Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Thou Shalt Not Eat Quinoa

I have a confession to make: I generally don’t like other vegetarians.

Why?  Because in this day and age, there are so many food options that one’s diet is mostly due to personal choice.  I don’t like people judging me for what I eat.  Furthermore, I won’t ever judge someone else for what he or she eats.

When I was a kid, a vegetarian girl to me once said to me, “You’re eating a meat sandwich?  Don’t you feel guilty for slaughtering a cow?”

At 11-years-old I was extremely shy and non-confrontational.  It shocked me that a girl I barely knew would feel the need to comment on a piece of sandwich meat in order to make me feel bad about myself.

Luckily, my friend who I was sitting with (who also happened to be a vegetarian), told her to go away and be a bitch somewhere else.

As I’ve gotten older, I still find that vegetarians and vegans and raw foodists tend to brag about their food choices more than the average omnivore, although there are plenty obnoxious meat-eaters out there too.  As a result, I like hanging out with people who know I’m a vegetarian, but don’t make a big deal about it.  They don’t choose special vegetarian restaurants for their parties, but neither do they invite me to Memphis Blues (a southern BBQ restaurant in Vancouver that doesn’t even serve salads.  The only vegetarian option is cornbread).

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s mix environmental impacts into this judgmental food discussion.

I recently read the article below in which Joanna Blythman blames vegans and vegetarians for third world environmental destruction due to “luxury” crops such as quinoa, asparagus, and soya.

Although I strongly disagree with Blythman’s condemnatory delivery method (do you really think only vegans eat quinoa?), she does bring up some interesting issues regarding food security and “ethical lifestyles.”

Personally, I don’t believe there is such thing as an “ethical lifestyle” within our globalized, capitalist world.  It doesn’t matter what I do, most of the materials I use and consume in my everyday life are a direct product of exploitation.  Anyone who doesn’t recognize this and tries to convince me that they are a better person for not eating pasteurized cheese needs to become more educated about world production chains and where their socks came from.

That doesn’t mean that I think you should live a free-for-all, grab-what-you-can-while-you-can version of life.  On the contrary, I work extremely hard to minimize my carbon footprint as well as “unethical” products.  But that doesn’t make me a “good person.”

Let’s deconstruct Blythman’s argument, shall we?  I agree with her major premise, but disagree with her minor premise and thus her conclusion. 

(Bam! Deductive reasoning!)

Major premise:
The world’s current export system exacerbates poverty in third world countries.

In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there. It’s beginning to look like a cautionary tale of how a focus on exporting premium foods can damage the producer country’s food security.

Minor premise:
Vegans fuel the world exports through their food choices.

In this respect, omnivores have it easy. Britain excels in producing meat and dairy foods for them to enjoy. However, a rummage through the shopping baskets of vegetarians and vegans swiftly clocks up the food miles, a consequence of their higher dependency on products imported from faraway places. From tofu and tamari to carob and chickpeas, the axis of the vegetarian shopping list is heavily skewed to global.

Vegans exacerbate poverty in third world countries.

Did you see it?  The minor premise?  Complete bullshit – as proven by PETA activist Mimi Bekhechi’s great response in which she challenges Blythman’s three examples with worldwide statistics and facts:

Statistics and facts.  What a deadly way to win an argument!


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