Kids’ choice: quinoa

In yet another of my attempts to get family meal buy-in from my children, I recently decided we’d call Sunday evening dinner “Kids’ Choice.” They get to decide what we eat and help make it. Cool, right? Control and engagement for them, a  fun, new ritual for all of us. (I was inspired in part by Laurie David, producer and activist (An Inconvenient Truth) and recent author of  The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time, who I heard on the radio explaining how she had “Taco Tuesdays” with her kids every week.)

We’ve only been doing it for two weeks so the jury is still out on its success, but the first week was our 6-year-old’s choice and without missing a beat he said: I want QUINOA!

Uncooked quinoa

When I was his age, I wouldn’t have known quinoa if I was buried in it but we have this yummy, nutty seed pretty regularly. He likes the flavour much more than rice or couscous, and we like that it’s extremely quick, and this little nutritional powerhouse packs in protein, iron and fibre.

Seems my boy’s not alone. In fact, quinoa has become so popular, it’s starting to change the lives of subsistence farmers in Bolivia where it grows well in the altiplano. They can afford more land and are able to send their children to secondary school. But according to a piece on NPR, the increased demand is also making quinoa so expensive it could soon be out of reach for the average person in the Andes where it’s been a staple for centuries. The Associated Press reports, in fact, that the wholesale price has jumped sevenfold since 2000 and some kids  in Bolivia are actually showing signs of malnutrition because their parents are offering up rice and noodles instead of healthier, and (now) more expensive quinoa.

The Bolivian government is trying to promote internal consumption by providing rations to pregnant women and young children, and there will no doubt have to be more checks and balances created—to monitor and control the environmental costs of increased quinoa production, as well.

With intelligent regulation and an eagle eye on equity, surely this doesn’t have to be another story of the needs of the developed world trumping those of the developing. Still, it’s a reminder of the challenges of the complex international food system we’ve created: where one kids’ choice can mean another’s missed chance.

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