Monday, April 10, 2006

Argentina's Beef

Argentina’s relationship with red meat is a bloody one.

The fertile Pampas region provides for some of the tastiest grass-fed cows in the world. The average Argentine eats almost 150 pounds of beef per year. The average American eats less than half this amount.

After living 20 years in Canada and constantly hearing about how red meat consumption is linked to soaring obesity rates, I’ve always wondered how Argentines stay so slim.

Is the meat down here leaner than the beef up north? Is this carnivorous consumption tempered with a healthy diet? Do the people here walk and exercise more?

I have a feeling it’s combination of all three: leaner meat, better overall diet, and more exercise.

So when people go off about the dangers of red meat, I generally reach for the mute button (until my heart tells me otherwise).

The best part about Argentine road trips: the asado pit stops.

Since arriving in Argentina over a year ago, I have gone on a beef eating binge.

I eat steak about three times a week (sometimes more). Add: meat empanadas, salsa bolognesa on my pasta, and the occasional hamburger, I end up eating red meat almost every day.

Given my multinational beef eating experiences, I am the first to promote the superior quality of
Argentina’s meat.

A good slab rarely requires any condiments beyond salt. The soft-as-a-baby’s bottom tenderness usually calls for a butter knife and minimal chewing. The reasonable prices make my habit affordable - depending on the cut, a kilo of steak at my supermarket runs from $8 to $12 pesos or $2.50 to $4.00 US. Also, the timeliness in which a chunk of cow flesh becomes my meal (about two minutes) makes my habit extremely convenient.

A typical Argentine dish: flank steak with grilled potatoes and vegetables.

However, this past month my addiction has come under attack.

In an effort to control double digit inflation (12% last year), Argentina’s President has asked citizens to do the unthinkable: to stop consuming red meat until prices drop. Last year, beef prices rose 28.8%!

When Kirchner realized that his 6-month ban on beef exports wasn’t doing enough to lower prices, he called upon Argentines to take a stand against meat producers. He urged people to boycott the national dish, and eat chicken and fish instead.

The demand for beef is so strong that the President’s calls for the boycott were largely ignored, and prices have remained more or less the same. The ban on exports, however, has forced producers to sign an agreement with the government to reduce the price on 11 cuts of beef by 20%, pictured below:

(borrowed from Clarin)

Translation of the cuts:

Cuadril = Rump
Bife con lomo = Sirloin
Bife de costilla = T-bone
Bife Ancho = Rib eye
Nalga = Round
Vacío = Flank
Asado = Short ribs
Matambre = Flank cut unique to Argentina
Entraña = Skirt
Falda = Ribs steak
Paleta = Shoulder roast
Osobuco = Shin
Garrón = Shank
Carnaza = Stewing beef
Roast beef = Roast beef
Carne Picada = Ground beef
Hueso con carne = Bone with meat
Azotillo = no translation found

Even though the best steaks (lomo and cuadril) are excluded from the price controlled list, I am sure the general population will welcome the lowered prices on the most popular and accessible cuts (asado and vacío).

This move should prove to be a popular one for Kirchner, who faces elections in 2007.

But given Argentina’s accelerated economic growth, mounting inflation and the inelastic demand for beef, one wonders how much longer price controls like these can last.


Blogger neuronator said...

I think the Argentinean slimness in spite of faces full of beef might also have something to do with plastic surgery.

11:13 PM  
Blogger miss tango in her eyes said...

It is the exercise. Walking up and down the stairs. I lost weight in BA and I hardly ate a vegetable. And I don't think papa fritas count. Although I didn't eat so many sweets, and one does wonder how they do stay so slim considering all the sugar they do eat!
But do you think most people just do not have the money to spend frivilously on snacking since the cost of living has gone up but wages haven't?

2:48 PM  
Blogger maskow said...

Great post on la carne.

My wife and I raise Aberdeen Angus in the province and I can tell you that the stuff really is about a third of the fat of a USDA prime steak.

Not that that is better. Most Argentines like to see some fat around the edges simply because there's so little intramuscular fat.

And no kiddin', huh? Big city people walk a lot more than US suburbanites. And aren't high protein/low-fat diets supposed to keep you thin?

Love your blog,

p.s. stop by my blog sometime. My wife and I raise cattle in the province by remote control! Hee hee.

12:28 AM  
Blogger Diego said...


While plastic surgery is a growing trend, particularly among celebrities, 90% of the population can't afford it.

Miss Tango:

You could be right about the budgetary constraints on snacking. It would make for interesting study. I wonder how the long line-ups at my local confiteria would influence the results...


"About a third of the fat"?! Thank you for this vital piece of information. I will feel guiltless when I upgrade my beef intake.

Raising Aberdeen Angus? Quite the venture (I'm green with envy). I'll definitely check your blog out, and hope to see some pictures of your cattle soon.

12:33 AM  
Blogger maskow said...

...I'm not sure if it's possible for this to be "off" topic but please consider posting something on this:

Sorry, couldn't find an email link to you on your site.


2:51 PM  
Blogger Brandán Buenosayres said...

Beyond body image and budget, I think another thing that contributes to Argentine slimness is the fact that the national cuisine consists of very simple ingredients, which are rarely processed. Fewer preservatives, less partially hydrogenated soy bean oil, less corn syrup, less crap, in short.

Eso dicho, si te morfás un pote de dulce de leche entero...

11:14 AM  
Blogger Rich Lowenberg said...


Rich the Brit here. I'll be in Buenos Aires at the end of the year, probably over New Years. I've got work as a photographer in Antarctica from December 6th - 19th. You still going to be in town? It would be great to see you dude!

Send me an email when you get the chance and let me know! (remove the extra g's - I'm trying to avoid spam)

3:35 PM  
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8:35 PM  
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