Layla Ibrahim has reduced her daily meat consumption, not because of a health fashion but forced by the Lebanese crisis.
deadly economic crisis.
“Before, I ate a slice of meat, chicken or fish every day, but the prices for these products have become ridiculous,” the 44-year-old mother of two told AFP.
“By necessity and not by choice, I almost became a vegetarian,” she added.
Lebanon is grappling with an unprecedented financial crisis that the World Bank says is of a magnitude typically associated with large-scale wars.
The currency has lost over 90% of its value on the black market, over 80% of the population lives in poverty and prices have skyrocketed.
The price of imported red meat has increased fivefold, with some cuts costing more than the monthly minimum wage of 675,000 Lebanese pounds ($33).
As a result, eating habits have changed and plant-based dishes – a popular element of Lebanese Mediterranean cuisine – are now a main course in many homes.
For Ibrahim and his family, meat is only served once a week and even then in small portions.
“We started using smaller amounts of ground meat in stuffings and stews,” Ibrahim said.
“Even the family barbecue on Sundays has been cancelled.”
– Luxury item –
Nabil Fahed, head of the supermarket owners’ union, said customers were opting for poultry or cereals as a cheaper alternative.
Chicken is almost three times cheaper than beef and sells for around 120,000 pounds ($5) a kilo.
Demand for red meat has fallen since the government lifted subsidies on some food imports in March 2021, Fahed said.
Sales have fallen by around 70% in large supermarkets and the decline is even more pronounced in popular markets frequented by low-income people, he said.
Nancy Awada, a food inspector working for the municipality of Beirut, noticed a change in the supply.
“The amounts of meat stored in a butcher’s fridge… are now a quarter or a third of what they used to be,” she said.
“Instead of slaughtering two or three calves a day, the butchers are content with just one.”
– Restaurant culture –
Lebanon’s cash-strapped government is struggling to afford to import fuel to power its power plants, causing blackouts that last up to 22 hours a day in most
parts of the country.
To protect stocks, traders and distributors have to pay expensive generator subscriptions to power fridges, meat importer Imad said
Harouk from Fed Distribution.
A spike in transport costs due to the removal of fuel subsidies last year has also increased the overall meat bill, Harouk told AFP.
Adjusting to demand, importers reduced their stocks.
“Lebanon used to import 70 containers of frozen meat every month, but now the number is almost 40,” Harouk said.
Tony al-Rami, head of the restaurant workers’ union, said inflation had changed ordering habits, even at cheap fast-food chains.
“Demand has plummeted for meat shawarma sandwiches as consumers lean more towards chicken,” he said.
This trend has materialized at the Kababji grill, a restaurant famous for its wide selection of meat skewers.
“The economic crisis combined with the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a significant drop in overall sales, especially of meat dishes,” said Hala Jebai, Kababji’s customer service manager.
“The high-quality meat we offer is imported and paid for in dollars (…), which has led to a significant drop in demand,” she added.
In a department store in Beirut, Charles Nassour approaches the butcher’s counter to buy minced meat.
The 62-year-old used to place a standard order of one kilo (two pounds) before the crisis, but is now asking for just under $2.
“A lot of consumers buy limited quantities based on what they can afford,” Harouk, the meat importer, told AFP.
“Even the wealthiest can no longer consume as before.”