Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Peruvian Asparagus: I buy Quinoa, Not Asparagus, From Peru

I fell in love with asparagus about 25 years ago when my friend's mother wouldn't listen to my protests that I did not like asparagus. She said that only people who haven't tried fresh asparagus are so sure they won't like it. Most likely I had never had it cooked properly.

That turned out to be true for me, and five years later I echoed those words to my then husband during the first spring of our marriage.

Was I trying to kill him?

He tried to tell me he was allergic to asparagus.

He said asparagus had put him in the hospital.

Really? When?

My bulls**t detector must have been spot on in those days because I called his bluff.

Go ahead, show me what this allergic reaction looks like. 

One taste and he was hooked on asparagus too.

BTW, you should never tell someone to eat something to which they are allergic just to see what the reaction looks like. In this instance, I knew I was being teased.

Asparagus in the 90's

When my kids were young, we all loved asparagus. I remember I used to wait for the asparagus to come in season so for a few weeks we could eat what would be an extravagance any other time of the year. I would watch the price fall from $4 or even $5 per pound to just 99 cents per pound at peak season. I would hope the boys hadn't forgotten how much they loved asparagus a year ago.

Of course, when I served it, I would think - Who cares if you don't want some? More asparagus for me.

Peruvian Asparagus

Over the past decade, factory farms have been cultivating asparagus in Peru that is then shipped to the US and UK. In this new global economy, asparagus is available year round and the price has stabilized. Gone are the wild fluctuations in price and availability, and now asparagus shows up in recipes and on restaurant menus regardless of the season.

I recently learned though, that this availability comes at two great costs:

1. Peru suffers because these asparagus farms are draining the water from the land.

Factory farms have bought up water rights exceeding what can be replenished. The water is used to grow asparagus, so it isn't available for the small farmers who then have to buy water.

Hey, wasn't this in a recent James Bond movie? Yes, but the country was Bolivia.

2. American asparagus farmers suffer because Peruvian asparagus farms are able to undercut their prices during the spring asparagus season, forcing American farmers out of the asparagus business.

I have no beef with Peru in general.

I love quinoa. I love Peruvian quinoa. I understand that quinoa probably doesn't grow on the same land that suits asparagus farming, and I don't have any answers to offer the Peruvian people employed by the asparagus farms.

To my mind a water thrifty crop like quinoa makes a lot more sense for a country with a falling water table. I can justify to myself buying quinoa from Peru.

But ever since I learned about the water situation, American asparagus is the only asparagus that it makes sense for me to buy.

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