If kale is the king of trendy superfoods, then quinoa is the queen. But just because it's good for our bodies doesn't mean it's good for the world. When its sudden popularity caused its price to triple between 2006 and 2013, many argued that it was hurting farmers in Bolivia and Peru who could no longer afford a staple food in their diet.
In a heated Guardian post, investigative food journalist Joanna Blythman asked if vegans could "stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?"
But after reading up on quinoa guilt, agricultural economist Marc Bellemare concluded that there was no real data to support it—so he went hunting for it.
Bellemare found that, at least in Peru, the effects of the quinoa boom aren't as negative as we thought. In fact, he saw that when quinoa prices rose, average household welfare increased significantly for both quinoa producers and consumers.
Teaming up with economists Johanna Fajardo-Gonzalez and Seth R. Gitter, Bellemare conducted an investigation using about ten years of data from household consumption expenditure surveys, which economists believe to be a pretty good proxy for welfare.
They found that expenditures are going up consistently year after year—despite the surge in quinoa prices—which means that people are getting wealthier. According to their estimates, a 10 percent increase in quinoa prices resulted in an average .7 percent increase in household welfare.
So, no, this study doesn't give us the whole picture: we don't know if Peruvians have had to cut back on eating quinoa due to higher prices; we don't know how Bolivian farmers have fared; and we don't know how crop diversity has been affected. However, it does suggest that Peruvians, in general, have benefited from the quinoa craze.