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Vegans, International Trade and Silly Journalists

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I recall a professor telling our class, “Remember that what you read in the press about business was written by someone with a journalism degree. They probably know little about business.”

Here’s some proof.

The Guardian’s Joanna Blythman is worried:

But there is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this 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. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken.

First, it’s not just “the appetite of countries such as ours” for quinoa, a favorite of high-income vegans, that has pushed up prices. Bolivia’s growers presumably have some say in the price as well, right? It’s not like marauding bands of vegans are forcing Bolivian growers to sell their product on the export market. It’s a voluntary exchange by the people who grow quinoa with people who want to eat it.

Also, note the condescension in this: “poorer people…can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper.”

Here’s what’s happening. Access to international markets leads to exporting of quinoa. That raises the incomes of growers as well as the price of quinoa.

Imported junk food has certainly become cheaper relative to quinoa but so have green vegetables, medicine and books. Poor Bolivian’s are able to make a wider range of choices about what they consume, including more junk food if that’s what they want. My guess is that in Bolivia, like most other places, poor does not equal stupid. Growers will use their higher incomes, not only to buy “junk food” that Joanna Blythman disapproves of, but also better healthcare and education for their children.

If vegans don’t buy quinoa because they worry about poor Bolivian growers, they may feel better about themselves. But they won’t be helping poor Bolivians by refusing to buy products they want to grow and sell.

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