Meatpaper five

Dining for the Brave
Italian Futurists take to the kitchen. Hide the animals and the power tools.

by Laurie Loftus
illustrations by Cy de Groat


SEARCHING HIGH AND LOW in my kitchen, trying to come up with dinner, I found some beef tenderloin, an old 70-watt light bulb, some shaved ice, and my flute. This presented me with a quandary, as the recipe I was considering called for a trumpet. I’m a fairly confident cook, and I’ve been known to tinker with a recipe or two, so I considered some substitutions. Other valved brass instruments — a cornet, say, or a flügelhorn — I would substitute for the trumpet without pause. I might even consider judicious use of the bugle. But in the end, I decided that crossing over from brass to woodwinds was too risky, and resolved to try the dish called “Raw Meat Torn from Trumpet Blasts” the next time my marching band friends stopped by.

All this thinking was making my stomach growl, so I returned to my source for more options. Flipping through The Futurist Cookbook, I began to suspect I was getting no closer to dinner. In the trumpet recipe, for example, the instructions were clear enough, but was I truly meant to pass an electric current through my beef, marinate it in a mixture of rum, cognac, and white vermouth, and serve it on a bed of red pepper, black pepper, and snow? And, apart from my difficulties in the kitchen, what of the challenges awaiting me once I finally sat down to eat? In the spirit of audience participation (or reader-as-author, or whatever you call your favorite postmodern interpretive trip), my meal would be complete only when consumed as directed: “Each mouthful is to be chewed carefully for one minute, and each mouthful is divided from the next by vehement blasts on the trumpet blown by the eater himself.”

Enter meat. Electrified meat. Meat imbued with perfume. Meat infused with steel.

Call me faint of heart, but I shuddered to think of the collateral damage in the wake of these staccato toots of pre-chewed carpaccio.

Upon further inspection, this “cookbook” offered few options that seemed more palatable, or practical, even for more festive occasions. As enthusiastic as some of my friends are about their meat, I wondered how they might react when presented with “The Excited Pig:” “A whole salami, skinned, is served upright on a dish containing some very hot black coffee mixed with a good deal of eau de Cologne.”

Maybe it was foolhardy of me to seek my next meal in a book with Manifesto in its title.

The Manifesto of Futurist Cookery (The Futurist Cookbook) was published in 1932 by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Italian Futurism’s founding father and front man, as a gastronomic coda to a cultural movement that had, for largely political reasons, surged and receded over the previous few decades. Marinetti and some like-minded young painters and poets made their mark with the original 1909 Futurist Manifesto, a bombastic screed against nothing less than 400 years of Italian history and its entire cultural and social infrastructure — schools, churches, museums, the lot.

The 1909 manifesto would form the template, in spirit (“Don’t trust anyone over 30”) if not in substance, of just about every avant-garde/punk movement to follow. Take a bilious contempt for middle class conventions and sensibilities, add a little leftist populism for good measure, and bind it all with a love of machines, militarism, and masculinity. “We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. ... We want to sing the man at the wheel. ... A roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire is more beautiful than the Victory of the Samothrace.” Their aesthetic will be familiar to fans of French Symbolism, Godard, Brecht, and Johnny Rotten: “The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity and revolt. ... Poetry must be a violent assault on the forces of the unknown. ... Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character.”

Despite their Clockwork Orange rhetorical posturing, Marinetti and his droogies seemed to be motivated by a heartfelt desire to pull their beloved country from what they saw as the quicksand-like suck of its classical past. Since this is Italy, it should come as no surprise that such an appeal to the “sympathizers of the New Italy” would reach into the country’s most profound expression of national identity: food culture.

Their first order of business in The Manifesto of Futurist Cookery: Go for Italy’s jugular. Get its people to put down their pasta.

In a diatribe that would thrill today’s anti-carbohydrate fundamentalists, the Futurists launched an all-out assault on the mangimaccheroni. While it is deemed “patriotically acceptable” to substitute other starches, such as rice, pasta is proscribed. Pasta eaters, they claimed, “forget the lofty dynamic obligations of the race and the searing speed and most violent contradictory forces that constitute the agonizing rush of modern life.” In a delightful and peculiarly Italian moment, Marinetti has to admit that pasta is delicious, but he calls on progressive Italians to resist the lotus-like lure of pasta, “a passéist food because it makes people heavy, brutish … skeptical, slow, pessimistic.”

Pasta represents individual regression and collective de-evolution: Eating it demonstrates a failure to exert impulse control. It is “a piggish enjoyment,” “short-lived bliss,” “a debased and suburban form of pleasure.” Just as the soothing pastoral scenes of realist painting are seen to encourage a passive contemplation of life’s surface pleasures, pasta eating is viewed by the Futurists as an anodyne for middle-class malaise, the pasta eater attempting to fill the gaping “black hole” of modern existential angst and melancholy. “He may delude himself, but nothing can fill it. Only a Futurist meal can lift his spirits.” To marry a catch phrase from Italy’s favorite Marxist son, Antonio Gramsci, with the Futurist cookbook banner: Pessimism of the intellect, optimism at the table.

Enter meat. Electrified meat. Meat imbued with perfume. Meat infused with steel. Animals served inside, beside, and on top of other animals. And (with apologies to the Sex Pistols) never mind the Venus de Milo, here’s the Sculpted Meat:

“Sculpted Meat” (a synthetic interpretation of the orchards, gardens, and pastures of Italy) is composed of a large cylindrical rissole of minced veal stuffed with eleven different kinds of cooked vegetables. This cylinder, standing upright in the middle of the plate, is crowned by a layer of honey and supported at the base by a ring of sausages resting on three golden spheres of chicken meat. A marvel of balance.

If pasta is anti-virile, meat represents the ability to grab modern life by the coglioni. For the Futurists, the body is the machine of industry; its engine, the brain. Its liveliness and energy are essential to progress. “The great consumers of pasta have slow and pacific characters, while meat eaters are quick and aggressive.”

“The stomach,” says Marinetti, “expands at the expense of the brain.” To eat meat is to ingest energy in its most immediate form. Meat stokes the fire that forges the new national identity. Meat increases individual virility, which leads to national superiority. Meat confers power. Power is sexy. Transitively, with all due apologies to vegetarians: Meat is molto sexy.

But Futurist meat is hardly caveman fare; meat is a food to be manipulated as an artistic material, in a kitchen far from the homey hearth of nonna and closer to the mad scientist’s laboratory or the metalsmith’s foundry. “We speak very precisely of the need to make use of electricity and of all the machines that can improve the work of cooks.” Concocting meals of meats surrounded by foams, vapors, oils, and smoke, the Futurists predict and predate the wit, whimsy, and sensory acumen of molecular gastronomists by 50 years. They bring the sights, sounds, and smells of the city onto the plate, as if the animals had been pulled, dusted in soot from urban streets choked with Fiat exhaust and factory fumes. As if this were a good thing.

For all their avowed interest in powering the modern Italian body, the Futurist diet seems richer in irony than iron. The symbolic value of their (literally) tongue-in-cheek meat dishes could, I suppose, be understood as an ongoing commentary on the dominance of technology over nature, but it also mocks such an earnest academic interpretation, as well as the dogma surrounding Italians’ cooking and eating. For all their bombast and grandiloquence, what the Futurists really seem to champion is a kind of culinary absurdity that finds its counterpoint in a more kitchen-worthy Italian classic, The Silver Spoon, the 1,200-page tome widely regarded as “Italy’s Joy of Cooking,” whose frontispiece declares, in bold type:


To the Futurists, cooking is an expression of imagination as high as in any art form. Likewise, to eat is to contemplate a three-dimensional artwork “whose original harmony of form and colour feeds the eyes and excites the imagination before it tempts the lips.” Calling for some of their dishes to be served with swatches of velvet, sandpaper, and silk, they do take the experience of “pre-labial sensations” rather seriously, but they advocate improvisation and play on the traditional modalities.

With that in mind, I sipped the cocktail I’d mixed while browsing the cookbook and glanced around my kitchen again. My eyes seized on that tenderloin and my flute. Clearly, my old flute didn’t have the windpower to propel even the tenderest of tenderloin into carpaccio. But if I could get my hands on some pig intestines. ... Maybe it’s the cocktail talking, but I’m thinking ... Fauré’s Pavane sausages with a side of raw silk?


On a rectangular plate put some thin slices of calf’s tongue, boiled and cut lengthwise. On top of these arrange lengthwise along the axis of the plate two parallel rows of spit-roasted prawns. Between these two rows place the body of a lobster, previously boned and shelled, covered in green zabaglione. At the tail of the lobster place three halves of hard-boiled egg, cut lengthwise, so that the yellow rests on the slices of tongue. The front part, however, is crowned with six cockscombs laid out like sections of a circle, while completing the garnish are two rows of little cylinders composed of a little wheel of lemon, slices of grape and a slice of truffle sprinkled with lobster coral.

Slices of veal attached to a fuselage composed of cooked chestnuts, little onions and sausages. All sprinkled with powdered chocolate.

A cocktail (polibibita) of wine, vermouth and aquavit garnished with fresh dates, stuffed with mascarpone and wrapped in prosciutto and lettuce leaves. If the toothpick is put into the glass, eyes of fat deposited by the ham will appear on the surface of the liquid: In this case, the polibibita can be called “This little piggy who makes eyes at you.”

Laurie Loftus is a Bay Area-based fundraising consultant, freelance copy editor and writer, aspiring silversmith, and recovering academic (one day at a time). She will admit to playing her flute badly on occasion, though she promises never to try sausage extrusion for real.

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Five.