Saturday, June 15, 2013

No Beef for You! Argentine Consumption, Production Both Decline

According to Simon Romero’s lengthy piece in the New York Times, Argentine beef consumption and production are both declining. The country whose juicy bife de chorizo (porterhouse) has long been a culinary icon now lags behind neighboring Uruguay on the global list of per capita red-meat consumers. As profitable soybeans displace pastureland, Argentina has fallen to 11th in the ranking of beef exporters – in fact, according to the Buenos Aires daily La Nación, it exports barely half what tiny Uruguay does and even less than Paraguay, which is hardly an economic powerhouse.
What explains these declines, and what is their significance? On explanation is that Argentines are eating a healthier diet, though their annual beef consumption of 129 pounds per annum is still more than double that of the United States. Romero quotes one Argentine chef to the effect that “Around five years ago, vegetarianism started to gain traction here” but, when I wrote my first guidebook to Argentina in 1990, La Esquina de las Flores (pictured above) was already a vegetarian institution. It’s fair to say that today's vegetarian choices are more sophisticated and abundant that they were then, but even many parrillas (grill restaurants) now offer vegetarian options.
That said, the “healthier diet” doesn’t necessarily hold when, according to one report, the number of pizzerias in Buenos Aires may soon exceed the number of parrillas – thick-crusted, cheese-heavy Argentine pizza can be tasty, and it’s cheaper than beef, but it’s no weapon in the war against obesity or heart disease (the pizza pictured above may be a relative exception). Government price controls have had the unanticipated side effect of persuading some farmers to switch to soybeans which, coincidentally, provide a huge percentage of government revenue through export taxes. It’s not the first instance that, in Argentina, authorities give with one hand and take away with the other.

Moon Handbooks Chile, in Saratoga
In just a couple days – Monday, June 17, at 7 p.m., to be precise – I will offer a digital slide presentation on travel in Chile at Santa Clara Country’s Saratoga Library (13650 Saratoga Avenue, Saratoga CA 95070, tel. 408-867-6126, ext. 3817). Coverage will also include the Chilean Pacific Islands of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Juan Fernández (Robinson Crusoe), as well as southernmost Argentina (Tierra del Fuego and the vicinity of El Calafate) that appear in the book. I will also be available to answer questions about Argentina and Buenos Aires. The presentation is free of charge, but books will be available for purchase.


dbuck said...

well, count me saddened, since I consider bife on regular basis the cornerstone of a healthy diet, not to mention mystified, since as you point out pizza is not exactly the breakfast of champions. Could it be economics? Could the answer be as simple as bife costs more and people have less income? Dan

Wayne Bernhardson said...

In Buenos Aires, in particular, I think there's recognition that a diet so dependent on red meat is unhealthy, and contemporary chefs are aware that there's more to cooking than just throwing out a slab of meat - even at La Cabrera, Palermo's parrilla of the moment, the beef comes with an appetizing selection of side dishes that are vegetarian friendly. In fact, I would say they'd almost be enough for a well-balanced dinner in their own right. At lower socio-economic levels, though, meat is still important and, as much as I might enjoy the occasional choripán or bife de chorizo, it's something that shouldn't be a daily ritual.

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