Last year, a survey conducted by the Institute for the Promotion of Beef discovered that 60 percent of consumers in Argentina are considering going vegan.
A traditional Argentinian diet is meat-heavy; the national dish is asados, which is literally a variety of barbecued meat. Foods like morcilla (aka blood sausage), steaks, ribs, chinchulínes (the small intestine of a cow), chorizo, and mollejas (organ meat), are cooked together on a large grill or open fire.
So why are 60 percent of Argentines considering ditching this tradition and going vegan? There are a number of reasons. The animal welfare movement is gaining traction in the country and environmental concerns are becoming more widespread. But there’s also an ongoing economic crisis, and meat is expensive.
Marina Otamendi lives in Buenos Aires and has a five-year-old son. For her, meat is just too costly at the moment. She told Ozy, “prices have gone up so much. Sunday barbecues are not a ‘thing’ like they used to be.” She added, “we eat meat way less often and have replaced it with other things, including more beans.”
Meat consumption in Argentina is currently at its lowest point in 50 years, says the country’s Chamber of Commerce for Beef and Its Derivatives.
Financial concerns could be behind this drop, and health concerns could be another factor. Studies have linked red and processed meat to a higher risk of serious diseases, like colorectal cancer.
Meat and Health
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies red meat as a Group 2A Carcinogen. This means that beef, lamb, and pork “probably cause cancer.” Processed meats—like bacon, ham, sausages, and salami—are classified as Group 1 Carcinogens. This means they’re known to cause cancer; it’s in the same category as tobacco and asbestos.
Some Argentines are aware of the risk of eating a diet high in meat, but choose to carry on because of its cultural significance. Others are starting to think more about their intake. Lawyer Jorge Bacaloni told the Guardian in October 2015 that while he would continue to eat meat, learning about the cancer risks associated with processed meat has changed the way he feeds his family. He said, “I have a three-year-old son. We’ve been giving him sausage, but I’ll stop that.”
Red meat consumption has also been linked with a higher risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, stroke, kidney disease, and liver disease. Plant-based foods, however, are linked with a lower risk of several diseases.
In December 2018, Cancer Research UK said following a vegan diet could reduce cancer cases in the country by 8,000 a year. Another study by the American Heart Association (AHA) revealed that a vegan diet was more effective at lowering the risk of heart disease than the AHA’s recommended diet, which allows small amounts of animal products.
Claudia Carrara—the founder of Buenos Aires organic restaurant Bio Solo Organico—told the Independent in August 2018 that attitudes toward veganism are changing in Argentina. People are seeing it as a healthier way to live. They’re inspired, in part, by successful plant-based athletes like successful Argentine footballer Lionel Messi.
“In recent years, veganism and vegetarianism have become more commonplace,” said Carrara. “I think it’s partly because people are becoming more aware of the suffering of animals, but also the health benefits—high performing athletes are turning towards a plant-based diet—and there are now doctors who recommend this kind of lifestyle.”
The Rise of Animal Rights
Concern for animal welfare is also spreading across the country. According to Adrián Bifaretti—the head of marketing at the Institute for the Promotion of Beef—younger generations are beginning to question the ethics of killing animals for food.
“[They] have grown up amid the debate over abortion in Congress; inclusion, gender equality…” he told AP News. “These collective questions have started to gain weight in decisions about the purchase of foods.”
In August 2019, animal rights activists gathered outside Congress; they hung a banner that read “no a la crueldad animal,” which translates to “no to animal cruelty.” They also covered the ground with red paint, symbolizing animal bloodshed.
Bifaretti added, “this concern about cruelty and the slaughter is here and is going to be felt. It is starting to be a challenge.”
Vegan Business Grows
As people ditch meat, vegan businesses are growing. According to Ozy, there are now more than 70 vegan restaurants in Buenos Aires. But business isn’t just booming in the capital, vegans who live outside of the city are seeing changes.
Animal rights activist Erika De Simona lives around a one hour drive from Buenos Aires. She told Ozy, “we are seeing a lot of people organizing to produce and sell vegan products, food, clothes, all kinds of things.”
According to De Simona, Argentina is about so much more than just “meat and beef.”
Nine percent of the population is now vegan. Based on the findings from the Institute for the Promotion of Beef, this percentage will keep growing.
“There are more vegans in Argentina than members of many political parties,” said Manuel Martí, who went vegan in 1974 when ditching animal products was still relatively unheard of. “If we realized that, we could change many things that are still needed.”
Even the country’s “carnivore king” believes a shift away from meat is happening. Argentine chef Francis Mallmann is known for his love of cooking meat outside on an open fire. But, back in 2018, predicted that in 30 years’ time, meat from animals will be a thing of the past.
“Meat brings so many problems,” he told Bloomberg. “With all the effects that we have on the atmosphere by having so many animals in the world. I think it’s sad, too, in a way. We’re killing animals in some horrible ways. We’re over-fishing in the seas. So I think the future lies in not eating any more animals one day.”