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Evolution of Italian cooking styles: the epic of emigration

The migratory phenomena of the Italians during the 20th century, first from the South to the North and then abroad, had an important impact on the transformation of the enogastronomic culture of the Belpaese as well as on its diffusion in the world.

Article by Franco A. Fava

L’evolution of agri-food skills and in the elaboration of differentiated and creative “recipes”, it is important intangible heritage varied popular gastronomic cultures¹. This culinary craft tells many traditions of micro and meso territories, in turn inserted in broader contexts and, in many cases, it would be simplistic to define a single encompassing gastronomic tradition. Indeed, there is a risk of oblivion of the extraordinary wisdom of ancient food cultures passed down for generations and deriving from the immaterial knowledge of the great peasant civilization.

Travel along the Po Valley in search of authentic foods, of Mario Soldati

The Extraordinary DocumentaryJourney along the Po Valley in search of authentic foods” of Mario Soldati²broadcast by Rai between 1957 and 1958³is now studied in university food science courses as a fundamental document in the history of food and wine, as well as an interesting and particular testimony of socio-anthropological value.

The documentary recounts, in an exemplary way, the wealth of different popular traditions of the Italian wine and agri-food heritage, constituting an oral testimony to be included in the vast repertoire of “Mediterranean cuisines4. This last repertoire, in turn, is placed in the food heritage of the Mare Nostrumthat is to say in the context studied by the American nutritionist biologist Ancel Benjamin Keys5inspiration of the concept of geographical community of the great Mediterranean cuisines.

Evolution of Italian cooking styles: the epic of emigration
Keys’ studies led him to formulate hypotheses on the influence of diet on cardiovascular disease and on the benefits of adopting the so-called “Mediterranean-polyrematic” diet.

The evolution of Italian food styles: post-war migrations

The socio-economic evolution which, in the twenty years following the Second World War, saw Italy move from a peasant-commercial society to an industrial and consumerist society, also involved the cultures and food habits of the Italians.

The changes were accompanied by the economic and urban development in the period of 1960s industrial boom but also of internal migration phenomenon which have affected our territory since 1951, following the Polesine flood.

If this natural tragedy had forced thousands of people to move to safer places, and in particular to the west of the country, a few years later there was a greater migration. The peasant populations of southern Italy, in particular, moved north look for more luck6 and attracted by the nascent “industrial triangle”.

Evolution of Italian cooking styles: the epic of emigration
The “industrial triangle” of the North-West has its origins in the industrial poles of Milan, Turin and Genoa.

THE internal migration flows have also influenced eating habits, inserting them into a dynamic of dissemination and discovery of consolidated local culinary traditions, promoting a process of enrichment knowledge of products and foods hitherto “confined” to specific territories (micro and meso), which for centuries have remained unknown to most.

The spread of Made in Italy in the food sector

The spread of Made in Italy in the food sector it is rather due to two main phases of Italian emigration to the world as an involuntary vehicle for culinary promotion.

The first Italian migratory phenomenon dates back to the second half of the 19th century, continued until the First World War, then reactivated after the second post-war period and faded towards the end of the sixtiesseven.

In first phase of migration the Italians are moving towards Americas (Argentina, Venezuela and the United States) while in the second they chose the major industrialized European countries (Belgium8Switzerland, France and Germany).

During the journeys which could last two or three weeks, the emigrants put both their few personal effects and shelf-stable power supplies such as large loaves of bread, cold cuts and aged cheeses.

These provisions were consumed with precaution during the crossings but a part was kept and intended for the relatives and friends awaiting their arrival on the quays of the distant ports of New York or Buenos Aires. It was a precious and delicious tribute as well as an act of thanks for the first welcome offered to them on their arrival in the new world.

Evolution of Italian cooking styles: the epic of emigration
The provisions of the emigrants were also brought as gifts to the friends and relatives who awaited them in the new world.

L’epic of italian emigration represented an extraordinary and unconscious vehicle for initiating promotion (The advertisement) of the great Italian regional culinary tradition. This know-how will spread in the following decades all over the world and in an extraordinary way as a symbol of originality and food quality.

To note

1 In 2014, the art of Neapolitan pizza makers was recognized as worthy of protection by Unesco during the XII session of the Committee for the Protection of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity. In 2013, UNESCO had already recognized the “Mediterranean regime” as a transnational good to be protected.
2 Mario Soldati (Turin, November 17, 1906 – Tellaro, June 19, 1999) was an Italian writer, journalist, essayist, director, screenwriter and author.
3 www.youtube.com (August 2022)
4 In this regard, it is worth recalling a European project concerning “European historical markets”, promoted in 2012 by Rinaldo Bontempi (the city of Barcelona was the leader of the project in collaboration with London, Turin, Suceava in Romania and Plovdiv in Bulgaria) , in initiatives implemented and carried out in Turin in some public editions (Urbact.eu/project – Food Market Festival). The European project on the “Conservatory of Mediterranean cuisines” (2004) was also designed by Rinaldo Bontempi (European deputy – Pinerolo 1944 – Turin 2007) and organized by the CIE study center (Centre for European Initiatives of Turin that he founded), in collaboration with some European partners involved in the valorization of the thousand-year-old culinary traditions of the different and extraordinary popular cultures.
5 Ancel Benjamin Keys was an American biologist, nutritionist and physiologist (Colorado Springs 1904, Minneapolis 2004). Her studies led her to formulate hypotheses on the influence of diet on cardiovascular diseases and on the benefits of adopting the so-called “Mediterranean – polyrematic” diet, as she defines it. Keys lived for a long time in the village of Pioppi in Pollica (Salerno) where he carried out his research on the eating habits of local populations through epidemiological studies and on the benefits derived from a healthy diet, characterized mainly by the consumption cereals, legumes, vegetables, fruits and olive oil.
6 The Northwest “industrial triangle” goes back to the centers of industrial production in Milan, Turin and Genoa.
seven On Italian emigration after the Second World War: Franco A. Fava, Claudio Speranza Zerboni (2015), Un ancla, dos mundos. Historia de cuatro generaciones de herramentistas, Buenos Aires (Argentina), EZETA.
On the theme of the history of Italian emigration: Bevilacqua Piero, Andreina De Clementi Andreina and Emilio Franzina Emilio, (edited by), 2009, History of Italian emigration, Rome, Donzelli ed.
8 In 1947, Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi signed an agreement with the Belgian government to facilitate the emigration of Italian workers to be employed in Belgian mines, given the scarcity of local labor to be employed in mining works. at risk.


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The writing of La Gazzetta del Gusto it is made up of communication professionals, bloggers, nutrition and cooking experts. Each brings a unique contribution through heterogeneous personalities and experiences.

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