Looking for an exotic location to spend your golden years? Or even a place to relocate business or personal interests where the rantings of born-again veggies aren’t saturating the media?
How about a South American country that is described by the consultants at InternationalLiving.com as a “politically, economically, and socially stable country with a mild climate free of earthquakes and hurricanes, with a warm social climate and less economic disparity here than anyplace else in Latin America?”
Tucked between Argentina and Brazil is Uruguay, a country known for its tolerance and inclusiveness — and another claim to fame: more than three times as many cattle (a herd of 10 million animals) than people (a population of only about three million).
As a result, Uruguay is described in a recent report on yahoo.com as “a carnivore’s paradise.”
When the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer released a report linking processed meats with increased cancer risk, the nation of Uruguay merely shrugged.
“If someone wants to eat Uruguayan food and they are vegetarian, they are in trouble,” Gustavo Laborde, an anthropologist and author of a book on the ‘ritual’ of barbecue, was quoted by yahoo.com.
In the capital of Montevideo, which has a population of 1.5 million, the city is virtually devoid of vegetarian or vegan restaurants.
Titina Nunez, editor of the local gourmet magazine Placer, told yahoo.com that there are “a mere handful” of vegetarian restaurants in the city. “It is very hard for Uruguayans to avoid pizza or barbecue,” she said. “When a Mexican or Japanese restaurant opens, they end up adding local meat dishes to their menu because if they don't, they close down.”
Barbecue as status symbol
As one would expect, the per capita consumption of beef in Uruguay averages about 60 kilograms (132 pounds) a year, versus an average in the United States of about 106 pounds a year of all red meat — beef, pork, veal and lamb.
In Uruguay, not only restaurant menus but household menus revolve around meat. Without meat every day, “Uruguay would not exist,” a diner at a neighborhood restaurant in Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo was quoted as admitting. Indeed, grilled meat — barbecue — is central to the country’s culinary traditions.
In fact, according to the yahoo.com story. when a Uruguayan real estate agent takes prospective buyers to a property for sale, at the top of the list of amenities to highlight is the outdoor grill sitting on the patio or terrace.
“Only after that,” the story related, “will talk turn to other, secondary matters, such as the size of the place.”
In Uruguay, even the online dating network Tinder features photo after photo of young people posing with a barbecue grill in the background. It’s considered a personal selling point, so to speak.
One final note: Most of the beef raised and marketed in Uruguay is grassfed. As a result, even nutritionists there are skeptical of the reports linking meat and cancer.
Rosana Viera, a well-known nutritionist there, branded the IARC findings “very alarmist,” according to yahoo.com. “Uruguayan meat is very different from that produced in other countries,” she said. “Here, the cows are raised outdoors, and this is what makes the quality — not just the quantity — of their flesh different.”
Actually, it’s the entire country, not just its cattle industry, which is “different” from most developed countries in the world.
Although it doesn’t have quite the same familiarity in Spanish as it does in French, to Uruguay I say, “Viva la diferencia.”
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator.