Being a Conscious Consumer

From the start, I promised myself that I wasn’t going to make Happyolks an extended dissertation on current events, politics, or world affairs. My studies in international affairs keep me on the treadmill circuit of strategy, policy, issues, institutions, outcomes (you get the idea), and this blog is sort of a refuge from the demanding and complex focus of my school days. If you’re a visitor to this site, it’s likely that you are searching for yummy recipes and pretty pictures as a form of escapism too. The hour we spend researching, planning, and preparing a meal can be incredibly meditative and rejuvenating after the over-stimulation of our busy days. Careful mincing, flash searing, and watching the broiler are all tasks that require our full presence and attention. Subsequently, our brain sends out “hold the phone” signals to our endlessly swirling thoughts and emotions about the events of the day. Shaun is often bewildered that the first thing I want to do after a twelve hour day on campus is to break out the peeler and knives. He will ask, “don’t you want to relax for a minute?” Like any woman on a mission I respond, “nope, I just need to chop.” Ahh… Exhale. I hope you can relate to this feeling, because creating a nourishing meal should never be stressful.

I run into a problem with this promise though. No, I don’t want to discuss politics. But when I read things about the international system and food supply that have direct implications for our foreign brothers and sisters that are imposed by health food consumers like you and me, I can’t hold my tongue.

Recently in the New York Times there was an article published on how quinoa’s global success has created negative consequences on the grain’s indigenous cultivators in Latin America, particularly Bolivia.

Quinoa, a plant related to beets and spinach, is a nutritional powerhouse known for its ideal amino acid profile and anti-inflammatory benefits. It’s one of the few plant foods that provide a complete protein making it an ideal grain for vegetarians, athletes, and the rest of us for that matter. The demand for the crop has grown exponentially and at first, the surge raised the incomes of the producers in the hemisphere’s poorest countries. Great right? Well, not really. An increase in demand has destined Incan quinoa harvests to go straight to the global free market for export, not local consumption. The price of local quinoa for Bolivians and other Latin American citizens is now too costly to consume, and malnutrition in these areas is on the rise as locals turn to packaged and processed foods that they can purchase within their tight budgets.

The Bolivian government claims to be in the process of legislating domestic policy to increase the affordability of local quinoa, but it’s on us too as health-conscious consumers, to limit our consumption and only purchase products that are produced sustainably and  fair trade certified. If we can’t afford the fair value price of the grain, then we shouldn’t consume it. Tough love, I know. But you vote with your wallet. Food policy around the globe is tragic, truly it is, and Bolivia isn’t the only country that bears the cost of our unprecedented standard of living. Bananas in Nicaragua? Hello. For Latin America and beyond, If we all take small individual steps, we can reverse these exploitative and unbalanced patterns of the world economic system — and really, they’re easy to take in the kitchen. Idealistic? Sure. But it matters.

So, quinoa lovers out there… here is a recipe that honors this beautiful “lost Incan” grain and the hard work it took to produce it. Please be a conscious consumer and use fair trade, certified organic products!
Baby Artichokes and Hearty Veggie Quinoa

  • 1 package of fair trade certified organic quinoa, I recommend Alter Eco Products
  • 1 basket of Baby Artichokes (if you’ve never seen ’em, then go with the canned version, the hearts taste better anyway!)
  • 1 basket cherry tomatoes
  • 1 ½ – 2 cups fingerling potatoes, halved
  • 3 small shallots, chopped roughly
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ½ cup of pitted Kalamata olives, halved
  • Large handful of Italian parsley, chopped
  • Zest of ½ a lemon
  • Olive oil and balsamic vinegar for roasting the artichokes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

If you find baby artichokes at your local farmers market or Whole Foods, chop off the ends and about ½ inch off the top and peel away a few of the outside leaves. Cut in half, and toss into a pot with a steaming crate. Steam for 12 minutes until nice and soft. If you don’t have baby artichokes (and unless you live in San Diego, that’s probably the majority of you) break open a can of artichoke hearts and rinse. With your prepared artichoke variety, toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and set aside. Turn oven on to a high broil setting.

In a small pot, prepare the quinoa according to the package instructions. Like rice, it’s a 2:1 ratio, grain to water or vegetable broth. Bring water and grain to a boil, then reduce heat and cover for 12 minutes. Remove from heat when finished.

Meanwhile, using the same pot that you steamed the chokes in, refill with a bit of water and steam the potatoes until tender. Set aside. In a sauté pan, over medium heat, sauté the shallots and garlic in some olive oil until golden (3-5 minutes). Add the potatoes, cherry tomatoes, olives, and parsley and stir over low heat. Add a little lemon zest and a bit of the olive liquid from the jar if you feel the mixture is too dry. The oven should be ready for the chokes, so send em in for about 5 minutes or until they are lightly browned on the edges. Add chokes and olive oil liquid to the sauté pan, removed from the heat source, and stir. Finally, add the quinoa, a few sprinkles of salt and pepper and garnish with a few sliced almonds.

  1. Debbie B (DebaRooRoo)

    Great post. As a vegetarian, I was extremely happy to discover quinoa and felt proud of the little things for going mainstream and popping up everywhere. It makes me sad to think this is at the expense of Bolivian farmers. Any particular brand you would recommend?


  2. Kelsey

    Debbie, I use Alter Eco Products that can be found at Whole Foods and Henry’s Markets. They come in black, red, and original varieties. It does cost about $3-4 more than the generic 365 brand, but by using these products I know exactly where my grains are coming from. Thanks for stopping by and for your concern! Quinoa is still a great grain when used responsibly!

  3. Lisa

    Beautiful pics, great recipe, and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am always trying to be a more conscious consumer, and it is these little tidbits that help me do a better job!


  4. Debbie B (DebaRooRoo)

    Great, thanks! I was actually just doing some research when I got your reply! Alter Eco products kept coming up and I will have to grab some from Whole Foods. Thanks! :)


  5. Winnie

    Lovely recipe, and thanks so much for including the political info related to quinoa- it’s scarce on recipe blogs but it’s important. ps Your site is stunning! Adding you to my blogroll and I will be back 😉


  6. Katie@Real Food Katie's Way

    Great post! I am not near as conscious of things like this as I should be…I appreciate your thoughts!

    One thing I don’t cook with is artichokes..I had a bad experience once and haven’t gotten back into it…I need to take that leap again!


  7. Lindsay @ The Lean Green Bean

    this looks totally awesome!


  8. snippets of thyme

    Thank you so much for posting on my zucchini cod photo. Really!! I came to look at your blog and read every word you post about quinoa. In a few days, I will post my first recipe using this grain. I went to a Williams and Sonoma class and they were introducing their packaged legumes line called: zursun global heirloom beans and grains. The package says they are a product of Peru. I made a quinoa/cranberry bean side dish. I’ll write about it soon.

    Again, thank you for educating me on the dilemma of this situation! I have my kids hooked on “Eco Trip” and it is making us make pretty major changes.


  9. Kelsey @ Unmitigated Grub

    Such a great post! I’m so so glad you shared. I love quinoa, but not THAT much. I will keep my eye out for fair trade certified brands the next time I’m at Whole Foods. And delicious recipe!!


  10. Fresh and Foodie

    I read that article as well and had similar thoughts. It’s always nice to appreciate the ingredients you’re working with.

    This looks fabulous and the photos are excellent. Loving those fresh baby artichokes!


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  12. Steph @Lick My Spoon

    thanks for educating about this — i had no idea. love all the fresh veggies in this dish — those baby artichokes are gorgeous!


  13. Jacqui

    I read that same article recently and had the same feelings towards quinoa. I love the stuff and make sure to always buy it sustainably. I’ve even considered growing the plant myself, but we’ll see! Thanks for putting it out there for others to know about. Just found your blog to by the way and I’m excited to explore it more, thanks!


  14. Gemma

    Oh my, your photos are stunning!


  15. Joanne

    What a beautifully written post! I definitely feel some conflict about the things I buy, so I always try to buy organically, locally, fair-trade certified, etc. It’s definitely true that you vote with your dollar and I just wish that more would follow suit.

    This artichoke and quinoa dish looks delicious! A good use of good quality products.


  16. Rachel @ The Avid Appetite

    Your quinoa looks fantastic! And thank you for shedding some light on this issue! I am always on the lookout for new quinoa recipes because it’s easy, filling, healthy and delicious! I recently made a dish with quinoa, scallions, diced feta cheese and roasted beets…it was fantastic!


  17. Michelle | Gold-hearted Girl

    I am a huge lover of quinoa, and I didn’t know this was even an issue – thanks for bringing it up! I will definitely look for fair trade next time I go to buy some.


  18. Maddie

    Ditto to those above me—I hadn’t known about the ethical problem with quinoa until reading your passionate, persuasive words on the subject. Thanks so much for opening my eyes! And while I understand not wanting to turn your blog into something that so closely reflects your studies, I’m all for (even occasional) posts like this one. Powerful stuff!


  19. brandi@BranAppetit

    i’ve never seen this brand of quinoa before, but I’ll definitely look for it! We don’t have a Whole Foods or Traders Joe’s, but I bet I can find it online.


  20. emily (a nutritionist eats)

    Wow, thanks for sharing, I had no idea but it makes perfect sense.
    (Beautiful pictures by the way!)


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  22. Maria @ Scandifoodie

    Such an interesting post! I love quinoa and definitely go for fair trade! This recipe sounds so delicious, I want to try it very soon!


  23. Vivienne

    thanks for sharing this – sometimes we can be so unknowing to whats going on in the world and that our actions can cause these consequences far away.

    i cant wait to make a similar salad with my quinoa…those baby artichokes are beautifulllll!


  24. margaret

    Love quinoa…especially the red. Saddens me to hear that it’s popularity might cause anything other than profits for the growers. Nice site and wonderful photos!


  25. Michaela

    Just like to throw a comment out there from somebody who can’t always afford (or obtain) fair-trade quinoa. What do you propose people like us do? I mean, are we supposed to eat the packaged freezer stuff if we can’t afford to buy all of our ingredients fair-trade and organic?


  26. Kelsey

    Michaela, Thank you for your comment. You bring up a very relevant concern! My goal in writing about this issue is not to impose feelings of guilt, rather, to raise awareness and help readers make educated decisions at the supermarket. As a college student myself, I empathize with budget constraints that limit the amount of products that I can consume in a socially/economically responsible way. I try to live by Oprah’s motto: “Once you know, you can’t pretend that you don’t know.” For me, that means eating quinoa once or twice a week, and walking places instead of driving to compensate costs. Ultimately though, you need to make the best choices for you!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, your blog is lovely.
    Have a great Friday.

    Be well,

  27. Mercedes @ Cultivating Consciousness

    Have I mentioned that I love your blog?! Wow, what an awesome and powerful post. We DO vote with our wallets, every single time we make a purchase. What an inspiring reminder!


  28. Nubia

    I loved your input, it’s amazing how you have no idea what’s going on behind your needs, I have to use quinoa because of health issues with my kids, celiac, and rice and corn allergies, so Quinoa has been a great help, but thank you so much for sharing, it gives us a different perspective.


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