A Gourmet Food's Growing Pains

Trendy quinoa has helped Bolivia's farmers--but not without environmental and social problems

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Over the past decade, Quinoa, one of the few crops that thrive on Bolivia's high plains, 13,000 ft. above sea level, has become a pinnacle product for foodies, health nuts and fair-trade fanatics. The gluten-free staple--in Bolivia it is produced solely by small-scale farmers and 90% is organic--often adorns plates from celebrity chefs like Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay and has inspired entire cookbooks devoted to salads, soups and stuffings touting its nutritional goodness.

It's an unaccustomed role for such a humble crop, which poorer Bolivians often grew and ate instead of buying rice. "It was always comida para los...

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