Recently, I've been worrying that the steaks I get in Buenos Aires restaurants isn't quite as good as it was when I first arrived. Less flavorful, "gooeyer", less fecund. I set these worries aside, chalking them up to the falling away of novelty (I have been here for 3+ years) and the constantly higher prices that make everything taste a little, well, bitter. But a recent AP article titled "World food prices endanger premium Argentina beef" set off my culinary radar in a most unpleasant way. The beef has been getting worse, it posited, or at least less Argentine. I'll let the article explain:
"Argentina is to beef what Cuba is to cigars," says Juan Pablo Thieriot, co-founder of Estancia Beef, which exports Argentine and Uruguayan grass-fed meat.How depressing. The Americanizing of Argentine steak. That's the last thing I need. There are, admittedly, parts of Argentina that could use a little Americanizing. We could not be suffering a permanent Small Change Crisis, for one thing. But don't touch my damn meat. Reading that AP article, I thought back to a great post by Maciej Cegłowski, which perfectly encapsulated the soaring joy I felt the first time I had a steak in Buenos Aires. He wrote:
But soaring world food prices may spell the end of the great Argentine steak.
Demand for grain and soy is pushing Argentine ranchers to till their pastures in crops. Cattle that once roamed the pampas are increasingly fattened on corn in cramped feedlots, instead. Top beef producers are being pushed toward a system that has been criticized in the United States for putting cattle in unnatural environments and creating meat with a mass-produced taste.
About 30 percent of Argentine cattle now finish their lives in feedlots, according to the Argentine Feedlot Chamber. Ten or 15 years ago, that number was zero.
There are no factory feedlots in Argentina; the animals still eat pampas grass their whole lives, in open pasture, and not the chicken droppings and feathers mixed with corn that pass for animal feed in the United States. Since this is the way of life a cow was designed for, it is not necessary to pump the animal full of antibiotics. The meat is leaner, healthier and more flavorful than that of corn-fed cattle. It has fewer calories, contains less cholesterol, and tastes less mushy and waterlogged than American meat. And the cows spend their lives out grazing in the field, not locked into some small pen. You can taste the joy.I want that back.
(Photo from Analia Pierini)