Table of contents
Table of contents
Podcast S1 E9 | 31 min

What’s the Cost of Quinoa?

4 Dec 2018
Many had hoped that quinoa production would lift farmers out of poverty and rehabilitate a war-torn nation—but the state of this seed remains uncertain.

SAPIENS host Jen Shannon goes on a mission to find out how quinoa travels from farmers’ fields in Huanoquite, Peru, to markets in Lima and the U.S. She discovers quinoa’s complicated past and present: a bloody civil war that shook the nation, the chefs who tried to use food as a racial reconciliation project, and the current economic and social pressures small producers face when they take on huge risks to bring their product from field to market.

Linda Seligmann is a professor emeritus of sociocultural anthropology at George Mason University. She has worked in the Andean region of Latin America for over 40 years. Her current project tracks the production of quinoa and gender dynamics in the highlands of Peru.

Emma McDonell is a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology at Indiana University, where she works on food politics, political ecology, and quinoa in the Andes. Follow her on Twitter @EmMcDonell.

María Elena García is an associate professor in the Comparative History of Ideas Program at the University of Washington. She is currently working on a book project about Peru’s food boom and return to democracy after two decades of civil war.

Learn more about food at SAPIENS:

This episode of SAPIENS was produced by Arielle Milkman, edited by Matthew Simonson, and hosted by Jen Shannon.

SAPIENS producer Paul Karolyi, along with executive producer Cat Jaffee, House of Pod intern Lucy Soucek, and SAPIENS host Esteban Gómez, provided additional support. Fact-checking is by Christine Weeber, illustration is by David Williams, and all music is composed and produced by Matthew Simonson.

SAPIENS is part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library.

This is an editorially independent podcast funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and produced by House of Pod.

Read a transcript of this episode

Jen Shannon: [00:00:00] Hi, listeners, this is Jen. Before we get started, I wanted to let you know that portions of this episode will feature people speaking in Spanish followed by interpretation in English. Thank you for listening. 

Most days, Linda Seligmann’s routine goes something like this: She wakes up between 8 and 9 in her open, California-style house in a wealthy neighborhood in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. She takes a shower and goes for a walk with her golden retrievers. She listens to NPR. And then, she retreats to her office to write. Now that she’s retired from the anthropology department at George Mason University, her only distractions are the books covering the walls. There are poetry collections, volumes on social theory, food, anthropology texts, and tons and tons of books about the Andes. You see, Linda has lived two lives. When she’s not here in McLean, Virginia, she has lived in Huanoquite, a town in southeast Peru. [00:01:07][66.4] 

Linda Seligmann: [00:01:08] I picked Huanoquite because, from very early times, it was known as the breadbasket of Peru. It just had an extraordinary range of microecological zones where different crops could be grown, and it was close enough to Cusco that it was able to supply urban residents with food such as, you know, colonial products like wheat but also maize and many, many other crops. [00:01:36][28.5] 

Jen Shannon: [00:01:37] From Huanoquite, Linda witnessed a bloody civil war rage across Peru between 1980 and 2000. Around 70,000 people died and many more were displaced by the fighting. The war really highlighted huge wealth inequalities and racial divides in the Highlands and between Peru’s rural communities and growing urban centers. And Linda came to see Peru’s food systems as indicative of those divides. [00:02:02][24.9] 

Linda Seligmann: [00:02:03] So I shifted gears and I did a lot of work on agrarian reform and the causes and consequences of the agrarian reform. [00:02:13][10.3] 

Jen Shannon: [00:02:14] Linda kept going back to Huanoquite through the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s and when the war ended, she watched as most wounds started to heal while others remained open. In 2013, she noticed something new: hope in the form of a new commercial crop. Linda’s friends were growing quinoa, even though it’s incredibly labor-intensive for farmers; it’s supersensitive to changes in the climate; and Peruvian urbanites just didn’t seem to like eating it that much. [00:02:47][33.2] 

Linda Seligmann: [00:02:48] Quinoa was regarded as a lowly Indian crop, and no one would be seen dead eating it among the sort of Hispanic elite or mestizos in Peru. [00:02:59][11.1] 

Jen Shannon: [00:03:00] And yet, in 2013, it was everywhere. And when Linda returned to the U.S. that year, she found the quinoa craze there as well. She noticed it in fancy restaurants in Washington, D.C., in health food stores, and even in organic shampoos. She started to wonder how this unlikely seed with a hard-to-pronounce name captured the imagination of millions of people all over the world. And she wanted to know how this booming quinoa trade was really affecting the people of Huanoquite. So earlier this year (in 2018), she went back to Peru to figure it out. This time on SAPIENS, we’re going with her to find some answers of our own. We want to know how much hope we should put into quinoa. Can food bring us together despite our past? [00:03:50][49.8] 

All hosts: [00:03:50] INTRO [00:03:50][0.0] 

Jen Shannon: [00:04:22] Most days in Huanoquite, Linda’s routine goes something like this. She wakes up around 6:30. She heats some water to wash her face and clean her glasses. She uses some precious potable water to brew coffee. She listens to the radio to catch up on the local news from Cusco. And then she heads to her friend’s house, where she’ll prepare for the day’s interviews. [00:04:46][23.7] 

Linda Seligmann: [00:04:50] So this is a swanky municipality building that was recently … thrown up. [00:04:55][5.2] 

Jen Shannon: [00:04:59] On her way, she runs into people she’s known for years, and she talks a lot about quinoa. [00:05:04][4.4] 

Linda Seligmann: [00:05:05] I think the main reason that it attracted such interest is because, very unusually, it’s a pseudo-grain; it belongs to the Goosefoot or Amaranth family, and there are some other related crops that are like quinoa (canewa and kiwicha) that are grown; but it is a complete protein, which is highly unusual. It provides all the essential amino acids, and it has a number of vitamins as well. We’re at the same level of Cusco, almost about 11,000 feet, 3,300–3,400 meters above sea level. [00:05:59][54.6] 

Jen Shannon: [00:06:01] Huanoquite is a two-hour taxi ride from the nearest major city, Cusco, and close to a thousand people live here. Linda knows many of them, but she spent most of her time on this recent trip with her old friends Demetrio, Victoria, and their family. [00:06:15][14.2] 

Jen Shannon: [00:06:27] Demetrio is a reserved guy with kind eyes. He’s known as an innovator in Huanoquite. Endlessly curious, he’s always experimenting with new farming methods. One of these new methods involves a machine called the pelador. It’s used to take the hull off the quinoa. This removes a bitter ingredient called saponin. [00:06:46][19.4] 

Demetrio: [00:06:48] Es que recién este año se ha traído la máquina y nosotros no sabemos manejar. La ingeniera dijo de que que va traer un técnico del que ha construido la máquina. [00:06:48][0.0] 

Demetrio Translator: [00:07:06] They just brought the machine this year, and we don’t know how to drive it. The engineer said that they’re going to bring out a technician who built the machine. [00:07:12][5.9] 

Jen Shannon: [00:07:13] If the farmers could just figure out how to use this machine, they might fetch a higher price on the market. By Huanoquite standards, Victoria and Demetrio are fairly well-off, but that higher price would make it easier to buy a new truck to replace Demetrio’s old one and to take care of Davic, Demetrio and Victoria’s grandson. It would also make Victoria’s recent illness less burdensome. In July, Victoria was still recovering from a bout of pneumonia, but she was on her feet and she was able to give her old friend a tour of the garden. [00:07:49][36.0] 

Victoria: [00:07:53] Ese es malba … para dolor de cabeza Malba blanca es, [00:07:53][0.0] 

Jen Shannon: [00:07:59] “That’s mallow,” she tells Linda, “for headaches.” It’s white mallow. [00:08:02][3.5] 

Victoria: [00:08:03] Eso es amapola, esa florecita [00:08:03][0.0]

Jen Shannon: [00:08:08] And that’s Poppy—that little flower. Most of Victoria’s plants and trees appear to be thriving despite the rain, but the fields were a different story. Demetrio couldn’t actually complete the quinoa harvest until the rain stopped, so they had to wait. And while they waited, they talked politics. [00:08:30][22.3] 

Demetrio: [00:08:32] Mmm. Dice que todo Huanoquite es minería. Dicen que ya está concesionado. [00:08:32][0.0] 

Demetrio Translator: [00:08:39] They said that all of Huanoquite is mining now. They said it’s already concessioned. [00:08:42][2.9] 

Jen Shannon: [00:08:44] There’s a lot of mining for gold and other minerals in a region above Huanoquite where the farmers’ water source originates. And they talked about how hard it is to grow quinoa in a rotating schedule of lots of different crops. [00:08:57][12.8] 

Demetrio: [00:08:58] Acá el problema es de que trabajamos muchas cosas. [00:08:58][0.0] 

Demetrio Translator: [00:09:02] Here are the problems that we work on various things at once. [00:09:04][2.3] 

Demetrio: [00:09:05] Y una persona trabaja papa, trigo, maíz, tarwi, quinua, haba, frijol, un poco de todo. Sí. No es una sola cosa. [00:09:05][0.0] 

Demetrio Translator: [00:09:25] And one person works on potatoes, wheat, corn, tarwi, quinoa, fava beans, beans, a little bit of everything. Not just one thing. [00:09:35][9.4] 

Demetrio: [00:09:36] Descanso, no hay. [00:09:36][0.0] 

Demetrio Translator: [00:09:38] There is no rest. [00:09:38][0.8] 

Jen Shannon: [00:09:41] After hearing about Demetrio and Victoria’s issues, Linda wanted to know if other farmers in the area were having them too, so she went to talk to the president of the local quinoa cultivators’ association: Rolando. He said he’s getting ready to introduce more varieties in order to make Huanoquite’s crop more competitive. [00:09:58][16.9] 

Rolando: [00:09:59] Vamos a incrementar más. Yo voy a ir a Puno y voy a traer dos variedades más. [00:09:59][0.0] 

Rolando Translator: [00:10:05] We’re going to ramp up. I’m going to go to Puno and bring back two more varieties. [00:10:08][3.3] 

Rolando: [00:10:09] El ilpaini y inilla y el kiwayaman. [00:10:09][0.0] 

Rolando Translator: [00:10:13] They’re called ilpaini, inilla, and kiwayaman.[00:10:17][3.9] 

Rolando: [00:10:17] Pero son de más producción por hectárea. La ilpainia es 3,200 kilos por hectarea y el kiawayman igualito. [00:10:17][0.0] 

Rolando Translator: [00:10:29] They produce more per hectare. The ilpainia variety produces 3,200 kilos per hectare. And the kiawayman variety does the same. [00:10:38][9.0] 

Rolando: [00:10:38] Porque los que estamos trabajando, máximo hasta dos mil kilos pueden dar. Queremos introducir otras variedades. Es nuestro propósito para que nuestra cooperativa no muera. [00:10:38][0.0] 

Rolando Translator: [00:10:50] Because the varieties we’re working with now can only give a maximum of 2,000 kilos, we want to introduce other varieties. That’s what we propose to do so that our co-operative doesn’t die. [00:10:59][9.8] 

Jen Shannon: [00:11:00] There’s a lot of pressure to innovate and keep up with coastal and other quinoa producers. But Rolando is optimistic about the demand this year. [00:11:09][8.6] 

Rolando: [00:11:09] Están llamando de quinoa, todo el mundo ahora quiere quinoa. [00:11:09][0.0] 

Rolando Translator: [00:11:13] They’re calling for quinoa. Everyone wants quinoa right now. [00:11:17][3.8] 

Jen Shannon: [00:11:18] Things are looking up but for growers like Rolando, Demetrio, and Victoria, every season planting quinoa is like placing a big bet. There are a million things that could go wrong, so they speculate about climate change, They gossip about mining rights, and they complain about the weather. [00:11:34][16.3] 

Demetrio: [00:11:36] Sigue la lluvia, y hace frío también a la vez. [00:11:36][0.0] 

Demetrio Translator: [00:11:41] It’s still raining, and it’s cold. [00:11:43][1.8] 

Jen Shannon: [00:11:44] To stay busy in the rain, Demetrio moves onto other tasks. He listens to an old crank-up radio Linda gave him, and he gets his organic fertilizer ready for sowing. Victoria keeps busy by brewing chicha morada, a sweet drink made from corn. Guinea pigs and grandchildren run around the house. It’s a waiting game, and sometimes it seems like quinoa is causing more attention than it’s worth. But then again, maybe this year’s big bet pays off. Maybe the prices are high and the money will roll in. Maybe, maybe not. One thing’s for sure. The farmers can’t finish the harvest until the rain lets up. [00:12:28][43.6] 

Jen Shannon: [00:12:47] This is a market in Lima. It’s called La Parada. And today, it’s a place where the price of quinoa is hotly contested. With each transaction, small farmers’ livelihoods are in the balance. But according to Emma McDonell, Lima hasn’t always been this way. [00:13:03][16.1] 

Emma McDonell: [00:13:03] So in Lima, in Peru, where, until recently, until the last, sort of, three decades, there wasn’t a lot of urban migration, that quinoa really was not present in the diets of people in that city, and it was really sort of this racialized crop that people saw as this kind of dirty Indian food that if, if you ate it, you would become an Indian and, you know … [00:13:25][22.0] 

Jen Shannon: [00:13:27] Emma is a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University. We wanted to talk to her because she writes and thinks a lot about how quinoa is bought and sold in Peru and around the world. [00:13:36][9.2] 

Emma McDonell: [00:13:37] The way that we see quinoa today is so radically different than the way that it was seen in particular by upper class urbanites in Lima. [00:13:45][7.8] 

Jen Shannon: [00:13:46] Emma is speaking to a long-standing divide between Peru’s coastal cities and largely indigenous highlands. [00:13:52][5.9] 

Emma McDonell: [00:13:52] It fits into the sort of broader movement going on in Peru. So after the Civil War in the 80s and into the 90s, there was, you know, you could call it, the sort of multicultural moment where if the civil war of the 80s and early 90s was in large part about all these different sort of social frictions and fissures that really came out in really violent ways that, then, there kind of became this discourse or this, this dream about Peru reuniting and everyone’s differences sort of being the strength of a country. And so, what’s now often referred to as the gastronomic revolution, I think, played a really critical role in making more prevalent this idea that Peru’s strengths are in its diversity. And I think that quinoa came to play this really important role in this gastronomic revolution. And so it sort of became this symbol of the potential of all sorts of Peruvian things that had value but it just hadn’t been recognized. [00:14:58][65.3] 

Jen Shannon: [00:14:59] But what happened in the war? How did all of these shifts break down? [00:15:03][4.0] 

María Elena García: [00:15:05] The war was taking place in the early ’80s. It was primarily affecting the regional provinces, so especially the Andean Highlands and Amazonian regions. But in 1985, it hit Lima pretty hard. [00:15:18][13.0] 

Jen Shannon: [00:15:19] María Elena García experienced wartime Lima as a kid. [00:15:22][3.3] 

María Elena García: [00:15:24] Although even before then, the Shining Path had made its presence known in the 1980s. They sort of announced their presence by hanging dead dogs from lampposts. It was really kind of trying to strike terror in people’s hearts, and unfortunately, in that initial moment, they were sort of dismissed as this strange fringe group. And because the violence was taking place primarily in indigenous communities and highlands, a lot of the people in Lima didn’t care so much, right. And this speaks to the sort of racialized geographies of, of the time and, and even now, the fact that so many people just, especially primarily in Lima, didn’t really think much about the plight of indigenous peoples elsewhere outside of the, of the capital. [00:16:07][43.4] 

Jen Shannon: [00:16:07] Even though her family had moved away when she was young, they were able to go back and visit until the fighting hit Lima hard in 1985. She didn’t really understand the war, but she knew something wrong and scary was going on. [00:16:23][15.9] 

María Elena García: [00:16:24] There was one incident where we were all playing cards and, you know, by candlelight and there was a curfew. And my brother was running around and he hit his head on the edge of a table and, you know, we had, when we took out the flashlight, there was blood everywhere and so we were afraid that he had poked an eye out or something. So I remember that moment of, that’s where, that’s one moment I really remember because it’s a, it was a moment of us kids, all of us were … you know, it was it was, terror because we needed to get him to a hospital or something, right. But it was curfew. And so to see my parents and my, my aunts and uncles for a second think, Well, we have, we have to go, so let’s see what, what happens and try to wash his face to try to do everything possible to not have to leave the house. So that was a moment where, I think, that it kind of crystallized the danger that was outside, perhaps because you’re playing and you’re messing around. And even like there’s a radio and there’s candles and it just seems like a little bit of an adventure, right, until you hear a bomb go off. [00:17:28][64.1] 

Jen Shannon: [00:17:30] María Elena really put together the pieces of what happened as an adult. She was living in the U.S., and she was beginning to travel to Peru again on her own terms, this time as an anthropologist doing research. [00:17:42][11.7] 

María Elena García: [00:17:42] I was noticing in the early 2000s as the country was going, going through democratization and economic, you know, openings, and I noticed this shift in the incorporation of Andean animals like guinea pigs and alpacas in menus, in tourist menus. But I, it became clearer and clearer to me that I couldn’t really think about the guinea pig boom or the proliferation of all of these animals on menus without considering the broader context of this gastronomic revolution. [00:18:12][29.6] 

Jen Shannon: [00:18:13] She couldn’t stop thinking about the connections between Peru’s civil war and the food boom that followed. [00:18:18][5.2] 

María Elena García: [00:18:20] It’s fascinating and it’s complicated and it’s, for Peru, I mean, this is, food has become the national project. [00:18:27][7.1] 

Jen Shannon: [00:18:28] This project was about healing and bringing Peruvian people together by celebrating their different food traditions. [00:18:34][6.2] 

María Elena García: [00:18:35] How did this happen? Well, I think, I think, I think we, we can’t really talk about it without talking about Gastón Acurio. So Gastón Acurio is probably the most loved figure in Peru, I would say, today. [00:18:47][11.4] 

Jen Shannon: [00:18:49] Like a lot of Peruvian elites of his generation, Gastón moved to Europe when he was young. That’s where he learned to cook. [00:18:55][6.6] 

María Elena García: [00:18:57] And so he returns in the mid-1990s, opens up what becomes Astrid y Gastón, which is probably his most important restaurant. The restaurant, his first French based. Right? But he talks about how he very slowly begins to realize the bounty of produce and, and what he could do with some of the Peruvian ingredients that people didn’t really consider as worthy of being in a restaurant, before, right? [00:19:24][27.0] 

Jen Shannon: [00:19:25] Like guinea pig, alpaca, Andean cheese, and quinoa. [00:19:31][5.5] 

María Elena García: [00:19:31] So he slowly kind of shifts from a focus on, on French cuisine, to slowly including some dishes that were maybe kind of what you would call fusion now, to eventually making this a high-end Peruvian restaurant. And as he tells it and others tell it, you know, initially, he got a lot of pushback and people didn’t quite understand that, you know, people didn’t think of Peruvian food as gastronomy, really, as high-end cuisine. [00:19:58][27.0] 

Jen Shannon: [00:20:00] Gastón started writing and talking about food as something larger than life. For instance, in a recent TED talk, he describes the way food brought his multicultural family together. His mother was from the coast, his father from the Andean Highlands. But food brought them to the same table. They were not received in ghettos or separated, but integrated, joined together, Gastón said, and, at least in the kitchen, they learned to build bountiful bridges of love and peace. [00:20:29][29.1] 

María Elena García: [00:20:30] You could argue that Peruvian cuisine has always been some kind of fusion cuisine. But what Acurio has done is very, very directly linked to the idea of culinary fusion with the idea of racial cultural fusion, right. I mean, that’s been central, and he has particularly tied it to the idea of mixture, of mestizaje. [00:20:48][18.1] 

Jen Shannon: [00:20:52] Gastón even took this vision of racial tolerance on the road to the United States. [00:20:56][3.6] 

María Elena García: [00:20:57] They launched their national branding campaign with this video that went viral like overnight. It was called Peru, Nebraska. It’s, it’s amazing, it’s the story of, you know, you see this bus, you know, painted in the red and white colors of the Peruvian flag, and they’re driving in the U.S. to the town of Peru, Nebraska. [00:21:13][16.6] 

Announcer voice: [00:21:18] Peru, Nebraska.  [00:21:18][0.1]

María Elena García: [00:21:18] And they get there and, you know, and of course, Gastón Acurio is the one driving the bus, literally. And they arrive and with loud speakers are telling the residents of Peru, Nebraska that they are Peruvian and therefore, you know, they must know what their rights are. And, you know, among them, and the first one they name is, you have the right to eat well.  [00:21:37][18.3] 

Announcer voice: [00:21:42] Ustedes son de Perú. Tienen derecho a comer rico! [00:21:42][0.0] 

Jen Shannon: [00:21:42] So then they get all these different traditional dishes out. [00:21:45][2.7] 

Announcer voices: [00:21:46]  [00:21:46][0.0] [In Spanish] 

Jen Shannon: [00:21:55] It’s funny, it’s interesting. It’s fascinating. Of course, I read it critically. But the idea is, we are now, like we’re inverting this idea that, you know, we need to look outward. We need to look out to the U.S. or to Europe for finding any kind of worth and value. And in fact, we can find it within ourselves. And in fact, we can deliver this sense of value and, and even like, civilization, to other places. [00:22:20][25.1] 

Jen Shannon: [00:22:26] While Gastón was working his magic, Ollanta Humala was elected president of Peru. Humala campaigned in 2011 on a populist, pro-Andes agenda that was full of hope. Initially, people saw him and the first lady, Nadine Heredia, as these larger-than-life, multicultural figures who could lessen the huge inequalities between Peru’s coastal elites and the Andean Highlands. And Humala was interested in using quinoa to do so. He called it the golden grain and he wanted to incentivize families to feed it to their kids to curb childhood malnutrition. Quinoa’s promise really seemed within reach when global development groups like the International Fund for Agricultural Development got involved. Here’s Emma McDonell again. [00:23:12][46.0] 

Emma McDonell: [00:23:13] They started a small development project on it and then, sort of one of the big catalysts for a lot of the changes in the quinoa industry were in 2013. So the boom was already happening in terms of exports of quinoa to countries where sort of new consumers were taking it up as this health food. [00:23:32][19.7] 

Jen Shannon: [00:23:33] 2013 was a big turning point. The same year Linda was noticing quinoa in the fields of Huanoquite, the U.N. went to countries across Africa and Asia and put on big promotional events. They wanted quinoa to be globally produced and globally consumed. [00:23:48][15.0] 

Emma McDonell: [00:23:49] The United Nations declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. [00:23:53][4.3] 

Jen Shannon: [00:23:55] Heredia and Humala embraced all of this attention. They wanted quinoa to be the miracle crop that would lift struggling regions of Peru out of poverty. Heredia accepted the mantle of U.N. ambassador for quinoa and she went on tour visiting regions in Peru where quinoa was grown. She even started programs to give quinoa farmers tech assistance and cover some of their growing costs. [00:24:16][20.9] 

Emma McDonell: [00:24:17] This became really highly contentious in Peru and in the Andes in general because they really saw it as, you know, their crop that they were going to benefit from with these export markets, and so there, this fear developed that soon materialized a new reality that producers around the world might outcompete them. [00:24:38][21.1] 

Jen Shannon: [00:24:39] In 2014, the price of quinoa was at an all-time high, and those concerns were easy to dismiss. But by 2015, the price of quinoa hit rock bottom. [00:24:49][10.3] 

Emma McDonell: [00:24:50] And that was in large part because of overproduction. You know, a lot of sort of booms and busts happen because there’s speculation and then there’s not actually any demand for something, and in this case, the demand had continued to rise. But the production rose so quickly that there ended up being this quinoa glut. [00:25:07][17.4] 

Jen Shannon: [00:25:08] To many in rural agricultural areas of Peru, it was clear that the president and first lady had no backup plan for poor people or farmers in the Andes. [00:25:17][9.1] 

Emma McDonell: [00:25:18] One of the quinoa cooperatives that I worked with, Nadine Heredia actually came there and there was this big sort of festival-type day where they received her and, you know, they fed her local dishes with quinoa. And they thought that by her visiting them that something would actually come of that where she would see the specifics of what, what needed to happen in terms of making the quinoa boom actually benefit farmers in the long term. And ultimately everyone characterized it as just a photo op where she came, and she embraced farmers in front of the producers, and she put on their traditional garb for the photos, and then left. And, you know, never put forward any sort of policy that would help them or even state in any sort of contact and so I think that most people felt really sort of taken advantage of. It’s not like they just didn’t do anything for them. It’s that they performed and they used them for these photos so that they could show how much Nadine Heredia and Humala care about farmers in the Andes despite the fact that they never actually put forward any sort of policies to help these people. [00:26:33][75.9] 

Jen Shannon: [00:26:34] Just as the old divides between the coast and Highlands were resurfacing, a series of contamination scandals exacerbated the situation. [00:26:42][7.6] 

Emma McDonell: [00:26:43] I think it was a total of 200 tons of quinoa were rejected at the end of 2014 from the U.S. port of entry, so that became this huge scandal. [00:26:54][11.0] 

Jen Shannon: [00:26:54] Some of the shipments of Peruvian quinoa had way more pesticides than they were supposed to. Highlands producers wanted to blame coastal producers for the quinoa corruption. But the story was more complicated than that. And this, after all that effort to bring quinoa to the nation’s table. [00:27:11][16.6] 

Emma McDonell: [00:27:11] One of the consequences was that the reputation of Peru’s quinoa specifically was tarnished, and so prices for Peruvian versus Bolivian quinoa, there was a big disparity for a while. Because these contamination scandals persisted, so after these initial shipments were rejected, this problem didn’t go away. [00:27:32][20.3] 

Jen Shannon: [00:27:43] Back in Huanoquite, Demetrio and Victoria pulled in a decent crop even though one of Demetrio’s fields didn’t do so well. The soil was tired out from the previous harvest, and his crop was attacked by birds. Linda told us that farmers in Huanoquite are really worried about finding a stable market for their quinoa after the crash in prices. But they all have the same answer when she asked if they were going to keep doing this. Yes, absolutely. 

Did quinoa live up to its miracle crop reputation? Did it heal conflict and make people’s lives better? Farmers like Demetrio and Victoria still see quinoa as a profitable option. They take what they’ve grown to market, and they hope it does OK. And then they do this backbreaking work all over again. When quinoa arrives to our plate, we may see it simply as sustenance. But there’s so much more to the story of how it got there. Here’s María Elena García again. [00:28:43][60.4] 

María Elena García: [00:28:44] I always think about my grandmother and how important food was, I remembered. I wanted just to talk to her about her life and I would just put a tape recorder on and, you know, it’s OK, let’s talk. She said, Well, let’s cook. And I remember you can hear the garlic sizzling. And, you know, as she’s telling me these stories about her life; you know, the violence that we went through was, was horrific, right. And still the violence that so many of Peruvian governments have imposed, continue to impose, on indigenous bodies in particular, is still just brutal and so, so what’s wrong, right, with sort of celebrating and, and thinking about the ways in which food can unite. [00:29:21][36.9] 

Jen Shannon: [00:29:23] Maybe food didn’t work as an engine for economic development and maybe it didn’t solve all the wounds from the war. But there’s still something really powerful about the way it can bring different voices to the same table. [00:29:34][10.8] 

Chip Colwell: [00:29:40] This episode of SAPIENS was produced farm-to-table by Arielle Milkman, edited and sound-designed by Matthew Simonson, and hosted by Jen Shannon. SAPIENS producer Paul Karolyi, executive producer Cat Jaffee, House of Pod intern Lucy Soucek, and hosts Esteban Gómez and myself, Chip Colwell, also provided additional support. Christine Weeber is our fact-checker. Our cover art was created by David Williams. Music for this episode is by Matthew Simonson. Thanks this time to our guests Linda Seligmann, Emma McDonell, and María Elena García. Thanks also to Demetrio Pantoja and Victoria Zanabria, who contributed to this episode. Gian Carlo interpreted the Spanish in the episode. Thanks also to Whitney Henry Lester, Carolina Black Tam, and Vanesa Arosi, who contributed reporting from Peru. And to Adam Gamwell for background on international quinoa consumption. Marca Perú provided the clips you heard from their film about Peru, Nebraska. Thanks also to Danilyn Rutherford; Maugha Kenny; the entire staff, board, and advisory council of the Wenner-Gren Foundation; and Amanda Mascarelli, Daniel Salas, Christine Weeber, Aaron Brooks, Cay Leythem-Powell, and everyone at SAPIENS is part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library. This is an editorially independent podcast funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and produced by House of Pod. All right, time for a snack. See you next time, fellow sapiens. [00:29:40][0.0][1482.5]


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