Pizza with sausage or cured meats with asbestos?

by Enzo Coccia

We were mangiafoglie (leaf eaters) and we became mangiamaccheroni (macaroni eaters). Then, the modernity and the economic boom changed us into mangiacarne (meat eaters).

We look for bacon, bresaola, culatello, mortadella: specialties that we love and we put on our plates or eat on the go – it happens to all of us to eat a slice of salami before buying it – letting us tour the Peninsula, from North to South, because the Italians have the tradition of slaughtering animals running through their veins, although the consumption on a larger scale has been registered only since the economic growth of the 1960s.

There is no region of the Italian boot, in effect, that does not have its typical cold cut, made following a procedure that, far from being a modern phenomenon, has ancient origins.

Therefore, a strong and centuries-old custom has made our art of producing cold cuts known and quoted – on the Milan Stock Exchange too – almost anywhere in the world, where it is seen to be an increasing demand for our cured meats. And as for the other food excellences, our butchery has a rich list of PDO, PGI and TSG labels, acronyms that signal a clear difference, overseas too.

From outside the border, however, precisely from Lyon, came the results of a new study held by the World Health Organization (WHO), which found that processed meats, it doesn’t matter if beef or pork, cause cancer.

That is what, a few weeks ago, 22 scientists from 10 different countries working for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a major research division of the WHO, announced. They stated that the meat subjected to all those treatments, such as curing, salting, drying or smoking, which help to preserve it or enhance its taste, and in some ways even red meat may increase the risk of developing cancer.

Why are we so surprised? The link between red meat consumption and the possibility of developing cancer, truthfully, has been at the center of the scientific debate for decades. So many times, we hear on TV or read in newspapers the oncologist Umberto Veronesi advice to opt for a non-meaty diet, but rich in fruits and vegetables.

So what is different about the results recently announced  by the team of international experts is the inclusion of processed meat in the group of carcinogens, with tobacco, asbestos and over a hundred substances. In a category below, they placed red meat, specifically beef, pork, veal, mutton, horse, goat and lamb, as probably carcinogenic to humans, due, above all, to the cooking methods and techniques.

It is not easy to resist roasted ribs, we can’t deny it, but the barbecue cooking releases the hydrocarbons we talked a lot about with regard to the Neapolitan pizza, on which we find different cold cuts as toppings.

As the sliced ham which de Bourcard referred to, already in 1847, in describing the preparation of the calzone, salami or pork scratching stuff the more classic fillings. Sausage, in a traditional pairing, garnishes the pizza with friarielli. And also speck, ventresca, lard and mortadella garnish some of the pizzas, the bruschetta and the murzilli of our times.

It should be noted that this study, obviously, does not mean that those who choose to eat fillets, skewers, bacon and so on, which, moreover, contain important nutrients for humans, will surely be afflicted with the cancer. The meats sold throughout the Italian territory do not contain those components, which the study examined, used to extend the products’ shelf life, they are healthier because they are subject to the strict rules of the disciplinaries, the clear difference above mentioned, and our consumption is much lower than the amounts indicated by the WHO scientists.

As always, we must avoid the excesses and be moderate in all the things we do; living an active lifestyle and alternating meat with vegetables, constantly choosing quality are undoubtedly the keystone of the whole issue.