The accepted knowledge has been that eating quinoa is a culinary crime of the first order, but according to a new study this just isn’t the case. When the crop’s escalating popularity as a superfood caused its price to triple between 2006 and 2013, many proclaimed that it was hurting farmers in Bolivia and Peru who were no longer able to afford an ancient and essential staple in their diets. Boycotts were called for, and outlets like The Guardian asked if vegans could stomach the “unpalatable truth.”
Not so fast. According to agricultural economist Marc Bellemare, the effects of the quinoa boom aren’t so negative after all — at least in Peru. Together with economists Johanna Fajardo-Gonzalez and Seth R. Gitter, Bellemare conducted a study using a decade’s worth of government surveys of household consumption expenditures. Through this data, they observed the relationship between the cost of price and household consumption, which they used as a proxy for welfare.
What they found was when quinoa prices rose, average household welfare increased significantly for both quinoa producers and consumers. Surprisingly, the authors found that, according to their estimates, a 10 percent increase in quinoa prices resulted in an average .7 percent increase in household welfare. While the study doesn’t answer all the questions — such as how Bolivian farmers have fared, if crop diversity has been narrowed, or if Peruvians ate less quinoa because of the higher prices — it does suggest that Peruvians have, on the whole, benefited from the crop’s popularity.