Superfoods have come in the last few years, especially in the fitness scene into fashion. And you have certainly already tried a quinoa recipe, mixed a few chia seeds into cereal or avocados more or less regularly incorporated into your diet. But did you know that superfoods are not great in every way?
No, it's not about the food itself, because these are still outstanding due to a variety of factors. It's about the sprawling superfood hype, which also has a dark side. So what about the dark side? And what about a possible solution to the problems that arise?
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Light and shadow are close together
* Nutrient-rich foods such as chia seeds, avocados and quinoa are excellent foods and are not in vain for millennia in their respective countries of origin for a basic diet. The increased global demand for these same products also has many positive sides for the countries where the superfoods are grown.
Increasing demand and rising selling prices are also increasing the income of local farmers, enabling them to better educate their children and increase their wealth. On the other hand, as consumers, we benefit from the numerous health benefits of superfoods.
A real win-win situation for everyone? Not necessarily, because at this point, short-term thinking often leads to long-term damage to the environment, the economy and prosperity. For example, we would like to highlight the problems caused by the hype, such as avocados, chia seeds and quinoa.
Chia - A small seed conquers the world
Who would have thought that chia seeds within the European Union were only allowed as ingredients in baked goods until 2013? Today, the small seeds from the fitness world are hard to imagine. Responsible for this, in addition to the Chiasamen hype wave from the US, is primarily the extension of the approval for the sale of chia seeds and chia products in the EU.
The extremely high demand has not only put the small seeds on the shelves of even the smallest discounters, but in the meantime also led to a significant increase in prices, as the amount of chia seeds cultivated worldwide was nowhere near enough to satisfy the demand. In the meantime, the price per kilogram climbed up to 10 euros.
Demand was only met by the massive expansion of acreage in South America and the beginning of cultivation in Australia and on the African continent. A perfect example of the excellent functioning of the global market economy, because the increase in acreage also increased the income of local farmers.
Extreme demand leads to problems
Of course, the increased demand has meant that every Chia farmer wanted to get a piece of the pie. Best of all, as soon as possible and without regard to losses. Especially in South America, many small and large businesses have increasingly focused on quantity rather than quantity. In particular, the massive use of sprays such as diquat and paraquat and mold poisons such as aflatoxins should maximize yields as quickly as possible.
The results were partly inferior products, which were also burdened with significantly increased pesticide levels. In addition, chia seeds were often planted on former soy fields, which were still burdened by soybean cultivation. The result of this short-term mindset is anything but a superfood.
Complete abandonment is not a solution either
The use of pesticides definitely has its purpose, because without the world population would not even start to feed. However, reason requires a rational use of these resources in order not to harm the end user, the soil and, ultimately, the health of the farmers. Completely abstaining from chia seeds is not a satisfactory solution.
Thus, the local farmers lose their income, their children their educational opportunities and their countries a part of their prosperity growth. The solution is once again conscious consumption. And here once again the ancient economic laws of supply and demand. After all, if we, as end consumers, "demand" organic chia seeds, producers will adapt and promote sustainable cultivation. Then we have a real win-win situation for everyone.
Quinoa hype has positive and negative consequences for South America
The fact that quinoa enjoys such an excellent reputation among athletes is not least due to the fact that the pseudo-cereal has a very high protein content and, moreover, contains no gluten. Gradually, more and more fitness athletes came to install quinoa in their diet.
This brought the pseudo-grain from South America into the focus of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which made 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. The convergence of these factors has increased demand enormously. At the same time, prices climbed so rapidly that they peaked more than tenfold.
The quinoa hype caused problems primarily in the traditional production areas of the quinoa plant, in the highlands of the Andes. The clayey soils found here provide the plant with ideal growing conditions. Thanks to rising market prices, farmers were also able to significantly increase their income so that many families could now afford other food. In return, however, the quinoa consumption decreased. In addition to the fact that the food has increased significantly in price, the reason is that a large part of the harvest is reserved for export.
Overuse of acreage reduces food yield
Actually, the local farmers and their families benefit from the high demand for quinoa. However, the hype in Peru and Bolivia is leading to more and more land being developed for the cultivation of quinoa. In addition to the very good for growing suitable clay soils in the high altitudes, now the less clayey and nutrient-poor soils are used for cultivation to increase the production volume.
However, the nutrient poverty leads to a significantly lower yield increase than the farmers want. And so they open up more space. As a result, so many fields have to yield, on which other crops grow significantly better. In addition, the nutrient-poor soils need much longer for regeneration. The bottom line is that it reduces the potential overall yield of food.
In addition, the continued development of additional land leads to soil erosion, resulting in the loss of valuable acreage. In addition, quinoa farmers who grow quinoa outside the natural home of the plant are struggling with crop losses due to pests that do not exist in traditional farming areas.
The effects of avocado madness
Hardly a superfood has experienced such a boom in recent years as the avocado. Hardly a fitness cookbook in which not at least a dozen recipes have the delicious green fruit on the ingredients list. In the past three years alone, the global avocado harvest has been consistently over 5 million tons, with most fruits being exported to Europe and the US. In Europe alone, according to the World Avocado Organization, in 2018 around 550 million kilograms of the fruit will be consumed.
The avocado bill does not really work out
Traditionally, the avocado is cultivated in Mexico, where the fruit is processed among other things to the world-famous dip "guacamole". The main beneficiary of the boom is the Mexican state of Michoacán, located in the west of central Mexico. No wonder that the local farmers are opening up more and more acreage for avocados and are increasingly clearing forest areas.
This is where the problems begin, because it takes at least seven years for an avocado plant to yield harvestable fruit for the first time. This makes any newly created avocado plantation an investment in the future. If the avocado hype is over, the investment was in vain. However, the cultivation of the fruits is currently worthwhile, because already 2,000 plants are enough to bring a farmer an annual profit of around one million US dollars. Considering Mexico's average annual income of $ 10,000, it is clear why farmers are massively expanding their acreage despite the risk.
The real problem, however, is not even the personal risk of the individual farmer. After all, he is responsible for which products he would like to plant and which ones he does not. The main problem is the enormous water consumption of the avocado plant. To produce just one kilogram of avocados, the plant needs well over 1,000 liters of water. By comparison, one kilogram of potatoes, which also thrive in the region, require only about 130 liters of water.
So, one could say that the country's soils are used inefficiently, as these soils are used for a resource-eating luxury product and not for the much more important cultivation of staple foods. In Mexico, this has led to numerous water shortages in the cultivation regions since the first avocado boom in the 1990s. In many places, the population even needs to be supplied with tankers with drinking water, since the water of the rivers for the irrigation of the avocado plantations is diverted.
Replace superfoods with local foods
Well, we do not want to spoil your avocado bread or quinoa salad. But nevertheless it is necessary to take a look at the problem of superfoods. As with everything in life, modest consumption is also the golden middle ground here, creating a win-win situation for as many parties as possible. It is also important to understand that many of these superfoods are objectively nothing so special, but only benefit from skilful marketing and our desire for exoticism.
Quite soberly, for example, the chia seeds for the South Americans is nothing but a "boring" linseed and quinoa nothing but the potato for us. In order to do something good for our body with "superfoods", we do not even have to go far. In Europe, too, there are numerous plants that are at least as healthy.
The only drawback: We know these foods, and thus they lack the magical aura of the exotic. So it makes perfect sense to use millet instead of quinoa, kale instead of pomegranate and flax seed instead of chia seeds. From time to time to put on "superfoods" from overseas, but is still absolutely fine, as long as you do not see in it a panacea for your diet.