International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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Where's the Beef?
Argentina Goes Vegetarian

from EVU News, Issue 2 / 1996

BUENOS AIRES - It is lunchtime at the downtown Yin Yan restaurant, and the owner, Perla Palacci de Jacobowitz, is carrying trays of macrobiotic salads with tofu, vegetable-stuffed empanadas, and fruit-sweetened breads to the tables of dozens of hungry customers. Opening a natural food restaurant in a country of meat-eaters did not seem like the wisest thing to do, but it will pay off, Palacci said. People are more health-conscious these days, so there are more people coming in the doors.

Across town at Parilla Parana, a traditional outdoor barbecue, the pungent smoke of roasting beef billows from open grills, eliciting smiles from passers by. But the restaurants tables and counter stools remain empty, waiting for the throng of patrons who once occupied them. On Corrientes Avenue, a main thoroughfare, construction crews can be seen eating sandwiches and salads, when several years ago the typical laborers lunch was beef cooked on a makeshift grill.

Could this be the same land where people once considered it almost a national duty to eat a thick steak, grilled sweetbreads, and spicy sausages at least once a day?

Argentina, known the world over for its beef, is eating less beef these days and more poultry, pasta and salads. Concerned about their health and beset by the stubborn recession and record unemployment, Argentines are exercising more and eating lighter and cheaper.

To meet the new demand, a growing number of inexpensive vegetarian restaurants, natural food markets and salad bars have opened. The national palate, traditionally very bland, is expanding, and ethnic restaurants are opening in large numbers for the first time in Buenos Aires, which now has Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Indian and African eateries.

To be sure, vegetarians are still considered odd in Argentina. Its difficult to live here as a vegetarian, said Carlos Figoli, a 40-year-old cab driver, who parked to eat his meatless pasta lunch. Most of my friends look at me funny and think Im crazy. They always ask why I dont eat meat in Argentina, the country with the best meat in the world.

Argentines still eat more beef than people in any other country, and most families continue to have a weekend asado, a mixture of beef cuts and innards grilled over charcoal. But they are eating beef less often than they used to.

Of course, Argentina is not allowing beef a 4-billion dollar industry as well as an important national symbol to fade away silently. President Carlos Saul Menem recently urged Argentines to eat more red meat, vowing, the green fad is on the way out. And the Rural Society of Argentina plans an advertising campaign to promote the unique virtues of Argentine beef.

By Calvin Sims, New York Times Service, 2.10.95