Sorry Pope Francis, 2013 Was the Year of Quinoa

Never mind the biggest political stories of 2013. This year was made for one tiny grain.

National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
Dec. 13, 2013, 9:41 a.m.

This year has seen tank­ing ap­prov­al rat­ings for just about every­body in Wash­ing­ton, thanks to bungled policy ini­ti­at­ives, stalled le­gis­la­tion, and a gov­ern­ment shut­down. But one play­er did have a good year.

It’s not Pope Fran­cis, or Chris Christie. It’s quinoa, a highly nu­tri­tious, cen­tur­ies-old grain, at least ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

In Feb­ru­ary, the U.N.’s Food and Ag­ri­cul­ture Or­gan­iz­a­tion de­clared 2013 the in­ter­na­tion­al year of quinoa, not for the grain’s place in West­ern so­ci­ety as a healthy, even up­scale in­gredi­ent that’s tough to pro­nounce, but for its im­pact on food se­cur­ity around the world.

Quinoa con­tains many es­sen­tial amino acids and vit­am­ins, and can grow in a vari­ety of cli­mates. Plant­ing and cul­tiv­at­ing quinoa in areas of ex­treme poverty eases hun­ger and mal­nu­tri­tion, the U.N. group ex­plains, and could even­tu­ally give rise to a new crop in­dustry.

The price of quinoa, of­ten called “the mir­acle grain of the Andes” for its ori­gins, has tripled since 2006, The Guard­i­an re­por­ted early this year. Its pop­ular­ity in na­tions where the crop is not in­di­gen­ous, like the United States, has pushed costs up enough so that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia can no longer af­ford it. Still, Peru and Bolivia are among the list of South Amer­ic­an na­tions fund­ing this year’s pro­mo­tion­al cam­paign of quinoa.

In the U.S., the concept of quinoa as a “su­per food” is at least a few years old. The grain’s ver­sat­il­ity, as well as its re­cent re­cog­ni­tion as a food craze, will keep it on the world stage for years to come. 

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