In 1932, a charismatic Italian poet with a propensity for provocation declared war on his country’s most sacred idol: pasta. It was “an absurd Italian gastronomic religion,” Filippo Tommaso Marinetti decried in The Futurist Cookbook, and those known to enjoy the “passéist” dish were “melancholy types” who “carry its ruins in their stomachs like archaeologists.” They suffered from “incurable sadness,” he railed against his fellow countrymen. And they were weak, pessimistic, and maybe even impotent.
In short, pasta was emasculating. And emasculation had no place in Italian Futurism, the bizarre and nationalist art movement founded by Marinetti in 1909 on the belief that Italy could never gain primacy if its feeble men were so preoccupied with history and tradition. For a strong, Futuristic Italian man to exist, Marinetti wanted anything that celebrated the country’s heritage literally destroyed—museums, libraries, even spaghetti.
When he published The Futurist Cookbook 90 years ago and introduced its controversial dishes and instructions on what and how to eat, he sought to trigger a culinary upheaval of “the Italian way of eating and [produce] the new heroic and dynamic strengths required of the race.” In other words, he wanted Italian men to eat a certain way in order to fulfill his thoroughly sexist, nationalist vision of Italy's future. The Futurist Cookbook wasn't meant to be an instructive culinary text or a careworn book in the kitchens of Milan. Widespread offense was the point. And not only did Marinetti succeed in his endeavors, but consider some of the sleek, prefab food in our diets—energy drinks and nutritional supplements, to name a few. You’ll realize his recipes presaged today’s food-as-fuel eating trends that aim to wrest enervated men from their decidedly unmanly lifestyles and reshape them into trimmer, more imperial figures.
An early follower of the philosophy that “you think, you dream, and you act, according to what you drink and eat,” Marinetti believed that food should typify “absolute originality” and propel the diner toward higher levels of consciousness (how woowoo). The recipes included in the incendiary cookbook would undoubtedly leave him—almost certainly a him—in a discombobulated state.
In “Carrot + Trousers + Professor,” a “formula” conceived by a fellow Futurist poet known by the pen name Farfa, a raw carrot is served upright with two boiled eggplants fastened to its bottom with a toothpick. It gets cheekier: The plump aubergines are meant to mimic “violet trousers in the act of marching,” he explains, and the carrots tops, “the hope of a pension.” Together, they make a professor, which is among the “smelly gangrene” of history-obsessed professions that Marinetti wants to “free this land from.”
Virtually nothing, edible ingredient or otherwise, is off-limits for a Futurist dish. (Except pasta.) Marinetti generously includes blueprints drawn by Futurist artists to aid in visualization of the more incomprehensible dishes; one such is the “Tennis Chop,” wherein a veal cutlet, anchovy, and banana are arranged in a downright ghastly way to resemble a racket.
Many meals come with highly prescriptive instructions about how to best savor the dish, especially the ones in his section on dinner parties in the age of modernity. In a Futurist world, these gatherings are immersive and interactive, stimulating more than just one sense; they also require the diner to suspend disbelief. In “Heroic Winter Dinner,” a whimsical feast for Italian soldiers in want of comfort before battle, the men dine on a “perfect” cube of beef, marinated in a blend of liquor and served on a bed of various peppers. And snow. To fully enjoy the harmonious flavors, the young men are instructed to carefully chew each mouthful for exactly one minute. Then, before taking another bite, they must forcefully blow on a nearby trumpet—a little palate cleanser, if you will.
It’s unlikely any of the cookbook’s ideas would have made it through today’s standards of recipe testing, but the spirit of its ideas have undeniably stood the test of time—for better or for worse. Fragments of the Futurist food platform are embedded in meal replacement drinks like Huel (a portmanteau for “human fuel”) and Soylent, marketed as efficient ways to gas up the perpetually draining tank that is the human body. In terms of optimizing food for energy and fitness, Soylent’s blog can be nearly indistinguishable from The Futurist Cookbook. The brand, for example, strives “to engineer a nutritious food product that not only tastes good, but gives you all of the fuel you need to conquer the day without feeling sluggish, empty, or overly full.” Nothing like, for example, stultifying pasta.
As for Marinetti’s belief that eating should “evoke and provoke essential states of mind, which cannot otherwise be evoked or provoked”? Surely, Futurists would support nootropics—the dodgy natural supplements championed by contrarian podcast host Joe Rogan that promise to make your brain quicker and smarter. After all, Marinetti explicitly encourages the use of ” equivalent nutrients” like calorie- and nutrient-dense “powder or pills.”
While “The Excited Pig” (a skinless salami served upright on a dizzying blend of hot black coffee and eau de Cologne) might not find its way onto a dinner table outside of an insufferable billionaire’s Silicon Valley kitchen, there still exists a subset of men who view their bodies as machines to be optimized and are willing to go to absurd lengths to achieve peak efficiency. (Of course, women participate in some form of this, but following Marinetti’s suit, the focus here is on men.)
Consider Liver King, the impossibly yoked and wildly popular influencer committed to ending the epidemic of modern men being shamefully soft. His corrective: an ascetic diet of raw meat, among other caveman-inspired regimens. While Liver King may have appointed himself the “CEO of the ancestral lifestyle,” some of his habits are decidedly Futurist. His lifestyle routine that involves running between tree stumps that bear various raw organs—which he sinks his teeth into while dragging large weight plates behind him — is the kind of performance that could seamlessly fit into Marinetti’s cookbook.
Unlike Soylent and the Liver King’s diet, The Futurist Cookbook was largely an elaborate, intentionally scandalous joke. “It overturned with ribald laughter everything ‘food’ and ‘cookbooks’ held sacred: the family table, great ‘recipes,’ established notions of goodness and taste,” British author and historian Lesley Chamberlain writes in the afterword of the Penguin Modern Classics book edition. Marinetti’s rejection of pasta, in particular, ruffled feathers at the time. While the mayor of Naples issued a statement attesting that the "the angels in Paradise eat nothing but vermicelli in tomato sauce,” Italian housewives defended the dish’s honor in an indignant letter. Though The Futurist Cookbook might not be as farcical as it’s made out to be, considering the number of eating trends and philosophies that unwittingly carry the text’s torch. Many of today's fad foods and diets project a community or culture's specific ideas. Marinetti's, despite being satire, only prove that nothing is ever new. So much for the quest to pursue absolute originality.
Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit
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