di Donald Sassoon (1946)

They lived on a miserable diet: polenta with no salt, bread made with maize flour shaped as a pizza, occasionally with some lard or ricotta or stale olive oil. The food, such as it was, was often rotten. Further south, conditions were worse. Bread made with wheat flour was rare, in fact wheat consumption was fairly limited then, even in wheat-growing areas such as the northern Mediterranean. Most peasants ate bread made with maize or chestnuts. Pasta was eaten only by the more prosperous. In 1891 the health officer of Capracotta, a small town (5,000 inhabitants) in the Molise region of south-central Italy, reported that the people lived in tiny hovels, huddled together with their domestic animals: pigs, horses, sheep, and cows. Twenty years later, in Sicily, the situation had barely improved. The Faini Parliamentary Commission (1907-10) noted that in a typical peasant home animals and humans slept together: the grandparents, the children, the grandchildren, the mule, the donkey, the chickens, and sometime the pig. Even as recently as the mid-1930s, Carlo Levi, a doctor and painter exiled in the Italian rural south for anti-Fascist activities, noted in his famous account - "Christ Stopped at Eboli" - that the local inhabitants appeared quite alien to him (as he appeared to them).

  • D. Sassoon, The Anxious Triumph. A Global History of Capitalism: 1860-1914, Penguin, London 2019.