Temperal Trends in Wine and Food Consumption in Italy

Article excerpt

There is a strong link between drinking wine and eating meals in Italy, that can explain the decrease in wine drinking between the 1970s and the 2000s. At the end of the 1960s greater amounts of food than in the previous decade were eaten, in particular cereals, and individual nutritional requirements were met. Food consumption continued growing during the early 1970s, while traditional food items of the rural past were becoming less popular and were being replaced by new ones preferred by the newer generations. The first food item to lose in popularity was wine, followed by bread and pasta. In the 1980s and 1990s, new social and cultural tendencies emerged. Expenditures on food as a proportion of income kept going down. Again, wine consumption kept decreasing.

KEY WORDS: Food, eating habits, rural values, industrialization.

One reasonable hypothesis for explaining the changes in wine consumption that occurred between 1950 and 1980 is the strong link Italians had between drinking wine and eating meals. In particular, both the rapid growth in wine consumption that started in the 1950s and reached its highest point at the end of the 1960s, and the steep and steady drop that occurred throughout the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, may be explained by examining the change in Italian eating habits during the same time period. In this perspective, wine is considered as one of the components of Italians' eating behavior. In order to find significant correlations, we carried out an analysis of eating patterns during the period from 1950 to 1980, using various different sources. Eating patterns that referred to earlier and later periods were simply summarized, as it was impossible to draw time-related comparisons.


Italian data sources used for quantifying food-stuff consumption per capita, regardless of price, were basically the same as those available for the analysis of alcohol consumption. These were the following:

1. National Food Budget Statistics ("Bilancio alimentare nazionale ") (BAN).

2. Family Consumption Survey

3. National Nutrition Institute ("Istituto Nazionale della Nutrizione"-lNN, now INRAN).

4. ISTAT Multi-Aim Surveys (about aspects of everyday life).

5. Epidemiological studies and Research Projects studies carried out by specialized firms in market research (DOXA, Demoskopea, Nielsen, Eurisko). The ISMEA (Istituto di Servizi per il Mercato Agricole Alimentare, Institute of Services for Agriculture and Alimentary Market)-ACNielsen Family Panel records weekly food purchases of samples of Italian families.

The historical picture: From famine to plenty

The available historical sources give us a reasonably good summary of the trends in food consumption in Italy during the last two centuries (Somogyi, 1977; Livi Bacci, 1987; Quirino, 1991; Sorcinelli, 1992; Marescotti, 1998).

In the 19th and early 20th century, the Italian diet was that of a rural population, which was predominantly living in the country (about 60% of the active population) and leading uniformly very impoverished lifestyles. Except in some privileged sectors, there was heavy unemployment and, towards the end of the 19th century, mass emigration took place.

The cost to feed a rural family constituted 60-80% of its total expenses. Typically there was a "hunger for meat" and nearly always a negative caloric balance. The daily diet was based on bread (nearly always of very poor quality and hardly ever made of wheat), polenta, minor cereals, and dried legumes (mostly broad and other beans), and a few vegetables, among which were mainly onions and cabbages. The potato, already a nourishing and vital food item in several European countries, had not yet reached Italy, and would become popular only after the 1940s. There were some differences when local food items were used, but the nourishment rate was always very poor here as well: sweet corn, chestnuts, broad beans, lupins, and also acorns. …