Veggie burgers stake out Argentine dining tables

Wed Jul 7, 2010 12:26pm EDT
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By Alexandra Ulmer

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters Life!) - Steaks are strictly off the menu at Sattva restaurant in Buenos Aires, an organic, meat-free eatery that caters to a rare breed of Argentine diner: the vegetarian.

In a country where there are more cows than people, beef is as much a part of national identity as tango and soccer.

"Here it is engraved in the subconscious that one has to eat meat," said German Coluccio, a 37-year-old vegetarian restaurateur who serves organic wine and quinoa at his trendy cafe, its green walls decorated with Buddha statues.

His restaurant has sprouted alongside a growing number of vegetarian cafes, associations and products as health-conscious Argentines fret about their waistlines and cholesterol levels.

Coluccio encourages his customers to think about where their food comes from, but it is a minority of Argentine vegetarians who choose to give up steak because of a sudden dedication to animal rights.

"Vegetarianism is growing in a striking manner," said Manuel Alfredo Marti, president of the Argentine Vegetarian Union (UVA), which he founded in 2000. "Being vegetarian is the healthy option ... we are what we eat."

Argentines are the world's biggest beef-eaters, consuming a record 70 kg (154 pounds) of beef per capita last year. Workmen often lunch at a makeshift barbecue on the sidewalk and a Sunday gathering around the grill is a national institution.

Though consumption of tofu has yet to reach those giddy heights, perceptions are changing.   Continued...

<p>A couple lunches at vegetarian restaurant Artemisia in Buenos Aires July 7, 2010. Meat-loving Argentina has seen a growth of vegetarian restaurants, associations and products as more diners have dropped steaks from their diet. REUTERS/Martin Acosta</p>