A Cow Nation Trembles as Vegetarianism is on the rise
If you ever travel around the Uruguayan countryside, you will be very surprised by three things: the flatness of it all, the greenness of it all, and the amount of cows you will see.
100 kilos of meat per person per year!
On average, Uruguayans consume more than 100 kilograms of meat per person per year. This is a lot of meat considering that the world average is around 40 kilos. This astonishing amount includes beef (approx. 60 kilos), chicken (approx. 20 kilos), pork (approx. 16 kilos) and a small percentage of lamb. And this is on average! I –for example- eat none, which means zero kilos per year, and so do many people I know, which reveals that some people eat way above average. Uruguay is disputing with Argentina the status of “country with the most amount of meat consumption per capita” in the world. This video from famous food traveler Anthony Bourdain illustrates in a good way the overall image foreigners have of the meat culture in Uruguay:
When people think of Uruguay, similarly to what happens with Argentina, they think of Cows and premium meat. And it’s understandable that they do. Uruguay’s past and present has been very closely linked to cows, and both the meat and leather industry. Leaving aside the nomadic indigenous populations that roamed around these lands, this territory was firstly inhabited by cows and then by humans settlers. Hernandarias introduced cattle in 1611, and the first city, Colonia del Sacramento, was founded in 1680, almost 70 years later! You can imagine the importance cows have played throughout Uruguayan history. From the corned beef that fed millions of soldiers during both World Wars (providing great sources of income for the country), to the traditional “asados” (something similar to a barbecue) that Uruguayans obsessively host, to the premium beef you can find nowadays in restaurants in Japan and throughout the world, meat seems to be very much embedded in the Uruguay DNA, but is it really?
The rise of non-meat eaters
Happily (from my perspective at least), the world is experiencing an expanding process of awareness in eating habits and also in our behaviours towards animals. Meat consumption is decreasing and both vegetarianism and veganism are rapidly growing. Uruguay is no exception to this phenomenon.
To be a vegetarian 5 years ago in Uruguay was more or less like being an alien or even a traitor! Understandably, as you were boycotting one of the most important basis of the Uruguayan economy! In recent years, this has begun to shift and it has become more and more common to encounter vegetarian and vegan restaurants and dishes around the city. In a place where it seemed impossible for a non-meat eater to survive, now there is light! To be honest, with a bit of ingenuousness and good will, it’s not hard to be a vegetarian in Montevideo. The city is full of street markets where you can find fresh organic vegetables and fruit at very reasonable prices (unlike the first world were this is a luxury of few), and stores are increasingly offering meat-less products.
Caramelos de Lima
Noel and Maggie, the creators of a wonderful vegan restaurant review blog called “Caramelos de lima” (http://www.caramelosdelima.com/), give very useful tips and reviews on where to find healthy and animal free dishes in Montevideo, and they elaborated a very helpful map/guide that shows the best places in town, check it out:
See the full interactive map here:
When one used to go to a restaurant and ask for a vegetarian option, it was a classic to have the waiter reply: “oh yes, we have this option with chicken”, or “fish then”. Meat in Uruguay is usually strictly associated with beef. If one wants chicken, you need to state “chicken meat”. However, this has now changed and there are more and more options but also growing awareness about vegetarianism and what it entails. Since Uruguay is also well known for its dairies, ovo-lacto vegetarians now have it easy. Vegans are still fighting for more options.
Nonetheless, the cow nation trembles as more and more non-meat eaters opt for treason.
Vegetarian recommendations in Montevideo
Some of my favorite non-meat places in Montevideo are (with their “Caramelos de Lima” review in Spanish):
– La Papa (Gonzalo Ramírez 1972 – Tel: 24199784)
– Bosque Bambú (San José 1060 – Tel: 29027720)
– Lagranola (San José 1236 – Tel: 29087477)
– Samsara (Zabala 1316)
– Tomate (Ituzaingó 1426 esq. Rincón – Tel: 29169720)
– Bechamel (Franzini 907 esq. Sarmiento – Tel: 27163030)