BUENOS AIRES – Argentina’s economic recession is affecting people’s lives on many levels and even having a cultural impact, with the high price of beef making it more difficult for people to enjoy one of the country’s most sacred rituals: the “asado.”
Argentine beef, which is internationally recognized for its quality, has become a luxury item for many of the nation’s inhabitants since sky-high inflation started eroding their purchasing power in April 2018.
This situation has made it a challenge for people to unite with friends and family at customary asados, a national pastime in Argentina in which people gather around an open-air grill and savor a variety of typical cuts of beef, as well as other meats such as chorizo (pork sausage) and morcilla (blood sausage).
“Proportionally speaking, the sale of (beef for) asados has fallen a great deal. Whereas before (Argentines) would have an asado every weekend, now those that can will have one every month or two months,” Alberto Williams, president of the Association of Butcher’s Shop Owners of Buenos Aires, told EFE.
According to a poll conducted in May at supermarkets by the National Institute of Statistics and Census of Argentina, the price of meat had risen by 67.1 percent compared to May 2018.
By contrast, salaries rose just 38.5 percent during that same 12-month period.
“It’s a food that almost essentially implies a social gathering. In fact, I remember I once prepared an asado for myself and I felt a guilty (sensation),” Diego Diaz, a nutritional anthropologist, told EFE.
Diaz said people have a need to be with others and share “not just a portion of meat, but share experiences, feelings, ideas, discussions, debates, laughter and jokes.”
“It’s been incorporated into our cultural heritage. In a way, it’s like tango, mate (a caffeine-rich infused beverage) or soccer,” he said.
A June report from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Meat and Derivatives of Argentina (Ciccra) indicated that domestic beef consumption had fallen 9.2 percent over a one-year period, from 58.2 kilograms annually per capita to 52.9 kg.
This scenario is forcing Argentines to expand their horizons and satisfy their carnivorous longings with other types of animal meat.
“Today in Argentina there’s no longer exclusively beef on a grill. Normally there’s beef, pork and even chicken. It’s no longer a one-meat asado,” Miguel Schiaritti, Ciccra’s president, said.
Williams said another strategy his customers are employing is to opt for more inexpensive cuts of beef and ones with less fat or bone. That means thinking twice before buying the traditional Argentine tira de asado (short ribs).
Sellers, meanwhile, are trying to make up for domestic market struggles with sales to China, the destination for 7.2 kg of every 10 kg of exported product.
The proportion of national beef production destined for export – now 22.9 percent – is at its highest level since Ciccra began keeping records in 1996.
Diaz put the drop-off in beef consumption in cultural terms.
“From the nutritional point of view, it’s nothing serious. That’s not the issue. It’s more a question of cultural pride. It’s almost like going out of the World Cup in the round of 16,” the cultural anthropologist said.