Changing Consumption, Changing Consumers: An Analysis of Changing Food Consumption in Southern Italy in the Mid-twentieth Century

Ailhlin Jane Clark


Abstract

Italy’s “Economic Miracle” is often perceived as a time of change in living conditions as accelerating economic development led to more affluent lifestyles. Such changes are thought to have been reflected in what people ate and how they thought about food. While the post-World War Period has been identified as a time of radical improvements in living conditions and expectations, we can question the assumption that this was a one-way, sudden process whereby new consumer ideals simply superseded previously held values and behaviours. This paper identifies the impact of these changes on food consumption in the Amalfi Coast in the period 1945-1960. These changes may have influenced the homes in which people lived, what they did during leisure time, and what they ate, on an everyday level. It is clear, however, that pre-existing socio-economic conditions, and geographical and cultural factors, shaped both the extent to which new patterns of consumerism were adopted and the ways in which new behaviours and attitudes were worked into daily life in the area. Using information drawn from interviews conducted with inhabitants of the Amalfi Coast, this paper explores changing patterns of food consumption by assessing how food habits and traditions were directly influenced by the physical landscape, and this framed the reception of new ideas, as well as the ways by which new products were introduced into peoples’ lives and changed them in the process. The paper argues that the purchase and integration of consumable and durable items were not influenced solely by the physical possibility of buying something, but also by an element of local acceptance of the product and an understanding of how it might be integrated into daily life - factors that were constantly being negotiated with pre-existing socio-economic habits and wider cultural influences.

Keywords

Southern Italy; material culture; food; social change

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