Food and Drink
Chile’s long coastline and rich farmland provide seafood, meat, fresh fruit, and vegetables in abundance. While the everyday Chilean diet may have some shortcomings, in most areas visitors will easily find appealing food and drink.
According to historian John C. Super, whatever the Spanish invasion’s negative consequences, it actually improved a pre-Columbian diet that was, by some accounts, nutritionally deficient (often protein-poor).
When the Europeans first set foot in South America, the Andean staples were beans, squash, and a variety of potatoes and other tubers, but the diet was low in animal protein—only the llama, alpaca, guinea pig, and wild game were readily available, and these not in all areas. Cultivation of tubers stretched into high latitudes such as archipelagic Chiloé, one of the areas of greatest diversity for potatoes. This, of course, spread across the Atlantic, but so did nonstaples such as chiles and avocados. Spanish introductions such as wheat and barley, yielding only a four to one harvest ratio in Europe, doubled or tripled that in the Americas.
The Spanish introductions blended with the indigenous base to create many edibles found on Chilean tables today. The abundant seafood, combined with the increase of European livestock and the high productivity of temperate European fruits such as apples, apricots, grapes, and pears, resulted in a diverse food production and consumption system that, however, is changing today.
Several government surveys have worried that the Chilean diet is deteriorating and obesity growing because of increased fats and cholesterol, partly because of fast food and a more sedentary lifestyle; there is particular concern over young schoolchildren and pregnant women. Red meat consumption has grown among lower classes but has decreased among the affluent. On the other hand, it’s a third lower than in neighboring Argentina, and chicken, pork, and turkey consumption are increasing more rapidly. Lamb and mutton are stable, but despite Chile’s wealth of marine resources, seafood consumption is lower than in Europe.
Cereal and vegetable consumption has decreased in all classes; that of vegetables is about half internationally recommended quantities. While Chileans’ consumption rates of mayonnaise, alcohol, and soft drinks have all tripled, on the plus side they are also eating greater quantities of fresh fruit.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition