Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Food and Drink

And one thing leads to another... and another...

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Quinoa prices have almost tripled in the past five years, including in Bolivia where the consumption of quinoa has fallen by about one-third during the same time. High prices have rendered it unaffordable for many, neatly plucking the nutritional benefits out of the hands of those who most need it.

"As it's exported, quinoa is now very expensive," said María Julia Cabrerizo, as quoted in the NYT article. She's a nutritionist at the Hospital de Clínicas, a public hospital in La Paz. "It's not a food of mass consumption, like noodles or rice."

You got it: as we toss aside noodles and rice as the centrepiece for our favourite sauce-and-salad meals, partly for nutritional reasons and partly for novelty - or "changing tastes" as marketers like to say - Bolivians are choosing the opposite.

However, it's a choice often driven by necessity. One street vendor said he adores quinoa, but now walks away from it at the market because he can't afford it. And it's not a healthy choice. While malnutrition on a national level has fallen over the past few years in Bolivia due to aggressive social welfare programs, according to Ms. Cabrerizo, studies have shown that chronic malnutrition in children had climbed in quinoa-growing areas in recent years.

As in so many other cultural precincts - Thailand and Mexico come to mind - more money means that more processed foods like noodles, white bread and baked goods are more affordable and more available, ergo changing tastes.

I think of the marketing guru from Texas I met at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok who was there to study which colours on processed food packages were most enticing to Thai consumers. This in a nation where take-out food was wrapped in banana leaves.

Young Bolivians are especially hot on the trail of noodles. Sound familiar?

As for that saying about the butterfly wing-flapping, it was originally coined by Edward Lorenz, a meteorologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Lorenz died in 2008 at the age of 90.

During his long and illustrious career he tried hard to explain why it was so difficult to forecast the weather and ended up starting the scientific revolution called chaos theory. According to the MIT News , Dr. Lorenz was the first to recognize what's now called chaotic behavior in the mathematical modeling of weather systems.