Due to inflation, meat-loving Argentines are eating less beef.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina, famed for its love of beef, a stark change is underway as economic woes force residents to cut back on their meat consumption. With triple-digit inflation and a deep recession gripping the country, beef consumption has plummeted by nearly 16% this year alone, a significant drop in a nation where beef is synonymous with cultural identity, alongside soccer and mate tea.

Argentines traditionally gather around “parrilla” grills in their homes or frequent steakhouses that line the streets of Buenos Aires. Even at construction sites or protests, makeshift barbecues are a common sight, highlighting the integral role of beef in everyday life. For many, like retiree Claudia San Martin, beef is non-negotiable despite financial strain: “Argentines can eliminate anything in difficult times, but we can’t do without meat.”

Historically, Argentines consumed over 100 kg of beef per person annually in the 1950s, but today that figure has plummeted to about 44 kg per year. This decline reflects broader shifts toward alternative meats like pork and chicken, as well as more affordable staples such as pasta. However, the current drastic reduction is primarily driven by soaring inflation, nearing 300%, coupled with economic stagnation exacerbated by austerity measures under President Javier Milei.

The impact is widespread, with rising poverty, homelessness in major cities, and longer lines at soup kitchens. Many families have had to scale back on essentials like meat, milk, and vegetables, with little relief from the persistent inflationary pressures. Miguel Schiariti of the local meat chamber CICCRA predicts that meat consumption will remain subdued as people’s purchasing power continues to erode.

In rural areas like Buenos Aires province, where cattle ranching is a way of life, the downturn in beef consumption is equally concerning. Agricultural engineer Luis Marchi, managing a multi-generational family farm, notes the sharp decline in beef consumption driven by economic hardship and higher costs. Ranchers like Guillermo Tramontini also face challenges from rising input costs and past droughts, which have strained cattle herds and production.

While local consumption declines, Argentina’s beef exports have surged, though global market prices remain a challenge. China, the largest importer, primarily purchases cheaper cuts not favored domestically, offering some relief to farmers amidst the economic turmoil. However, Schiariti points out that even with robust export volumes, the downturn in global beef prices has tempered the benefits for the industry.

At the local level, butcher shops like Gerardo Tomsin’s in Buenos Aires have witnessed changing consumer behavior. While customers still frequent his shop, they are increasingly price-conscious, opting for more affordable cuts and occasionally exploring alternative protein sources. Tomsin observes a shift towards budget-conscious shopping habits as customers navigate the economic downturn.

Looking ahead, the future of Argentina’s beef industry remains uncertain amid ongoing economic challenges. The government’s ability to stabilize inflation, stimulate economic growth, and restore consumer confidence will be crucial in reviving domestic demand for beef. Meanwhile, farmers and ranchers are cautiously navigating the volatile economic landscape, adapting to changing consumer preferences and global market conditions.

Argentina’s love affair with beef is facing unprecedented challenges as economic hardships compel individuals and families to rethink their dietary choices. While beef remains deeply ingrained in the nation’s cultural fabric, economic realities are reshaping consumption patterns and testing the resilience of the beef industry. As Argentina navigates through these turbulent times, the fate of its iconic beef industry hinges on finding a delicate balance between domestic consumption, export opportunities, and economic recovery efforts.

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