In the beef capital of the world, the tide is turning in favor of plant-based diets. Good news for human health, animals, nature and the climate.
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We don’t know where to start in the Argentinian capital, there is so much to see and do. Luckily, our sailing friend Omar lives here and he takes a few days to show us around in “his” city. He turns out to be an extremely knowledgeable guide. At a fast pace we see beautiful monumental buildings, passionate tango on the street, bus drivers on strike, endless antique markets, famous cafes, homeless families, images of white headscarves reminiscent of the military dictatorship, bombastic family graves, and the omnipresent busy road traffic. The many and different impressions are quite overwhelming.
Beef Capital of the World
From the centrally located “Yacht Club Argentino“, where Lucipara 2 is moored, it is only a short walk into the city centre. “Look at that!” Floris says in disbelief, when we pass a restaurant. Next to the front door, behind a large window, half a cadaver is grilled on a wood fire. The gigantic barbecue behind glass is a popular way for grill restaurants to advertise their meat. It is an unusual sight for us, but here it is very common. After all, Buenos Aires is known as the Beef Capital of the World. The restaurants’ displays are effective, even on us, who are not big meat eaters. We give one of these “Parillas” a try and are impressed. The portions are huge and the quality of the steaks outstanding. No wonder these places are popular with locals and foreigners alike.
A Remarkable Trend
Despite their outward appeal, we learn that in recent years the “meat tide” is turning. More and more people seem to realize that eating too much meat is unhealthy, causes animal suffering, drives deforestation and contributes to climate disruption. In line with this trend, vegetarian and vegan restaurants have been popping up like mushrooms in Buenos Aires. During our wanderings through the city, we pass vegetarian sandwich shops, vegan pizzerias, and even a macrobiotic restaurant. The rise of meatless food in Buenos Aires is clearly visible in the streets. We’re eager to explore (and taste) the city’s plant-based food options and decide to visit a number of restaurants.
From Niche to Mainstream
We start at the pioneers of restaurant Bio Sólo Orgánico. Alejandra Pais enthusiastically tells us that her parents opened the first vegetarian restaurant in Argentina more than 20 years ago. “My parents started this restaurant because they experienced themselves that a meat-based diet can make you sick. In the beginning people thought they were crazy and our restaurant was a real niche. A lot has changed since then. Our clientele has become much wider and larger. Today we are regarded as almost mainstream.”
Nevertheless, we find the restaurant quite special. The menu features many local and regional ingredients, all-organic. Alejandra explains how much effort it took to purchase only organic ingredients. She proudly adds that two years ago Bio Sólo Orgánico became the first restaurant in South America to be awarded the “fully organic” certificate.
Although Alejandra tells us that most of her customers come here to eat healthy food, we soon experience that there must be another reason. It tastes absolutely delicious!We also compliment her on the originality of the recipes. The combination of fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs in the raw juices is very tasty. That’s also true for the richly filled salads and sandwiches. “I am also going to make this yummy humus!” Ivar says while feasting on a variety made with tomato and curry. The vegetarian kitchen turns out to be a lot more versatile than we thought.
Healthy Is Trendy
Our next pit stop has only been open for less than a year. After starting The Wellbar Journal, a blog on healthy, meatless food recipes,Vicky Jackson became an influencer on Instagram. Building on her digital success, she opened her own restaurant in the Palermo neighbourhood in early 2018, Wellbar. The neighbourhood is popular with young people, to which the restaurant clearly caters. As soon as we enter, we notice how modern the interior is. Sleek and light, with a lot of wood. “What a trendy place!” Ivar whispers. Vicky invites us to sit with her. Around us, guests lunch on mouth-watering dishes. We get to taste the restaurant’s specialities, too, and immediately understand why Wellbar is popular.
The menu is predominantly vegetarian and vegan, but not exclusively. “We also have meat dishes on the menu, such as a salad with organic chicken.” When we ask here why, she responds with a smile. “So the typical Argentinian boyfriend can also be convinced to eat here. And maybe he’ll try a vegetarian dish the next time he comes!” There’s probably some truth to it. It surely is a testament to how deeply the meat culture is etched in Argentinian society. When we ask her about the success factors of her concept, Vicky agrees with what Alejandra said earlier about the relationship between diet choice and health. She too thinks that most customers mainly come to eat healthy food. “But issues such as animal welfare and climate also play a role for many,” she adds.
Plant-Based and yet Traditional
In the evening we visit La Reverde Parrillita Vegana, a vegan steakhouse. The elegant blue letters on the window reassure us that this really is a steakhouse that serves vegan food. We arrive just as it opens. Without a reservation, we are lucky to get a table. A few minutes later the restaurant is full and several people are visibly disappointed when they are turned away.
La Reverde serves the same traditional dishes as the parillas, but uses plant-based meat alternatives. Their “meat” is made of soy, beans and chickpeas. The dishes come with fries and barbeque sauces, just like at a steakhouse. Still, we are a bit underwhelmed by the “steaks”, as we miss the vegetables that gave so much taste to the dishes at the other restaurants we visited. La Reverde’s concept is to appeal to the more traditional Argentinian food culture. Its plant-based meat replacement really seems to be a hit.
Health and Sustainability Benefits
We have learned that many customers in Buenos Aires’ vegetarian restaurants are driven by a desire to eat healthier food. Yet the sustainability benefits of eating less meat and more plant-based food are equally significant. During our sailing trip we saw in Brazil and Uruguay how gigantic areas of forest have been cut down to make room for cows and animal feed crops. At the same time we saw that vegetables can be grown relatively easily in a natural way. Therefore, each piece of meat that is swapped for a plant-based alternative is better for animals, nature and the climate.
Healthier and simultaneously more sustainable food seems to break through, even in the world’s beef capital. (Almost) meatless in Buenos Aires? We really enjoyed it!