Meat and salad

Publish date 31-03-2023

by Carlo Degiacomi

I fear that for a long time we will have to deal with issues that are not issues, with emergencies that are not emergencies, with issues that are not problems. For example, the agriculture minister explained that the government is against the production of synthetic food and that it will oppose this type of production in every location because it is a means of destroying the link between food and agricultural production. Wow we have a new emergency! Synthetic or cultured meat is a protein food obtained from in vitro cultivation of animal cells and tissues, starting from stem cells and using bioreactors.

Everything is still the subject of research, marketing and use are very limited: the first meat appeared experimentally in the laboratory in 2013, the first use in a restaurant in Singapore in 2020. Currently in Italy there are very few places or markets in each region .
For now, synthetic meat is very expensive; some bet that in 10 years it could become competitive with beef, but there are many questions. There are many points to clarify in terms of advantages and disadvantages. Synthetic meat, which is real meat, made up of muscle cells, fat, and support cells and blood vessels, is likely to be seen by consumers as repulsive and disapprove of the high-tech manufacturing process. The taste, the smell, the consistency of the synthetic compared to the traditional meat are all elements to consider.

So far, the detailed research suggests that the environmental impact of cultured meat is much lower than that of farm-raised beef.
Those who promote it say that it avoids cruelty to animals, is better in terms of CO2 and soil consumption, could be safer and healthier. However, many issues remain to be addressed: what is certain and which is not the emergency of today or tomorrow. Rather, it is worth discussing one of the many small and large issues concerning the daily consumption of food, now and around us. Let's try to analyze a habit that is taking hold without sufficient consumer information.

If we enter a supermarket we find a huge space occupied by open refrigerators offering bags of salad. On the plastic bag it says Product washed and ready for consumption. This vegetable is not subject to seasonality: it is always there. The sales development has been enormous. Fabio Ciconte and Stefano Liberti spoke about it critically in the book The Big Cart, Laterza publishers. Who decides what we eat? What can be said about these salad leaves to put on the plate without even washing them? Practical and cheap solution? The average price for 100 g is 0.99 euros: in reality, the salad is paid at 10 euros per kilo - up to 15 euros - with an average increase of 700/800%. Do we actually buy the time savings too? Since salads only need to be dressed, the slogan of many supply companies is selling free time. This is why it meets the needs of consumers.

Where is this salad produced? In the south in the Piana del Sele, in the province of Salerno (municipalities of Eboli, Battipaglia, Bellizzi, Pontecagnano), an area between the sea and the Apennines with a particular microclimate and excellent yields, an average of seven harvests per year in greenhouse cultivation. The north pole is in the Bergamo area. As with any product, if you analyze the life and production cycle, environmental problems are very serious. Large use of water; great use of energy for washing machinery, drying systems, refrigeration chambers for conservation, packaging. The costs are also high for the places of production: soil compaction, greenhouse plastic, plant sanitation, cold storage. And then the transport by truck with cold, the cold in the supermarket with open fridges to encourage the purchase. Finally, plastic bags as waste: for now there is no possibility of using alternative biodegradable materials. The sale of this product certainly subtracts the sale of traditional salads from fields, gardens and markets. An aware consumer must be free to buy, but must ask himself questions concerning the environmental, cost, waste and packaging aspects.

Perhaps it would be worth resorting to this type of proposal only in case of a hurry. Better to prefer buying salad that lasts longer and doesn't take too long to wash. This does not mean being against work and standardized production: we simply want to put all aspects on the scales, see their specific weight, especially in relation to increasingly urgent environmental aspects – which are also those that are too often ignored .

Carlo Degiacomi
NP January 2023

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