On chickens, technology, gender and propaganda: Futurist Cooking
Futurist Cooking shows the relationship between gender, technology and food during the Italian fascist regime. Techno-scientific innovation had a prominent role in Futurist Cooking, but it did not imply societal innovation. On the contrary, gender roles were very conservative in the Futurist discourse and in line with the fascist propaganda.
During the 1930s, the typical meal of the average Italian was quite different than today. Mussolini’s fascist regime increasingly relied on autarky to sustain the country’s weak economy. Autarky policies were first envisioned in the mid-1920s, and heavily implemented one decade later, after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935-1936) and the ensuing international sanctions. When it came to cooking, autarky meant even fewer ingredients than before, and a strong reliance on local products.
At the beginning of the decade, the Italian culinary tradition was further dismayed by a brand new cooking style: Futurist Cooking. In December 1930, futurist poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and futurist artist Fillia published the Manifesto della cucina futurista (Manifesto of futurist cooking), a short text outlining the futurists’ plans and ideas about the renewal of Italian cuisine. The Manifesto was followed by a series of conferences and dinners between Italy and France, the opening of a futurist restaurant in Turin, the “Osteria del Santopalato” (Tavern of the Holypalate), and finally a book, La cucina futurista (Futurist Cooking), published in 1932, collecting stories and anecdotes on the banquets, futurist cooking recipes, and sources on the controversies stirred by the manifesto.
Marinetti, F. T., & Fillia, T. (1932). La cucina futurista, Stablimenti Grafici Alberto Matarelli (via Internet Archive)
Futurist Cooking was an artistic movement rather than a serious plan for gastronomical renewal. Yet, it is a fruitful starting point to investigate the relationship between gender, technology and poultry production in Italy, as all these elements had a role in the Futurist discourses and vision for the new Italian cuisine. Furthermore, because of the movement’s proximity with the Fascist regime, Futurist publications are also an entry point into the political use of food discourses.
The Manifesto, written in the typical flamboyant style of the Futurists, placed special emphasis on the role of scientific and technological innovation. Chemistry was envisioned as a crucial tool for the realisation of Futurist Cooking, towards the day when food could be entirely replaced by efficient chemical preparations:
We invite chemistry immediately to take on the task of providing the body with its necessary calories through equivalent nutrients provided free by the State, in powder or pills, albumoid compounds, synthetic fats and vitamins. (1932:29-30)
Chicken was a key ingredient in prominent futurist recipes, but new ingredients, pairings, preparations and serving methods were also introduced. The Carneplastico (meat sculpture) by Fillia, one of the most famous Futurist recipes, was a vertical meatloaf resting on “three golden spheres of chicken meat”, and “a symbolic interpretation of all the varied landscapes of Italy”.
Art curator Sarah Urist Green has attempted to recreate the carneplastico (PBS Digital Studio).
An entire chicken was the main ingredient of “pollofiat” (chickenfiat, “fiat” is an exhortation meaning “let it be done” in Latin), a futurist recipe by architect Nikolay Diulgheroff which gave a modern twist to poultry meat by flavouring it with steel and whipped cream:
One takes a good-sized chicken and cooks it in two stages: first boiled, then roasted. A capacious cavity is dug out of the shoulder of the bird, within which one places a handful of little ballbearings made of mild steel. On to the rear part of the bird one sews in three slices a raw cocks-comb. The sculpture thus prepared goes into the oven for about ten minutes. When the flesh has fully absorbed the flavour of the mild steel balls, the chicken is served with a garnish of whipped cream. (1932:101)
The Futurist Cooking Manifesto reveals the eminently political nature of food discourses. For example, the manifesto sparked outrage as it argued for the abolition of the most beloved dish in Italian cuisine, the “pastasciutta”. Marinetti was possibly not against pasta on a personal level: he was famously spotted eating it in a restaurant during the controversy, generating further indignation among the pasta-defenders. The imperative of eliminating the consumption of pasta was connected to Mussolini’s autarchic policies. The wheat necessary to produce pasta was largely imported from abroad and the regime propaganda was at the time pushing instead for a rice-based diet. The Futurists’ crusade against pasta received ambivalent interpretations by scholars, both revealing political themes: on the one hand, Futurist Cooking legitimised and disseminated Mussolini’s autarky propaganda; but on the other hand, it can also be read as a subtle mockery of the regime, in a time when Marinetti believed Mussolini should have done more for the country (Callegari 2013, Helstosky 2003, Valentini 1998).
Certainly, gender roles remained very conservative in Futurist Cooking, and in line with the fascist propaganda. Although women did participate in the early stages of Futurism, Marinetti’s brand of the movement was undoubtedly male-centred when not explicitly misogynist. The book La cucina futurista mostly presents women as objects of consumption for the male, often combining the culinary dimension with the sexual dimension. For example, Marinetti and Filia claim that “We love women. We are often tortured by a thousand gluttonous kisses in the anxiety of eating one” (1932:17-18). Futurist recipes at times features female body parts, such as the “Fragolamammella” (strawberrybreast) by Farfa (1932:225). As highlighted by Daria Valentini, La cucina futurista is ultimately in line with the typical Futurist misogyny, as “women are marginalized to such an extent that they turn into a commodity to be consumed themselves.” (1998:62). A noteworthy exception is the recipe “Mammelle italiche al sole” (Italian breasts in the sun), the only one by a woman, futurist painter Marisa Mori. This recipe has been read as an act of internal dissent within futurism: the female body is again offered to be eaten, but is covered in hot pepper so that “Futurist lips, tongues, stomachs, and intestines will burn with a painful aftertaste.” (Griffiths 2012:25).
Callegari, D. (2013). The Politics of Pasta: La cucina futurista and the Italian Cookbook in History. California Italian Studies, 4(2).
Griffiths, J. (2012). Marisa Mori’s Edible Futurist Breasts. Gastronomica: The journal of food and culture, 12(4), 20-26.
Helstosky, C. (2003). Recipe for the Nation: Reading Italian History through La scienza in cucina and La cucina futurista. Food and Foodways, 11(2-3), 113-140.
Marinetti, F. T. (2014). The futurist cookbook. Penguin UK. (English translation of Marinetti, F. T., & Fillia, T. (1932). La cucina futurista, Stablimenti Grafici Alberto Matarelli, Milan.)
Valentini, D. (1998). Food, art and ideology in Marinetti’s La Cucina Futurista of 1932. Italian Culture, 16(2), 157-171.