That Italian diet

The thing that people seem to be forgetting about Italian food is that it’s a peasant diet:

It has long been lauded by doctors across the world for its health benefits and life-lengthening properties, but it appears the Mediterranean diet is becoming increasingly unpopular in Italy.
A study has shown that fewer than half of Italians now eat a traditional diet rich in vegetables, olive oil, pasta and fish.
Instead, many people are turning to foods more commonly found in the British or North American diet, including red meat and butter.
Scientists at the Institute of Clinical Physiology in Pisa found that a diet low in fruit and vegetables and high in dairy and protein was linked with obesity – a phenomenon once rare in Italy, but now increasingly common.

It also changes hugely depending upon what region you’re in. A spaghetti carbonara, for example, from the south would be dry, one from the north likely to have cream in the sauce. Partly farming differences, partly the north has always been richer than the south (in modern times at least).

And as people move away from being peasants, get richer, then their diet quite naturally changes. Which is pretty much what is going on here.

42 thoughts on “That Italian diet”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    And as people move away from being peasants, get richer, then their diet quite naturally changes. Which is pretty much what is going on here.

    They were not just peasants, they were especially poor peasants. American slaves in the Old South ate more meat than Italian peasants did. No way that was going to continue once the Italians found German subsidies and occasional work in FIAT factories.

    Also their work habits change. Their Mothers are still feeding them the food that they learnt from their mothers back when their fathers were working ten hours a day in the fields. Except those fat little Italian boys now work in offices.

  2. The “mediterranean diet” as I have read it was observed by an American professor in the immediate post-war period when Italy was in a right old mess and very poor. The actual traditional Italian diet is full of pork and lard, not just salad with a drizzle of olive oil.

    Carbonara itself appears to have been invented as a means to use powdered egg and ham available from the US supplied rations at this time, and has no history as a “traditional” dish. It isn’t in any pre-war cookbooks.

  3. I,d say yesterday’s lunch brought me a fine example of Mediterranean healthy cuisine. Raw octopus followed by fried pork, accompanied by white bread & copious rioja. Apart from the garlic, not a vegetable in sight. Very traditional & all in all, about as life expectancy enhancing as base jumping.
    Very tasty,though.

  4. A lot of absolute shite is peddled regarding the Italian diet.

    As has rightly been observed elsewhere your average wop is not averse to guzzling large quantities of pork, fried food, white bread (almost exclusively, but w/o butter – awful!) and sugar rich and cream rich delicacies. But less prone than we are to binge drinking and getting falling over pissed, which means that booze is cheap here so all good.

    Poor people the world over eat pulses, wild fruit, vegetables and drink water.

    As Tim says, a bad diet is part of a society’s growing rich, as is reducing the number of children you have and caring about the environment.

  5. The researchers left out the “sometimes going hungry” part of the peasants diet, which is probably the essential ingredient to longevity. Fasting reduces fat storage in the pancreas, improving insulin sensitivity, avoiding metabolic syndrome: the source of diseases associated with plenty.

  6. For us tomorrow night: haggis, neeps, tatties and a small whisky. Our own tatties, of course. Afterwards, perhaps some Stilton with one of our own apples. Tonight: cold roast goose; a neighbour’s goose, naturally, with spicy apple sauce made from our own apples.

    Thank God that British peasant food tended to include meat.

  7. So those fat-arsed Italian mamas i’ve been seeing around for much of my life aren’t obese?

    Must be bone structure or something.

  8. BiS

    as life expectancy enhancing as base jumping

    As part of a varied diet, that meal sounds pretty healthy to me.

  9. It’s amazing how purist and snobbish people can get about peasanty food. Everyone seems to think there is some “authentic” national cuisine. To the extent there is anywhere in the world, Italy (yes, I lived there for many years as well) is the last country you will find an authentic (or even remotely unified) national cuisine.

  10. Every recipe for carbonara that I have seen or tasted involves cheese. Maybe you are thinking of another sauce, Ian.

  11. As Ian B said, this is one of those ideas which will never die despite being pretty much a crock of shit. The conditions under which this diet were observed were completely atypical.

    Is there any other area where such crap is believed with such zeal as food and nutrition?

  12. BiS

    Raw octopus from the Med round here is a bit like eating your own shit. Or someone’s shit.

    But you said the meal was tasty? Octopus is not my favourite dish, raw or cooked — just too rubbery. If you find eating octopus is like eating your own shit, I think you need to have a doctor examine your stools.

    That said, the basic ingredients of your meal — seafood, red wine, garlic and pork –are pretty healthy, and probably harmless as part of varied diet.

  13. Yet…despite or partly because of its diet, Italy is ranked joint 2nd in the world rankings of life expectancy (along with Spain, San Marino, Singapore, Australia, Canada etc). From memory, the UK is about 19th.

  14. Does it not occur to that octopus out of our local pond are living not only in the dago’s somewhat suspect sewage treatment but our Moroccan neighbour’s mostly absent. Thus best to check one’s med ins before tucking in.
    Not everywhere’s the Home Counties (thank god)

  15. @Theo – if you find octopus rubbery, they’re (or you’re) cooking it too long. The best octopus (and much else in the seafood line) is to be found in Galicia (and northern Portugal, Tim), where it’s traditionally served with a large potato that’s been cooked in the same stock – when the potato is done, so is the octopus. I’m not sure how much I’d trust octopus (or anything else) that comes out of the Med.

  16. mr miller’s entirely correct. Overcooking turns a juicy pulpo into a Dunlop winter grade. Same’s true of moules. But lost on the english, who prefer their food incinerated.

  17. The UK is 19th, but what does this mean in real terms? On average we die aged 82 not 84?

    Some leagues aren’t worth competing in.

  18. Bloke in North Dorset


    Enjoy your haggis, I’m intensely jealous. The only time we can get a decent one in these parts is around Burns night because we have a few military barracks. I used to have a jock working for me who brought back some fantastic specimens.

  19. Bloke in North Dorset

    Talking of national diets, in all the time I spent working in India I never once got served that slop we call an Indian curry.

  20. Bloke in Costa Rica

    God save us from the authentic mob. I make a pasta sauce with whipping cream, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, bacon and crimini mushrooms. Is it genuina salsa carbonara? Probably not, but it’s fucking delicious.

  21. I pine for the propert Chinese food I ate in Hong Kong. To misquote Seymour Skinner, you can’t get the right ingredients here and it takes ages tracking down a restuarant that doesn’t sell western chinese food.

  22. Humans fetishise everything and when we do we create a new religion. Every diet has its own fanatical fan base and they can get very bitchy as I once witnessed between two groups in an office I once worked in. On one side there was the high fat and protean Atkins mob and the other was the low fat high carbs crew and they bitched about who was losing more weight and was the healthier. The conflict started out small and then escalated. Fortunately a manager stopped the whole thing before the knives came out and bitched slapped the lot of them, telling them all to “Get a fucking grip!”.

    The worse part was they way they would corner people and lecture them about the problems with the persons lunch. Still, it could be fun at times, especially when I would walk in the office with a full sized whopper meal with a vanilla milkshake. You could just feel the hate before you even took a bite….

  23. Bloke in North Dorset


    The New World restaurant in Gerard’s Place does an excellent trolley based dim sum, complete with authentic surely service. I was introduced to it by my HK based boss and his HK Chinese wife and it is always full of Chinese diners,

  24. I don’t care if it’s delicious. People think they can just eat whatever they want just because they like it, the selfish bastards. It’s time the Courageous State stepped in and put a stop to it.

    With this in mind I am launching the “Genuine Carbonara Mark”, which will be awarded for a modest fee (cheques and postal orders payable to Ian B, please) to enable consumers to know what they ought to eat.

    You cheese-eating adulterators make me puke.

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