A little while back we received a somewhat unusual phone call from a young lady who was doing research for a British TV production company. They were planning to film a documentary regarding the search for the most healthy diets around the world.
The company was called Boundless Productions who we learned produce high profile documentary and factual programmes for British television including Grand Designs and Great British Railway Journeys and a BBC medical science series soon to be aired in conjunction with the Open University.
They were interested in producing a 90minute film for Channel 4, entitled the World’s Best Diet in which well-known presenter and farmer Jimmy Doherty (life long friend of Jamie Oliver) and co-presenter Kate Quilton of the TV programme Food Unwrapped, were to explore a selection of the most diverse traditional diets from around the world – examining the eating habits of different communities and uncovering what the British viewer could learn from these.
They were hoping to film in Italy regarding the Mediterranean diet and in particular filming in the small village of Campodimele in South Lazio, which is renowned for the longevity of its citizens.
I, being very passionate about this beautiful region, did all I could assist Jenni, the Assistant Producer by sending lots of information regarding the typical local foods, diet and lifestyle of the people of Campodimele.
Campodimele’s rich fertile soil has meant that the local economy has always been based on agriculture. The village was once renowned for its production of honey (miele).
Local produce includes “la Cicerchia”, an unusual type of chickpea. Then there are beans, sweet cornetto peppers, mushrooms, marzolinoa goats cheese, homemade bread, olives and of course wonderful extra virgin olive oil.
The film crew were interested in filming some of the still active elderly local inhabitants and talking to them about their diet and lifestyles.
I contacted our good friend Florisa who has friends in Campodimele. We organised to go up there together to make tentative enquiries and find out if there were any old people who would be interested in being interviewed for the programme.
We met up with Maria who with her husband Fausto runs a petrol station attached to a bar and a little restaurant called La Casareccia in the lower part of the village. I will write more about this eating place in my next Blog.
Maria kindly introduced us to an elderly couple, Natalina and Bernadino, who live nearby at the foot of the valley. They are both around 80 years old but still run their simple little small-holding in the old traditional way. They maintain a very active lifestyle. Bernardino keeps a number goats which he takes out for a long walk every day.
He also keeps a sizeable orto or kitchen garden.
Natalina tends the baby goats, which she told us she was fattening for Easter. Not sure why she had put them into the barells !
She also has numerous chickens and geese, we watched her mixing up their food and then their feeding time.
They lay lots of eggs and Natalina kindly presented us with some which were still warm to the touch. Wonderful !!!
Their ramshackle farmyard is littered with old odds and ends, it seems nothing is thrown away in case one day it could prove useful.
Well, finally the film crew arrived in Campodimele, and fortunately the weather was set fair. The group were exhausted as they had just flown in direct from Seoul in South Korea, where they had also been filming. Prior to this they had filmed in the Marshall Islands, in the Pacific Ocean. They only had scheduled in two days of filming in Campodimele so it was all rather hectic.
W met with the film crew who were all very friendly. We remarked on the quality and freshness of the local produce, and that many families keep veggie patches of their own. Also nearby is the bustling town of Fondi, located on the ancient Appian Way, which runs as straight as a die as it crosses the expansive fertile plain. Fondi is a huge agricultural centre and its strategic position, being situated midway between Rome and Naples, has made it into one of Italy’s most important wholesale fruit and vegetable markets, namely MOF (Mercato Ortofrutticolo di Fondi), and is proud to call itself “Anti-transgienico”, that is against genetic modification, or as we would say a “GM free zone”. So many of the fruits and vegetables are grown locally. The local produce tastes amazing, having benefited from being bathed in warm Mediterranean sunlight, for example the tomatoes and strawberries are so sweet, flavoursome and juicy.
Here produce is seasonal, which we like, we look forward to what is coming into season next. March is the time for artichokes and broad beans, then next come green beans, courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, peaches plums, and they all taste sooooo good!!!
We, like most Italians, prefer to prepare our food from scratch, there are still very few ready-made meals available in local supermarkets. Let’s hope it can remain that way for some time to come. Italians care about what they eat and I think in general would tend to spend a greater percentage of their income on their weekly food bill than the average British family, being prepared to pay a little extra for quality ingredients. Locals still habitually frequent small independent shops, perhaps where several generations of their family have shopped for many years. In the small town of Itri in which we live, which has a population of about 11,000 people, there are at least 6 butchers shops and at least the same number of green grocers and of course there is always a bustling market on Friday mornings. You can probably see why we just love this place.
In summary some of the contributing factors to the longevity of the citizens of Campodimele may be: the healthy mountain air, living an active life, a less stressful pace of life, the consumption of extra virgin olive oil as an integral part of a healthy “Mediterranean diet” made of good fresh wholesome local ingredients, eating less red meat and more pulses, eating home prepared meals which contain very few artificial additives.
The film documentary was aired on Channel 4 in June 2014.
In fact when we saw the programme I was a little disappointed with the finished product as in the film there was hardly anything substantial about Campodimele, even though it confirmed that the Italian Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world.
All photos by me (except for the one in black and white which belongs to the Aurunci Natural Park)
© Louise Shapcott
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