Why people eat more meat than ever before in Vietnam
Meat consumption is booming in a country famous for its cuisine full of herbs and vegetables.
Vietnamese eat diets are rapidly changing. People eat more than before, and they eat much more meat and animal products.
Postdoctoral Fellow Arve Hansen has experienced these changes in the Vietnamese diet, on his several research visits to the country.
Not that long ago, common Vietnamese diets consisted mainly of rice and vegetables. Meat was eaten only on special occasions. Now, it is quite common to include meat in every meal of the day, says Hansen.
According to him, the changes in Vietnam have been remarkable, even if taking into account that increasing meat consumption is expected alongside economic growth and urbanization.
Farming, Pho and Fast Food
The average Vietnamese person eats four times more meat now than she did 30 years ago. So what is going on? Hansen argues that we need to look at the whole chain from production to consumption in order to understand:
To start at the farm, Vietnam’s dramatic increases in agricultural output since the doi moi economic reforms in the 80s are well-known. However, the production in the livestock sector has grown faster than production in crops, and now represents one-third of all agricultural output in the country. In addition, imports of meat have soared, says Hansen.
To continue along the value chain, slaughterhouses are now larger and more efficient. The access to meat has also increased with many new supermarkets and mini-marts, as well as street kitchens, fast food joints, and restaurants.
Studies show that across countries and cultures, people tend to eat more meat when eating out than when eating at home. Over the last decades, Vietnamese have been going out to eat more often than before. There has also been a gradual increase of amounts of meat in street food - for instance in the famous Vietnamese dish pho, says Hansen.
Meat as Progress
Similar to what we see among the trendy young urban middle classes in other countries, many Vietnamese are cutting back on meat consumption, usually for health reasons. This vegetarianism is often met with both amazement and disdain from parents and grandparents, who remember a time when meat was a luxury.
In a country where even the richest parts of the population clearly remember extreme scarcity, meat is for many a defining part of progress. While wealthy Vietnamese may be cutting back on meat, many have just recently been able to afford it. Alongside increasing vegetarianism, it is therefore highly likely that we will see a further increase in meat consumption in Vietnam, concludes Hansen.
Read more in Arve Hansen's article on meat consumption in Vietnam, which was selected as Geoforum's Editor’s Choice article in June.
You can also find more in the article Vietnam's Meat Boom, published in The Diplomat.