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Charque and Tasajo (Salt-Cured Beef) as an Atlantic Commodity in the 18th and 19th Centuries  

Jonas Vargas

The use of salt for meat preservation and its subsequent consumption was a common practice in several societies on Atlantic Ocean coasts. By the turn of the 18th century, the production of salt-cured beef, or tasajo, began to be developed on a large scale and for business purposes, giving rise to important factory centers. The expansion of the transatlantic slave trade to the Americas was one of the main factors that triggered this growth. Tasajo and salted meat were used to supply the increase in demand for food on plantations in the Caribbean and Portuguese America, as well as for crews of all types of vessels that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. This historical process may be divided into two periods. First, throughout the 18th century, several cities in northern Portuguese America and in the Kingdom of Ireland stood out as important producers of this commodity. However, both declined by the end of that century. Later, at the turn of the 19th century, a more dynamic-producing area rose to prominence in the Atlantic, with ties to the commercial and capitalist expansion triggered by the Industrial Revolution. In the Rio de la Plata basin, the cities of Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Pelotas (in Southern Brazil) emerged as the foremost producers of this Atlantic commodity in the 19th century. By using forced labor for production (mainly in Pelotas), this second wave propelled the creation of thousands of new cattle farms in the Rio de la Plata, transforming the region’s agrarian landscape. Simultaneously, salted-meat production was harnessed to the expansion of the plantation economies in Brazil and in Cuba (coffee and sugar, respectively), and it contributed to the intertwined development of capitalism and slavery as well as to a greater integration of the world market.