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On Quinoa + Bullshit

November 23, 2011

With the snowy months just around the corner, I’ve been making preemptive strikes on my winter weight gain by, ehem, dieting for the past few weeks.  For me, “dieting” has never had a prefix (Atkins, South Beach, Paleo) – it only goes as far as being thoughtful about the foods I eat.  This season, I’m counting on piles of kale, chard, and quinoa.  Quinoa has been a dirty word in my book since I first tried it several years ago, in college, at a let’s-play-upscale fusion restaurant in Ames, IA called Cafe Shi (gross, I know) specializing in International Cuisine (ooh lar lar).  Their menu involved descriptions like “Quinoa: The Ancient Grain” and “served East Meets West style”.  The quinoa was served boiled to shit and more bland than any given Coldplay album.  I’ll admit, I fell for the Cafe Shi schtick at the time, such that I was convinced that the fault was not with the preparation, but with quinoa itself.  So, I shrugged my shoulders and thought hey, maybe it’s just not for me.  But, that’s not what turned me off on quinoa entirely for the next several years – rather it was the subtext “The Ancient Grain”.  This really bothered me, and I hope it bothers you too.  At least a little.  If not, it should.

Let us discuss, if only for a moment, the crimes of verbiage committed by hippie food industry and new age marketing cognoscenti.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a moderate who votes just to the left of center and I make financial contributions to NPR.  But, in these times where the fashion is shedding processed food and turning our backs on corporate farming, all of us are searching for something real that we can connect to on an emotional and intellectual level – something that grounds us in our food choices.  And I get that.  We absolutely should be more connected to our food, and there needs to be advocacy and education as to what this really means.  But, for the love of God, skip the catch phrases and skip the backstory.  Am I to believe that by consuming “The Ancient Grain” that Quetzalcoatl, a fine feathered serpent of a Mesoamerican deity, is squatting over me and shitting quinoa as I’m surrounded with the smiling approval of the souls of a thousand dead Aztecs?  Bullshit.  Again, skip the backstory.  The crime is just how much of a turnoff this can be.  Save it for your yoga class.  Let’s talk facts.

Quinoa is pretty damn healthy.  It has a lower glycemic index than white rice, meaning it won’t spike your blood sugar – this is important in avoiding Type II Diabeetus.  It’s high in protein, which is a good thing if you’re trying to cut back on your meat intake.  And, it’s high in fiber, which, you know…

And, better yet, Quinoa is actually delicious when properly prepared.  Here’s the rocket science how it’s properly prepared:  Rinse it a few times.  Boil it until it’s tender in something tasty like vegetable or chicken stock.  If it’s too wet when it’s done, drain it.  If it’s too dry before it’s done, add more liquid.  Make enough for leftovers.  Cold cooked Quinoa is delicious in a salad with some finely shredded kale and swiss chard.

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