Ditch Beef, Choose Beans

Santiago – Veganism continues to gain momentum as more people skip the meat and are opting for plant-based alternatives. An estimated 400,000 people took part in Veganuary 2020, almost twice that of 2019, when 250,000 quit animal products for the month. It seems that the trend is slowly but surely spreading to Latin America where many people are also starting to ditch their traditional diet.

A Nation of Meat Eaters

Meat consumption in Chile averaged 166lbs per person in 2016, with only 7% of Chileans identifying as vegetarian, and even less (3%) as vegan, according to a report by the US Foreign Agricultural Service. For a country with a rich history of meat production and farming, this is unsurprising.

The south of Chile is renowned for its farming, specifically beef and cheese production. In the area around Osorno, Angus and Guernsey cows are grass-fed and hand-reared to produce some of the finest beef in the country. Over 1.2 million beef producers are in the area and most Chilean beef is farmed for domestic purposes. But Chile also produces meat for the global market, exporting 60% of all meat produced to 25 markets, the Agricultural Service study said. Around 690,000t of poultry were produced in 2019, much of which went to China, the US, and Mexico. It is safe to say that Chile has a strong history of producing and enjoying meat.

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The Rise of the Latin Vegan

Yet change could be on the horizon. Throughout Latin America, interest in vegan and vegetarian eating has risen, fueled by celebrities such as Penelope Cruz and Ricky Martin advertising their own meat-free diets. Nutritionist Carolyn Scott-Hamilton told vegetarian lifestyle outlet VegNews that the abundance of grains, legumes, and vegetables available in Latin America makes the transition to plant-based eating a lot easier. Interestingly, many ‘vegan superfoods’ such as açai, quinoa, and camu camu grow naturally in these countries – it’s a vegan’s dream. Walking the streets of Santiago it becomes clear that vegan culture is making a mark, with restaurants offering plant-based burgers to completely vegetarian restaurants such as Polen and El Huerto.

Chile has also produced its own plant-based vegan brand, The Not Company (NotCo). NotCo has made global headlines for its use of AI technology to analyze the structure of animal foods and then use plants to create alternatives to mayonnaise, milk, yogurt, and cheese.  NotCo’s products are now available in over 220 Chilean markets and in August last year the company received a US$30 million investment from Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, his first in South America.

Time for Change?

The growing vegan trend has caused concern among farmers and large corporations. In 1984 in the US, for example, milk accounted for 15% of food consumption, while in 2019 it was 9%. Simultaneously, sales of non-dairy milk have increased by 23% in the last four years. Perhaps it is just a matter of time before the same happens in Latin America. Social activist groups in Chile such as VegetarianosHoy, a non-profit organization created in 2012, and Hazteveg (Go Veggie) are seeking to educate people on veganism by providing everything from nutrition information to recipes. Chile even has its own shelter for rescued farm animals, Santuario Igualda Interespecie, and in September last year vegetarians marched in Santiago.

Without a doubt, a more plant-based diet brings benefits for health and the environment. It takes over 9,000l of water to produce one pound of beef, which is especially relevant for drought-stricken Chile. With the growing fashion of plant-based eating and the increasing ease of finding meat alternatives, veganism is set to transform not just eating habits in Chile and the region.

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