Brazil presents a lot of regional diversity in terms of diets and the types of proteins present in them. Still, animal protein is seen as a central component in the majority of dishes and a dish containing no animal protein is generally regarded as lacking. So much so that, in culinary terms, “protein” is sometimes used as a synonym for “animal protein”. On the other hand, beans of various types are a very common staple in Brazilian diets, although generally fulfilling the role of side dish rather than meat substitute. This seems to be slowly changing as plant-based diets become more popular. Finally, discussing protein transitions necessarily includes the issue of social inequality. This is particularly relevant in the Brazilian case, in view of the huge social disparities in the country. This is reflected in people’s diets and their protein consumption. For example, some cuts of beef are significantly more expensive than others, and offal is often consumed by the lower class. Socioeconomic status also plays a role in opting for a plant-based diet. While adopting a plant-based diet on a low income is not impossible, the majority of meat substitutes is part of an expensive niche market. It is also possible that when the Brazilian poor have a plant-based diet this is not by choice.
Maíra de Jong van Lier is a PhD candidate in the Environmental Policy Group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. She holds a MSc in Environmental Sciences from Wageningen University with a thesis on agricultural expansion narratives in the Brazilian savanna. Her research interests include governance and transformation of agri-food systems, agricultural research and development (R&D) policy, and social movements. Her current research explores the politics of knowledge production among scientists, farmers, and extensionists in Brazil and its implications for food systems transformation.