn more about how to make ethical and sustainable choices when it comes to consumerism or veganism in general, contact Selena Sobanski at ssobank@conncoll.edu. •