Italians are famous for their love of food. But while you might imagine overflowing baskets of sun-ripened tomatoes, fresh basil, lashings of extra virgin olive oil, red wine, and of course pasta and pizza, being the staples of an Italian diet, the truth is somewhat more varied.
It certainly dispels the myth that Italians are all food snobs who only enjoy fresh home-made meals, or only drink shots of the finest barista-made espresso.
In 2015 Largo Consumo, an Italian magazine focused on the economy and FCMG, published research that shone a light on the food-related habits, and buying trends of Italian consumers.
Interestingly, the report describes Italian food habits as entering a period of “food-polytheism ”, meaning, consumer tastes are more diverse than ever before. There were also strong moves towards healthier eating and the consumption of more fair trade and organic produce.
In a typical week of lunches and dinners, fruit, vegetables and bread make an appearance 5 times, meat 3 times, while fish, rice and sweets show up just twice.
Wine is the preferred lunch drink 3 times a week, soft drinks twice and beer just once a week.
You may be surprised to learn that pasta is only eaten for dinner on average 2.5 times a week, and for lunch 4.6 times a week. That’s a lot of pasta, but perhaps not as much as people might expect.
There are of course, plenty of Italians who do follow the stereotype. 2.1 million Italians claim to eat pasta 7 days a week, both for lunch and dinner, yet that’s only 3% of the total population. Much higher is the proportion of Italians who eat fresh fruit at least twice a day at 20.3 million.
Wine may be a popular lunchtime tipple for many, but there are some 13.5 million Italians who never tough the stuff, and 19.2 million who claim to never drink beer with their food.
Is the high consumption of fruit and vegetables, and low consumption of alcohol a sign of a health conscious nation?
If we check the data concerning Italian’s attitude to eating healthy, 37% of Italian consumers express a desire to eat better and 33% claim to actively follow a wholesome diet. Of those, 37.7% have a bachelor’s degree. While 62% of Italian consumers regard themselves as well-informed on the nutritional benefits of the food they eat.
One of the real signs of diversity in the diet of Italians is a willingness to enjoy both premium, quality foods (sentinel goods), and lesser quality offerings, such as canned or frozen.
Sentinel goods are classed as goods that indicate a high attention to food quality, whether organic, fair trade, or officially quality-marked products.
But among those who regularly buy regionally approved Dop or Igp products (Protected Denomination of Origin and Protected Geographical Identification), which usually demonstrates an interest in the food production process and quality, 77.7% regularly also buy frozen food, 67.6% canned goods, and 29% precooked food.
Likewise, of those who regularly buy organic, 73% also buy frozen food, 65% private label goods and 63% canned goods.
Fair Trade buyers seem even more contradictory, with 83.7% buying own brand private labels, 77% frozen goods and 66.5% canned goods.
Of course, there are plenty of high quality frozen and canned items, many with high nutritional value, but the statistics certainly reveal a complex consumer balancing of different needs and tastes, which seem to outweigh more traditional food tastes and customs.
It seems attention to healthier eating and the Mediterranean tradition, while still intact, are making room for the ease and convenience other Europeans have never shied away from enjoying.