MONTEVIDEO – Uruguay, home of the world’s champion meat-eaters who consume an average of 60 kilos (132 lbs.) of beef per person every year, has just celebrated its National Meat Day, a festive occasion not observed by local vegetarians, a group of “heretics” that seeks to establish itself in this carnivorous country.
“When a Uruguayan says he doesn’t eat meat, it seems like he is spurning tradition, he’s like a heretic,” said Hiram Miranda, who manages a vegan restaurant in downtown Montevideo.
The tradition to which he referred might be a typical national dish like the “chivito,” or steakburger, made from meat and egg, or a national custom like the breaking of wild colts during the week known as Semana Criolla, which recalls the old gaucho customs and which, for vegans (people who abstain from using all animal-based products), is an objectionable example of animal abuse.
“All vegans see these traditions as atrocities, because they imply the enslavement and unnecessary subjection of animals,” said Andres Prieto, president of the Vegetarian Union of Uruguay.
A thriving meat industry was established in Uruguay in the last century through meat-packing plants where livestock were slaughtered and where many workers received, along with their salary, payment in kind comprised of several kilos (pounds) of beef every week to feed their families.
Animal products also make up a large part of the export volume that the small South American nation trades with the world.
In 2013, exports of Uruguayan frozen beef produced revenues of $935 million, added to which were $467 million from milk and cream, $255 million from cheese and cottage cheese, $144 million from wool and $138 million from leather and tanned hides.