Study: Evidently, Many People Think Quinoa Is Food
Washington, DC (AP) – Scientists are struggling to explain why otherwise seemingly rational people eat the manifestly inedible seeds of the Chenopodium quinoa plant, according to an article in the upcoming issue of a monthly report by the US Department of Agriculture.
A twelve-year research project by faculty and doctoral candidates at three universities – Case Western, the University of California at Berkeley, and Texas A&M – sought to determine the origins and continued growth of the quinoa consumption trend. They looked at social and market developments over the last several decades to discover what might explain the sudden decision by increasing numbers of Americans to eat the seeds, which cannot even be fermented to make a proper whiskey, let alone ground into flour to make a passable pizza crust or hamburger bun. To their chagrin, the researchers were unable to find an adequate explanation for the culinary popularity of the weed.
Quinoa was domesticated as long as 7,000 years ago by South American herders, to provide feed for their animals. According to University of Virginia Botany Professor Kit Niott, who was not involved in the study, only recently have Americans begun to consume quinoa seeds in appreciable numbers, driving up demand and prices for the crop. He compares the phenomenon to shag carpets, which no one in his right mind would ever buy, but which almost every household had in the early-mid-1970’s.
“People have demonstrated a tendency to just do what everyone else is doing, regardless of the actual merit or wisdom of the behavior,” explained Niott. “Quinoa, while it might provide any number of nutritional benefits, has no demonstrated qualities that make it an acceptable foodstuff, in contrast, to, for example, pizza.”
Pizza, he noted, is like sex: when it’s good, it’s very, very good; when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. Whereas quinoa, “falls somewhere between sofa cushion stuffing and ball bearings in its culinary appeal.”
The Spanish conquistadors actively discouraged quinoa cultivation among the enslaved South American natives, seeing the plant as a relic of pagan society; in fact quinoa was often used in agricultural rituals. While the physical enslavement, extermination policies, exploitation and destruction wrought by the Spanish and other European invaders of the New World attract justified opprobrium, Dr. Ann Jiospurm, the study’s lead author, asserts that the Spaniards got the quinoa part right.
“This weed has nothing to recommend it; if there’s one thing one could wish that the conquistadors did more thoroughly, it would the suppression and elimination of quinoa cultivation,” she writes.
Reached by telephone, Jiospurm elaborated on the study’s findings. “Mere nutritional benefit is not enough to explain why something becomes an accepted part of the diet,” she noted. “Dogs are also full of protein, but you don’t see us eating more and more of them every year. The same goes for various essential minerals – humans generally have standards when it comes to what they consume, and for good reason, you don’t see granite breakfast cereals or topsoil cake frosting.”
Jiospurm repeated the words with which she concluded the article, stating the scientific community remains “at a loss to account for the growing collective insanity that characterizes the popularity of quinoa as a food – something that it most clearly is not.”