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The more you love quinoa, the more you hurt Peruvians and Bolivians,” read the headline on a recent piece by Globe and Mail reporter Amy Verner. Whether you consider yourself a quinoa lover or not, this headline might come as quite a shock.

Quinoa, which has been called the “miracle grain of the Andes” and is praised for being high in protein and fibre, started out in whole-foods shops, but has since become more mainstream. However, recent controversy in the media has quinoa lovers second-guessing the grain.
What started the initial debate was an article published in The Guardian called “Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?” The story—which generated 1,139 reader comments—had an equally sensational deck: “Ethical consumers should be aware poor Bolivians can no longer afford their staple grain, due to western demand raising prices.” The article’s guilt-inducing main argument was that our consumption of the imported Peruvian grain was unknowingly causing hardship for Bolivians and Peruvians.Even though readers such as “davidsouthafrican” condemned the article as being “really terrible, poorly researched,” the damage had already been done: the story had travelled to Canada and been picked up by the Globe.

Three days later, the Globe’s Doug Saunders published “Killer quinoa? Time to debunk these urban food myths.” This article addressed the “headlines suggesting that the quinoa boom, unlike any other commodity boom, must somehow be bad for the people on the producing end,” and suggested that quinoa intake may be down among Peruvians and Bolivians because they are using increased incomes to import other foods, such as beans, chicken, cheese, and rice. Other publications have since run articles to ease readers’ minds, while mocking the quinoa drama. Slate’s article, “It’s OK To Eat Quinoa” advises, “Don’t buy the media’s hand-wringing about Bolivians who can’t afford quinoa. The real effects of Western demand are complicated.”

The issue is that these headlines let readers down. One commenter, “angry old white guy,” wrote, “Thank you Doug Saunders. Now I have to tell the people I told to stop buying quinoa to buy it. May I never again give my critical thinking a day off.” Publishing provocative stories before confirming the facts leaves readers with more questions and doubts when the sensational story turns out to be just that—sensational. Shouldn’t news organizations be more keen to get things right? It’s time journalists focus more on writing factually accurate articles than shocking headlines.

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About the author

Gin was the Chief Copy Editor for the Summer 2013 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

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