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Quinoa with a Conscience

 

By Richard Thompson

A southern California quinoa company is bringing about social reform in Bolivia as it works with the indigenous community to provide award-winning products to American tables. Andean Dream is a Fair Trade certified quinoa pasta, soup and cookie company that makes non-GMO, allergen-friendly products that range from Organic Fusilli and Organic Orzo to Coconut and Cocoa-Orange Cookies. The entire line is made from Royal Quinoa – the most nutrient-dense quinoa – and the products are free from hydrogenated oils and gluten along with being allergen-friendly, with no chance of cross contamination since they are made in a dedicated facility free of gluten, eggs, soy, corn and nuts. “Free-from was what everyone was talking about, and we were the first to really do it,” says Andean Dream Founder and President, Ingrid Hirstin-Lazcano.

The cookies, which launched in 2006, are offered in Chocolate Chip, Coconut, Cocoa-Orange and Cafe Mocha varieties. Each contains only 2.5 grams of sugar, says Hirstin-Lazcano. “My personal favorite goes between the Cafe Mocha and Coconut, but the best seller in the line is Chocolate Chip.”

The pasta line includes Organic Fusilli, Organic Macaroni, Organic Shells, Organic Orzo and Organic Spaghetti. Each is made gluten- and corn-free, is vegan friendly, organic- and kosher-certified, is non-GMO and is produced in an allergen-friendly facility. Each 8-ounce box of pasta contains 24 grams of protein. “Our Organic Vegetarian Quinoa Noodle Soup was originally seasonal, but we’re bringing it back to the marketplace,” says Hirstin-Lazcano.

Andean Dream started out as an ordinary cookie company in 2006 but quickly blossomed into a specialty food/social justice project under the leadership of Hirstin-Lazcano, who was inspired to practice conscientious capitalism to help bring jobs, medical benefits and retirement pensions to single mothers and disabled individuals throughout the poorest regions of Bolivia. “I wanted to create a value-added product that could aid indigenous farmers and workers in Bolivia,” she says. Already involved with the Bolivian community in Los Angeles, she learned of the circumstances regarding the poverty stricken regions in Bolivia from her husband, Fernando Lazcano Dunn, a 25-year diplomat who worked as Consul General of Bolivia in Los Angeles at the time, and sought out a solution that aligned with her personal convictions.“They are close to my heart and I wanted to see everyone have an equal opportunity,” says Hirstin-Lazcano, “I wanted to help raise their standard of living.”

According to 2015 Central Intelligence Agency World Fact Book, 45 percent of Bolivia’s population lives under the poverty line (based on the international standard of two dollars a day) with three out of four people in rural areas living in poverty. The Rural Poverty Portal, a forum that discusses the difficulties of rural life in Bolivian regions, notes that women and young people are particularly vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity.

I wanted to bring attention to the situation over there and provide single mothers that don’t have jobs – or are working menial labor – and help give them a regular respectable job,” says Hirstin-Lazcano.

Hirstin-Lazcano spent two weeks traveling through Bolivia in 2006 to find the right co-packer that could provide large scale manufacturing at a local level, offer jobs and provide advancement to native farmers. Hirstin-Lazcano says that she was able to find a co-packer that would work with locals as well as provide benefits such as medical care and retirement pensions that they wouldn’t have ever gotten before. Currently, the co-packer that works with Andean Dream is employing between 20 to 25 indigenous people for Andean’ Dream’s manufacturing, many of whom have received promotions to higher management positions. “There are always new opportunities as we grow, and as we grow our facility for production, many others will be hired for satellite locations,” says Hirstin-Lazcano.

One particular story that stands out for Hirstin-Lazcano is that of a deaf and mute woman who had been resigned to harsh janitorial work and would have been stuck there had it not been for Andean Dream’s project. Edith was hired and was eventually promoted into a supervisor position. “She would’ve never been able to do that before,” says Hirstin-Lazcano, “Because of her employment, both of her sons are able to go to university. One is studying to be a dentist, and the other an architect.”

In addition to the company’s social activism in Bolivia, Andean Dream was the Official Cookie Sponsor in the Special Olympic World Games, providing 48,000 cookies to athletes as well as regularly giving away products to local charitable foundations, food-banks and organizations focused on inner-city kids with economic challenges.

When asked about how her work makes her feel, Hirstin-Lazcano isn’t shy about answering: “We’re socially minded … and helping to provide opportunities to individuals who need a better life is our Andean Dream.”

This story was originally published in the November 2015 issue of Gourmet News.

 

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