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July 20, 2009
Meat lovers mourn Argentina’s disappearing beef

A butcher in Argentina.

Rule of thumb: When a government official has to make a statement to the news media that “there is no crisis,” the translation usually is — there’s a crisis.

That sounds like where we are right now with the Argentine beef industry, where it appears that the proud country of the pampas may eventually have to start importing meat.

La Nacion in Buenos Aires, quoting the Argentine Farm Federation, says that cattle supplies are at their lowest in 45 years. “Argentina is on the verge of importing meat to cover internal demand and would lose as much as $1.5 billion in export income” as a result.

As for the government, the response is: Not true at all.

Agriculture Secretary Carlos Cheppi denied the claims by the Farm Federation and other organizations.”There is no crisis…it is a big lie.”

But it feels like a crisis in the nation that consumes more beef and is probably more proud of its carnivorous pursuits than any country on earth.

Say what you will about meat-eaters — for an Argentine, it’s downright embarrassing. It would be like Britain losing the Colonies, GM going bankrupt, or [the old] AT&T being sold to a French communications company.

It’s tough to swallow for Argentinians, whose 41 million people eat about 143 lbs per capita of beef every year, 50 percent more than the second biggest beef-eaters in the world — that would be people in the United States.

But it’s more than just the numbers. Argentinians are proud of their beef, its quality and its availability across social classes. Until recently at least, it was possible to go into a basic downtown diner in Buenos Aires and have an overstuffed steak sandwich, fries, salad and wine for very few dollars.

Now prices are going up, on beef and across the board, and the blame is falling on the increasingly unpopular president, Cristina Kirchner, and her husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner.

“Six economy ministers in six years, what more can we expect,” headlines a story in the newspaper La Nacion, written by Roberto Cachanosky. “The Argentine economy is paralyzed, the fiscal situation is critical, unemployment is growing, poverty is increasing, inflation shot up right after [June parlimentary] elections and the struggle for the distribution of income is on the verge of falling apart.”

Argentinians know no depths of pessimism about their economic woes, and distrust of their leaders. But this seems like a new low, said Cachanosky.

“There are things you don’t have to see to know they exist,” he wrote. “For example, I’ve never seen an atom, but I know the atom exists. In the case of the economy, there are things that you don’t have to see to know how they’re going to turn out.”

– Peter Eisner

For more, watch the Worldfocus signature story “Farmers, drought and taxes cripple Argentina” and listen to our online radio show on Argentina’s farming crisis.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user diametrik under a Creative Commons license.

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Comments

3 comments

#3

[…] or not I’ll be sampling Argentina’s most famous culinary treat (although that may be changing).  Even with all of the traveling I’ve been doing, I haven’t eaten any meat in over a […]

#2

[…] 7. La Cabrerra, BA’s most famous steak house. http://travel.nytimes.com/travel/guides/central-and-south-america/argentina/buenos-aires/60725/la-cabrera/restaurant-detail.html , We heard the rumors. We read the reviews online. But nothing could prepare us for the monster cut of steak and smorgasbord of sides they put before us. We walked out with half a cow in a doggie bag. I recently read recently that Argentina has a per capita consumption of beef per year of 143 lbs. I am convinced La Cabrera has something to do with this. http://worldfocus.org/blog/2009/07/20/meat-lovers-mourn-argentinas-disappearing-beef/6393/ […]

#1

[…]       7. La Cabrerra, BA’s most famous steak house. http://travel.nytimes.com/travel/guides/central-and-south-america/argentina/buenos-aires/60725/la-cabrera/restaurant-detail.html , We heard the rumors. We read the reviews online. But nothing could prepare us for the monster cut of steak and smorgasbord of sides they put before us. We walked out with half a cow in a doggie bag. Stu read recently that Argentina has a per capita consumption of beef per year of 143 lbs. I am convinced La Cabrera has something to do with this. http://worldfocus.org/blog/2009/07/20/meat-lovers-mourn-argentinas-disappearing-beef/6393/o […]

Peter Eisner is an editorial consultant with Worldfocus and a 30-year veteran of international news. He has been an editor and foreign correspondent at The Washington Post, Newsday and The Associated Press. He co-authored “The Italian Letter,” which details fraudulent intelligence leading up to the Iraq War. He was founder and president of Newscom, an international online news service, and speaks Spanish and Portuguese.

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