As with any city, the flow of food is an integral urban flow. Food is vital for obvious reasons, Heyen (2006: 129) stated that “without food, human bodies simply cannot exist”. However, Margherita pizzas and gnocchi keep Neapolitans sane, so, any alterations to Naples’ flow of food would outrage Neapolitans. Though on a serious note, despite the waste crisis not being as severe as it was in the late 2000s, its implications on the flow of food are still being felt. For many cities, local environmental problems often have little impact on food as produce is sourced externally. However, in Campania’s case, approximately 60% of total food production is produced in North Naples, in a place dubbed the ‘Triangle of Death’ owning to its high levels of toxic waste and subsequent rates of cancer (Vice News 2013; Cembola et al. 2019). Therefore, this waste crisis has dramatic impacts on domestic food supply and international confidence in Neapolitan produce, which was once regarded as the best of the best (Strauss 2009). This blog aims to explore how the broken metabolic link, that is the Naples waste crisis has (in)directly impacted food flows throughout Naples, Campania and internationally.
Sources of contamination:
So, how exactly did a waste crisis impact the flow of food? We have to look back to how waste has been treated in Naples for years, especially industrial waste. Owing to the lack of government control over the situation, the Camorra have been able to illegally dispose of industrial waste in forests and fields disguised amongst the old mattresses, TV’s and cupboards in the ‘Triangle of Death’ (Saviano 2007; Mazza et al. 2015; Triassi et al. 2015). Traditionally, this region has been known as ‘Campania Felix’, translating to ‘lucky Campania’, owing to its fertile soils and immense agricultural value. This area is home to a large concentration of farms thanks to this agricultural productivity, mainly producing goods like buffalo mozzarella and ricotta cheese (Strauss 2009; Cembola et al. 2019). However, it takes no expert to realise that having farms near dumpsites containing toxic chemicals is not the best idea. Since the toxic waste disposal began in the 2000s, hazardous chemicals have infiltrated into the groundwater supply in Northern Naples; the region where most of Naples’ agriculture is located (Borrello et al. 2008; Giuliano 1995).
Implications on food in Naples:
Unsurprisingly, in the early 2000s, the Naples Health Service began recording high dioxin levels, mainly from sheep and cattle which fed off Naples’ water supply. In the Vice documentary seen below, a farmer from Acerra stated how her sheep had to be incinerated as the milk they were producing contained dioxin levels far above safe levels (Vice News 2013). Studies have also suggested that Naples’ high rates of leukaemia and liver cancer are partly due to the consumption of food produced locally (Sacfuto and La Barbera 2016). Even though the quantity of contaminants is now less than before, many Neapolitans’ consumer confidence has been entirely lost. Many Neapolitans, refrain from drinking water and eating food produced in Naples, as there is uncertainty whether they are safe to consume (Wilcock et al. 2004). Undeniably, this lack of consumer confidence has been devastating for Naples’ economy as attempting to reinstate consumer trust following a toxic waste crisis is not the easiest thing. Internationally, Naples’ has also suffered. Since 2013, foreign markets began halting the import of Neapolitan goods like buffalo mozzarella. In fact, in 2014, the mozzarella sector suffered a loss of €57 million, owing to fears that Neapolitan produce is unsafe (Flora 2015).
To conclude, it is clear that Naples’ waste crisis has had vast implications on several urban flows, including food. The case of Naples is unique, given that it produces a significant quantity of food for both domestic and international needs. However, the waste crisis has meant that the once praised Neapolitan produce, is now feared amongst domestic and international markets. This blog explored the implications that a broken metabolic link can have on a critical urban flow. Also, this blog suggested that externalities are not always environmental nor health-related; they are often economic, which in many cases can be the top priority of governments. Restoring Neapolitans’ confidence and the world has proved challenging, highlighting that disruptions to local metabolism can have drastic impacts elsewhere.
Borrello, S., Brambilla, G., Candela, L., Diletti, G., Gallo, P., Iacovella, N., Iovane, G., Limone, A., Migliorati, G., Pinto, O., et al. (2008) ‘Management of the 2008 “buffalo milk crisis” in the Campania Region under the perspective of consumer protection.’ Organohal. Compound, 70, 891–893
Cembola, L., Caso, D., Carfora, V., Caaracciolo, F., Lombardi, A. and Cicia, G. (2019) ‘The “Land of Fires” toxic waste scandal and its effect on consumer food choices.’ International Journey of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16:165, 1-14
Flora, A. (2015) ‘La terra dei fuochi: ambiente e politca industriale nel Mezzogiorno.’ Rivista Economica del Mezzogiorno, 1, 89-122
Giuliano, G. (1995) ‘Ground water in the Po basin: Some problems relating to its use and protection.’ Science Total Environment, 171, 17–27.
Heyen, N. (2006) ‘Justice of eating in the city: the political ecology of urban hunger’ in Heynen, N., Kaika, M. and Swyngedouw, E. (eds) In the nature of cities, urban political ecology and the politics of urban metabolism, Abingdon: Routledge
Sacfuto, F. and La Barbera, F. (2016) ‘Protest against waste contamination in the “Land of Fires”: psychological antecedents for activists and non-activists.’ Journal of Community Applied Social Psychology, 26, 481-495
Saviano, R. (2007) Gomorrah. Italy’s other mafia. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Strauss, B. (2009) ‘Spartacus war.’ New York: Simon and Schuster
Triassi, M., Alfano, R., Illario, M., Nardone, A., Caporale, O., Montuori, P. (2015) ‘Environmental pollution from ilegal waste disposal and health effects: a review on the “Triangle of Death”.’ International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12, 1216-1236
Vice News (2013) ‘The Mafia is trashing Italy… literally (part 1)’. Available at: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBHNmw0A80M, Accessed: 11 November 2020)
Wilcock, A., Pun, M., Khanona, J., Aung, M. (2004) ‘Consumer attitudes, knowledge and behaviour: a review of food safety issues.’ Trends Food Science Technology, 15, 56-66