When night falls in Buenos Aires, activists swarm out. In no time at all they stick posters on walls and sometimes on doorbells in the urban districts of Palermo or Recoleta. “Veganism is not a diet, it is an ethical attitude,” it reads. There is now hardly anyone in the affluent districts of the Argentine capital who has not heard of the young but very active movement.
Most of the posters are cleverly placed near schools or university access roads in the Argentine capital. The target group is primarily the school and university students who are open to a debate about whether Argentina, the land of meat, should continue as before or whether a cultural change should take place. And they are visual proof that the vegan climate and animal protection movement has also arrived in the land of what is probably the best meat in the world.
This poses new challenges for traditional livestock farming, because the young generation in Argentina is asking more and more questions about how meat production is organized. This is a little reminiscent of the discussion in Germany, where a predominantly young climate protection movement is questioning the key industry of car production. In Argentina, meat enjoys a similar industrial cult status.
One who started doing things differently is Pablo Andres Bobadilla Echenique. “I’m the first vegetarian in four generations of my family,” reports the 37-year-old Argentinian. Bobadilla Echenique farms a piece of land in Pilar, a local community in the capital. The Argentinian does without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. He lets the horse that lives on his property graze in peace and does not use it as a working animal. “I have indigenous roots in my family, so I produce according to original forms of production like my ancestors did,” he says.
He criticizes the image built up by the meat industry: “The companies that own the largest estates are not romantic gauchos who play the guitar and recite Martin Fierro by heart.” These companies are responsible for plundering and destroying the landscape because they are industrial production with the help of chemical fertilizers destroyed nature. The necessary pesticides and fertilizers are often supplied by international corporations, says Bobadilla. From Germany too.
A good two-hour drive away from the urban discussions about meat consumption and its effects, the Estancia “El Mirador” is proud of its own meat culture. Here in the greater Buenos Aires province, everything is the same as it used to be: Landowner and rancher Don Julio prepares an asado – a classic Argentinian barbecue. He first lets the wood he has collected burn for an hour or two, then he cuts the meat of a freshly slaughtered beef into small pieces. Then he pushes the embers of the burning wood under the meat. His sons and the gauchos are sitting at the wooden table in the country estate built around 1860.
That’s how they always did it in Argentina. And all of a sudden it’s all supposed to be wrong, they ask themselves here, far away from the posters and graffiti in the big cities. “The asado is good because it’s a family culture and you have to keep that tradition alive. Argentina needs that and so does the world,” says Don Julio, wondering what’s wrong with “Argentina potentially being able to produce food for 400 million people around the world.”
Hours earlier, Don Julio’s sons and the gauchos turned immature cattle into oxen. They cut their testicles out of their scrotum with the naked knife. It is precisely this way of dealing with animals that vegans criticize. Don Julio, on the other hand, explains: A castrated animal is more peaceful and, above all, produces better meat. That’s exactly what customers want in the steak restaurants in the Palermo or Recoleta districts – but also in Berlin, Cologne or Stuttgart. Gaucho Martin finds the criticism of the vegan movement unfair: “There are women who are publicly against eating meat, but use cosmetics for their own beauty that animals had to suffer for.”
The two movements repeatedly clash, most recently at an agricultural fair in Buenos Aires. A video shows activists storming Argentine meat culture. Heated TV debates followed. “An asado is the ritual of rituals for most Argentines,” says Adrian Bifaretti of the Institute for the Promotion of Argentine Beef, about the traditional barbecue in Argentina. The meat producers have long noticed the slow cultural change in consumer behavior and are trying to react to the growing vegan movement.
“Most of the production takes place on natural pastures and open-air meadows. This means that livestock farming as a system has very low inputs such as fertilizers and agrochemicals. The use of anabolic steroids is banned in the country,” asserts Bifaretti. Most of the water used is “green” water, according to water footprint studies that have been carried out. It comes from rainwater and is naturally recycled in the water cycle. Emissions have dropped significantly since the beginning of the Kyoto commitment (1990).
“There is a change in people’s consciousness in Argentina,” says Malena Blanco of the animal and nature conservation movement “Voicot”. It is the organization that now wants to ensure a change of course on thousands of secretly pasted posters in the city. “People are starting to understand that there is a connection between climate change, animal welfare, land grabbing from indigenous communities on the one hand, and the way we live on the other,” says Blanco.
The reason for the change in awareness is better access to information. Videos of animal slaughter would now convey a different picture of animal suffering than that of the industry. And these impressions leave their mark: This is why more and more young people in particular are refusing to eat meat. It’s not just about climate protection and animal welfare, but also about a structural change in the Argentine economy, Blanco explains: “The enemy is the system that only makes the wealth from this business accessible to a small part of the population.”
Far away, Don Julio sees the discussion calmly: he is convinced that the asado tradition is too deeply rooted in the Argentine soul. “There are only a few people who don’t want meat,” says Don Julio. His sons, on the other hand, follow the discussion closely and want to adapt to the new framework conditions that make production more animal-friendly. They have a lot of understanding for the vegans: “Everyone should live the way they think is right. And we love meat. If you don’t do that, don’t do it.”