Wednesday, July 07, 2010

“Let them eat fish!”

“Where’s the beef?” is fast becoming “Where’s the fish?” here in Argentina.

As with other residents in the land of gauchos and cheap malbec, Roberto and I are eating a lot more seafood these days. Good cheap beef has totally disappeared from butcher shops here, replaced by some fresh and much frozen seafood from Argentine fisheries.

Hard to believe, but Argentina, once known for its fabulous beef, might have to start importing beef. For me, this was another Economics 101 lesson: Central Planning tends to boomerang.

The Peronist government, headed by the widely detested Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, continues to restrict beef exports. The result: a drastic drop in cattle herds, according to local and international reports that is threatening the Argentine way of life.

The goal was to keep domestic prices down. But instead, beef has become so scarce that the sirloin steak has quadrupled in price since I moved here seven years ago, with much of that increase in the last two years.

In a carefully planned photo op this year, "Queen Cristina" (as she is called by her unhappy subjects) stopped by the local pescaderia to pick up some nice Argentine fish to sauté for herself and hubby Nestor, the previous President. (This is on the heels of her appeal to eat more pork, which she termed a great alternative to Viagra.) So it looks like this is an unexpected chance for Argentinians to give up some of that red meat, generally considered their birthright, and eat healthier seafood.

At last, Molly Malone would feel quite at home here! With butcher shops full of tough lower grades of beef and increasingly expensive pork cuts and chickens, the real bargains are to be had in the supermarket freezers overflowing with cockles, mussels, and hake. The selection is surprisingly good, better than it has been since I moved here, and I am grateful! In fact, for a few more pesos, you can go home with some clams, calamari, shrimp, scallops, and salmon.

The upside for Roberto and me are some absolutely delicious, healthy, waist-slimming meals from the sea.   

We’ve been experimenting with mussel chowder, fried mussels, shrimp over pasta, and good old sautéed hake, a close cousin of cod with surprisingly good results! We complement this with wonderful organic vegetables from our friend Britta of Alma Verde.  We are definitely eating better and feeling better!

Are other Argentinians following suit? But don’t bet on it. There’s still plenty of pizza and pasta to go around.

But who knows for how long. These disastrous federal policies are now provoking wheat and sugar shortages too.  (When was the last time you could not find flour or sugar at a U.S. supermarket?!)  At the same time imports are mysteriously being stopped at the borders and ports. When the European and Brazilian exporters created an uproar, Cristina claimed there is no official ban. Something fishy is going on!

So just to play it safe, I’m going to go buy a fishing rod—before they become scarce too!  Then again, I could just eat chocolate!

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