By Nayara Batschke
Sao Paulo, Jun 15 (EFE).- Red meat has been mostly absent from Alexandre dos Santos’ dinner table and freezer for more than two years.
In a country world-renowned for its high-quality steaks, a price hike of nearly 40 percent over the past year has turned beef into a luxury item and prompted thousands of Brazilians to make major adjustments to their eating habits.
“You go to the butcher’s shop to buy a cut of meat that used to cost you 10, 15 reais ($2 or $3) and now it costs 39, 49 reais ($8 or $10). So you don’t buy it. You leave and say, ‘let’s go …buy some eggs,'” the 56-year-old Dos Santos, a driver and resident of the Jaçana neighborhood on Sao Paulo’s northern outskirts, said in an interview with Efe.
The price of red meat has soared by 38 percent over the past year in Brazil, the world’s largest producer and exporter of that food product. Over the same time period, Dos Santos has seen his salary and purchasing power plummet at virtually the same clip.
“You need a lot of creativity. Look at the situation we’re in. You have to be creative to ensure an (adequate) diet at home, to keep having your daily meals,” he said.
Dos Santos, who lives alone but often dines with his son, daughter-in-law and five grandchildren, now is much more likely to put chicken or omelettes on the table than red meat.
According to government food supply and statistics agency Conab, beef consumption in Brazil has steadily fallen since 2014 and last year dropped to its lowest per-capita level (26.4 kilograms per person) since those statistics began to be kept in 1996.
In the first four months of 2021, beef consumption dropped an additional 4 percent year-over-year due to a pandemic-aggravated economic crisis that has caused unemployment to swell to record levels, a sharp depreciation of the Brazilian real relative to the dollar and strong external demand for that food product.
And even in a country with a record-high 14.8 million people unemployed and with salaries not keeping pace with inflation, experts believe the upward trend in beef prices will continue and only begin to stabilize in 2022.
“The dollar (strengthened a lot) and that directly affects production because producers start setting aside greater quantities for export,” Marco Quintarelli, a retail sector consultant, told Efe.
Red meat thus has become an elite-only product in a country where steaks and beef culture, much like soccer, are embedded in the nation’s DNA.
Middle- and lower-income Brazilians have responded by boosting their consumption of eggs as a protein alternative, evidenced by record production of 978 million dozen hen eggs between January and March in a nation of 210 million people, according to official figures.
And while 6.56 million beef cattle were slaughtered in the first quarter of 2021 – the lowest number in the past 12 years – the number of slaughtered poultry and pigs reached record highs in that same period.
Some Brazilians, meanwhile, have transitioned away from animal protein altogether.
“I had to seek out alternatives to continue eating the dishes that I like and which fit in my budget. I started consuming more soy meat, tofu, a lot of vegetables,” art and advertising director Maria Rodrigues de Lima, 21, told Efe. EFE