A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I‘ve been eating quinoa for several years now. Like most things I eat, it just showed up on my plate one day and when I didn’t whine about it, it kept coming back. However, I had no idea quinoa was cool until I was given a free lecture the other night at a dinner party. Apparently, quinoa is an “ancient grain” and the best thing since zippers on jeans. It has more nutrients, phosphorents, vitamins and protein per weight by volume (or vice versa) than anything else on the planet. It can fix migraines, heart disease and … menopause? Its calcium content is beyond compare. It has enough fibre in it to cure whatever ails ya. It fights free radical, better than James Bond. And probably if you eat enough of it you will see Jesus – if you believe in Him — or some hocus-pocus god from Uruguay (if you don’t.) I learned quite a few things the other night, but mostly I found out that food snobs give me a shooting pain.
Let me set the record straight on quinoa. It might be called an “ancient grain,” but first of all, it isn’t even a grain. Google tells us that it’s not a member of the grass family; it’s an edible seed. Plus it isn’t actually any more ancient than most of the regular grains, like wheat, that ordinary people have been eating ever since Grog the Cro-Magnon got tired of hunting and bought riverfront property in Mesopotamia — about 10,000 years ago. And finally, Google tells us, quinoa comes from South America where it was the staple food of the Incas for thousands of years. Everybody ate it. They practically worshipped the stuff. The question then becomes: if quinoa, is literally stalk and kernel above everything else ever chewed and swallowed, how come the entire Inca nation, including an army of 80,000, got their ass kicked by Francisco Pizarro and 170 Spaniards, one Saturday afternoon in 1534? The Incas might not have suffered from migraines or menopause, but they obviously couldn’t fight very well with that muck in their belly. For my money, I think I’d be finding out what the Spaniards had for breakfast before I started making wild claims about “ancient grains.”
Here’s the real meal deal on quinoa and most of the other trendy foods that have been creeping into our diet lately. They’re food. They’ve been around for thousands of years. They taste good (if the cook knows what to do with them) and they’re better for you than 90% of the processed food you find on Safeway shelves. That’s it. You can make the same claims about an orange, a lamb chop or spelt the (actual) ancient grain of the Bulgarians. Quinoa is no more or less healthy than any of those. It has all that fibre, calcium, manganese, copper etc. in it because it comes in a bag – all by itself. It hasn’t been processed to death.
What food snobs don’t understand is it’s not the foods we eat that cause problems. It’s the adventures that food has to go through to get to our plate that’re bad for us. The things processors do to food ought to be illegal. Read the labels! Honestly, when Wonder Bread gets hold of quinoa, there isn’t going to be enough food value left in it to keep a good-sized cat alive. And when it finally makes it to the Munchy-Crunchy Snack Bar stage, no amount of “Vitamin C added” will be able to save it.
You don’t have to look any further than breakfast. One of the “healthiest” breakfast cereals around advertises itself as containing something called fibre twigs and clusters of whole grains. What the hell is a fibre twig? Is it a small shoot from a wild fibre tree? And, by the way, what’s holding those whole grain clusters together? Magic? People who eat this stuff spit on Cheerios. There’s another “healthy” cereal on the shelf that doesn’t even call itself food. The ads say it’s a “meal replacement.” I’m scared to look at the list of ingredients on that one. I don’t care what the claims are, in general, if you’re going to have breakfast out of a box, you’d be just are far ahead to eat the box. Notice, most of the cereal ads say “part of a nutritious breakfast” and show a picture of toast and orange
This is the problem with food snobs. They think there’s something wrong with toast and jam. They’ll kick people out of the way to get at clusters of whole grains held together by God only knows what chemical and turn up their noses at a scrambled egg – which has absolutely every nutrient needed for human survival (cholesterol aside.) They also don’t realize that just because nobody’s ever heard of something doesn’t always make it better for you. Sometimes, finding that new fruit or vegetable in the health food store is the result of refrigeration and the global economy. It’s not an Amazonic cure for cancer. It’s just an exotic version of the ordinary apple or carrot we all grew up with.