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Meat from Argentina: The History of a National Industry

A.L. Lloyd savours modern Argentina, “a civilization of horses, cattle and leather”.

"Now, I wonder what impression that must leave on the Argentinian, the simple act of fixing his eyes on the horizon and seeing ... and seeing nothing.”

Sarmiento was writing, in exile, a biography of the murderous gaucho leader Facundo Quiroga, the Tiger of the Plains. At the time, fourteen small cities, each the capital of a province, stood scattered here and there on the vast disc of the Argentine landscape. Otherwise, emptiness, anarchy, sudden death. To such a decent Liberal as Sarmiento, no more dreadful vision could be imagined than that of the immensity of the pampa sky with a single rider under it, bearded and scarred, huddled in his poncho, with his huge knife thrust diagonally in the back of his belt, and the tattered red rag of a Rosas banner in his shirt bosom. In the limitless void of the plains there was horror and savagery, a ghastly indifference to life or death, love or hatred, victory or defeat. It seemed that Argentina’s tragedy was its vastness.

Beef was to change all that. Well-bred cattle were to bring wealth, easy living, and prestige. While Sarmiento was writing, the bull-calf that would begin the great transformation was already blaring in an English meadow. In 1848, three years after the publication of Facundo, the prize Durham stud beast Tarquin—the first of his kind—reached the pampa from England. His arrival was a turning-point in Argentine history.

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