“KEE-no-ah,” my mother pronounced with unprecedented elocutionary relish as she ladled a scoop of sand onto my dinner plate. “It’s a complete protein! All nine essential amino acids.”
This encounter took place in 2010. “TiK ToK” was the #1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100. I was wearing boyfriend jeans and a statement necklace. My guts were about to digest quinoa for the very first time. It would take me years to realize what I know now in chilling hindsight: As I picked up my fork to take my inaugural bite, I was on the precipice of contributing to the demise of my own sanity.
I swallowed the aforementioned bite and, reader, I told myself I liked it. From 2010 to 2016, I participated in the quinoa trend with gusto. I drank the miracle grain Kool-Aid. I incorporated it into my meals. I enjoyed its subtly nutty flavor. I requested it atop my salads and beside my grilled proteins. I waxed poetic about its amino acids.
Then, about nine months ago, I had a terrifying epiphany.
I was standing in line at Sweetgreen, about to order my usual quinoa grain bowl. My friend was standing in front of me and placed her order first. “I’ll have a grain bowl with kale and rice please,” she said. Rice!? I swallowed my skepticism. As I watched a heaping scoop of warm wild rice settle into her bowl, the smell of it wafted toward me. I felt my mouth fill with saliva.
“That rice looks good,” I said. “Really good.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I used to get the quinoa. Then I realized I don’t like quinoa.”
Her proclamation hit me like a sucker punch between the eyelids awoke something inside my subconscious. I DON’T LIKE QUINOA. Had I tricked myself into thinking I liked it because it was healthy? Or had I developed some sort of twisted Stockholm syndrome as a result of everyone around me being so obsessed with it? When I confronted the question of whether I really, truly enjoyed the taste, the answer was a resounding no — especially compared to other, far more delicious grains like farro, wheatberries and steel cut oats, all of which have become increasingly prevalent of late.
Not prevalent enough, however. Quinoa still reigns supreme. I couldn’t believe how blind I had been to the sheer magnitude of its penetration, growing and growing like an infectious weed, staking a claim on our Instagram feeds, dinner plates and pre-packed grocery store items. The irony isn’t lost on me that only after admitting my distaste did I realize it was impossible to escape. I can barely sit down at a New York restaurant and order a meal without encountering it in some form or shape.
It has also managed to infiltrate a whole host of formerly wonderful foods:
Is nothing sacred?
It’s worth noting that by fanatically deciding quinoa should be an ingredient in every meal, recipe and mother-effing spa treatment, the demand has wreaked havoc on some countries’ economies in the process. According to The Guardian, global demand for the grain “has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it.” In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken.
Be real with me: Do we (and by we I mean you) actually like quinoa THAT much? Or is the hype misleading your tastebuds? Whether you genuinely enjoy it or not, you have to admit we’ve over-indexed. I propose that we stage a coup before it’s too late, by which I mean aggressively disseminate free samples of freshly-cooked farro at Whole Foods until someone kicks us out.
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.