food / travel

Argentines Crowd Into Organic Food Markets

Argentina may be at the forefront of high-tech farming, but a growing number of the country's urban dwellers want food produced by organic, local farmers.

An organic market in Buenos Aires
An organic market in Buenos Aires
Einat Rozenwasser

BUENOS AIRES — A growing number of Argentines are turning their backs on supermarket fare and flocking instead to food and wine fairs that promote local farming and organic produce.

There are now fairs, markets and events that run throughout the year, allowing local producers to sell directly to consumers. Options range from organic-type permanent markets like the Sabe la Tierra (Taste the Land) in Buenos Aires, to more "upmarket" events like the Día del Gourmet (Gourmet Day).

"This has to do with the evolution of gastronomy," says Juan Aznarez, who runs Joy magazine and organizes one of the fairs, the monthly health-oriented BA Market that recently had 40,000 visitors. "Previously, going out to eat was something done before going on somewhere else. In time it became a destination and people started going out specifically to eat," he explains. "These types of events are part of food's transformation into spectacle. You come and do your shopping, eat, see a show. It's like going out."

The Argentine capital has similar events around the concept of food as entertainment. One example is the local edition of Masters of Food and Wine at the Park Hyatt. "Most people come to this after work. They see it as a different way of going out on a Thursday," says Pilar Rose, communications chief for the chain's Palacio Duhau in Buenos Aires.

There is also Buenos Aires Food Week in mid-April, when dozens of restaurants offer promotional menus. And at Masticar (Chew), organized by chefs and sector professionals, some of the city's best eateries join local producers to promote Argentine food through presentations.

These events allow small producers to have direct contact with customers. "The chef is a communicator between the producer and the market, and this is the space to show that all these things exist beyond what you find in your supermarket cart," says Martín Molteni, a member of the ACELGA association of restaurateurs. "Eating seasonal food tastes better, it is cheaper, favors producers and is better for everyone."

Organic market organized by Masticar Photo: Martin Zabala/Xinhua/ZUMA

Customers at the fairs "are ready to pay a bit more for a quality product that is tasty, healthy and natural," says Fabián Amoruso, co-founder of Bonyüzz Smoothies, a brand of packaged natural juices.

Angie Ferrazzini, founder of the Sabe la Tierra market, confirms the trend, and says her outlet works on "developing a community of producers and consumers in each district or neighborhood: 80-90% of producers are residents" of the zones where her market opens. Ferrazzini also tried a "night market," which proved to be a real hit.

"We are really noting our consumers' interest in composting, vegetable gardens, obtaining seeds and knowing where their food comes from," she says.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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