Located just outside of Rome, the CAR acts as the largest distribution point for food in Italy and the fourth in Europe. The center is a hub for retailers to come and purchase fresh produce and fish that has been checked for quality, labeled and packaged accordingly. Additionally, the facility serves as a large logistics center that aims to give consistency to the processes between production, trade, distribution, export, logistics, and service companies.
As students arrived, there were already strong smells that indicated the fish market was near. Since the fish shipments do not arrive until midday, the hours for the market occur during the afternoon and at night, so it was not open when students arrived. While there was not much action, the scale was evident and students learned that the building houses 49 stalls in a total surface area of 19,000 square meters. In the fish section, retailers come to purchase seafood that has been checked for quality and delivered to the facility from the Mediterranean and elsewhere, with about 60 percent being caught in Italy. Although the market is primarily intended for food business, retailers, and restaurants, it is open on Sunday mornings for consumers to purchase the remaining seafood at wholesale prices.
After leaving the fish market, students arrived to the fruit and vegetable warehouse, where things were already in full motion in preparation for its opening at noon. Spanning nearly 70,000 square meters, 120 stalls piled high with fruit and vegetable containers had students eager to wander about while sellers bustled to prepare themselves for the noon rush of retailers that would come to get the best of what each stall had to offer. It was very interesting to see the difference in quality between two mangos that originated from Brazil. One, which was shocking large, was flown in and cost nearly 48 euros per crate. The other, much smaller, cost around 12 euro and was brought by boat. Students were shocked to see that mangos, from the same place, could arrive looking so differently based on the means of transport, and it sparked a discussion on carbon footprint and transport in the following Global Food Economy class. On the way out of the facility, students could see lines of trucks eagerly awaiting entrance into CAR to purchase their goods. It is no surprise that the line was long, as the guide had told the students that in just three hours, nearly all of the food in the market would be purchased and on its way to be sold that afternoon in many retail sites across Central Italy.
The final stop on the tour was the organic food section, where organic bananas and carrots are packaged to be sold at various retail locations. The tour guide explained that the organic produce that would go to regular retail locations, under Italian Law, must be wrapped in plastic so that they do not come in contact with the possible contaminants that are used in regular produce production. However, if the store is certified organic, the produce does not have to have such intensive packaging. Additionally, there was a basket of carrots and bananas that were destined to be thrown out as organic waste because they were 'too ripe' to be packaged and sold. Students also saw the use of containers that could be washed and reused, which was pleasing because the containers ensured less waste in the facility. While some of the processing methods could be more sustainable, it gave M.A. Food Studies students time to think about more sustainable practices in processing, such as the reusable containers, and how they could possibly be implemented in the future. In the food system, there are always room for growth and improvements. Thinking about the processes and scale of the CAR, students were left thinking, with the rescued bananas and carrots in hand, how their M.A. in Food Studies would contribute to and shape the future of the food system.
For more information on the Centro Agroalimentare Roma (CAR), click here.
Author: Amanda Wakefield