Layla Ibrahim has reduced her daily consumption of meat, not because of a health fad but forced by the harsh economic crisis in Lebanon.
“I used to eat a piece of meat, chicken or fish every day, but the prices of these items have become ridiculous,” the 44-year-old mother of two told AFP.
“Out of necessity and not by choice, I have almost become a vegetarian,” she added.
Lebanon is grappling with an unprecedented financial crisis that the World Bank says is of a scale usually associated with large-scale wars.
The currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market, more than 80 percent of the population lives in poverty, and prices have skyrocketed.
The price of imported red meat has increased fivefold, with some cuts that exceed the monthly minimum wage of 675,000 Lebanese pounds ($33).
As a result, dietary habits have changed and plant-based dishes, a popular part of Lebanese Mediterranean cuisine, are now a main dish in many households.
For Ibrahim and his family, meat is served only once a week and even in small portions.
“We started using smaller amounts of minced meat in stuffings and stews,” Ibrahim said.
“Even the family barbecue on Sunday has been scrapped.”
Nabil Fahed, head of the supermarket owners’ union, said customers are turning to poultry or grains as a cheaper alternative.
Chicken is nearly three times cheaper than beef, selling for around 120,000 pounds ($5) a kilo.
Demand for red meat has plummeted since the government lifted subsidies on certain food imports in March 2021, Fahed said.
Sales fell about 70 percent at large supermarkets, and the drop is even steeper at popular markets frequented by low-income people, he said.
Nancy Awada, a food inspector working with the Beirut municipality, has noticed a change in supply.
“The amounts of meat stored in a butcher’s fridge… today are a quarter or a third of what they were before,” he said.
“Instead of slaughtering two or three calves a day, butchers settle for just one.”
Culture of dining out
Lebanon’s cash-strapped government is struggling to pay for fuel imports to power its power plants, causing blackouts lasting up to 22 hours a day in most of the country.
To safeguard stocks, traders and distributors have to pay expensive subscriptions to generators to power refrigerators, said meat importer Imad Harouk of Fed Distribution.
A rise in transport costs due to the lifting of fuel subsidies last year has also pushed up the overall meat bill, Harouk told AFP.
Adjusting to demand, importers have reduced the size of 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 owners’ union, said inflation has altered ordering habits even at cheap fast-food chains.
“Demand for beef shawarma sandwiches has decreased, with consumers turning more to chicken,” he said.
This trend has developed at Kababji Steakhouse, a restaurant famous for its wide selection of meat skewers.
“The economic crisis combined with the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a significant decline in overall sales, especially of meat-based dishes,” said Hala Jebai, manager of Kababji’s customer service department.
“The high-quality meat we offer is imported and paid for in dollars… which has caused a significant drop in demand,” he added.
In a department store in Beirut, Charles Nassour approached the butcher’s counter to buy minced meat.
The 62-year-old used to place a standard one kilo (two pound) order before the crisis, but now orders an amount worth just under $2.
“Many consumers are buying limited quantities based on what they can afford,” Harouk, the meat importer, told AFP.
“Even the rich can’t consume like they used to.”
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)