Futurist Food: The Flavor of Tomorrow

The Italian writer Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (shown in about 1915).

The Italian writer and fascist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (shown in about 1915).

Futurism is an art and social movement that flies under the radar for many casual art lovers. Its primary sphere of influence was in Italy, though Russia had its share of adherents, from the beginning of the 20th century on through the Second World War. The movement’s focus was on the modern: speed, technology, youth… well, the future. Futurists dabbled in every medium imaginable, from painting to sculpture, architecture to ceramics, theater to music, and even cuisine (more on that later).

One of Futurism’s downfalls is that it will be forever linked with Fascism. The movement had its roots before the rise of Mussolini’s regime in Italy, but many of the prime thinkers and movers chose to link themselves with the dictatorship. Whether this was for self-preservation, ideology or practical reasons is up to interpretation. Many Futurists in fact chose to work around the regime, rather than with it. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Futurism’s poster boy, however, was firmly entrenched in the dictator’s camp.

Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto was published in 1909 and was his most famous work. In 1919 he co-wrote another manifesto, one with more dire implications, the Fascist Manifesto. He had an on again, off again relationship with the dictatorship, but he helped to define it stylistically. He sought to have Futurism ordained as the official state art of Italy, only to fail. He did oppose Hitler’s concept of ‘degenerate art’ (Futurism was included in this) and worked to prevent its implementation in Italy.

Housing with external lifts and connection systems to different street levels, Antonio Sant'Elia (1914)

Housing with external lifts and connection systems to different street levels, Antonio Sant’Elia (1914)

Aside from Marinetti, other prominent Futurists include painters Umberto Boccioni and Carlo Carrà, architect Antonio Sant’Elia and experimental composer and painter Luigi Russolo. As mentioned, Futurist influence touched every imaginable creative field. Designs for new cities, noise music, and avant-garde silent films (Russia’s Futurist film movement would far outshine its Mediterranean counterpart) all formed part of this movement to detach Italy from its past and launch it headfirst into a new era.

One of the more fascinating field Futurism weighed in on was gastronomy. Firstly, the movement tried to redefine the language of cuisine in Italian. Borrowed words such as sandwich and cocktail became compound words in the native tongue. Changing the vernacular was not enough, though. The Futurists sought to rid Italy of pasta, citing it as a cause for laziness and stupidity, while leaving Italians unfit for combat. There was a Manifesto of Futurist Cooking put out by Marinetti and Fillìa and a Futurist restaurant saw brief life in Turin. The Santopalato, or Holy Palate, was unsurprisingly a failure.

With pasta out of the question, Futurists proposed all sort of absurd fair. Some were concerted attempts to turn eating into an experience of all five senses. Food in the right hand, the left hand rubbing sandpaper and silk, while the diner is sprayed with perfume as engines roar from a distant room is one example. Another is the ‘Polyrhythmic Salad’, served in a music box with a crank. One would eat with the right hand, turn the crank with the left and as the music played, the waiters would dance until the meal was finished.

Others meals were more disgusting than delectable. A skinned salami standing upright in a pool of espresso mixed with cologne, ‘the Excited Pig’, is one example. Another is the visually appealing ‘Equator and North Pole’, poached golden egg yolks with a peak of whipped egg whites with silver sprinkles on top. The ‘ChickenFiat’ is the masterstroke of inedible cuisine. A whole chicken sown up with ball bearings and roasted until the flavor of the steel had been soaked into the fowl. While it fits in with the Futurists ideals of modernity and industry, does it sound appealing?

Any great half-baked Futurist meal ideas? Leave them in the comments and I’ll cook them up.

The Santopalato, Turin (courtesy of theawl.com)

The Santopalato, Turin (courtesy of theawl.com)

2 thoughts on “Futurist Food: The Flavor of Tomorrow

  1. I was first introduced to futurism at a Futurist themed dinner/tea party.

    The most memorable meal was microwaved dinosaur nuggets arranged around a cardboard volcano erupting ketchup.

    • I think you hang around more interesting people than I do!

      It’s a shame that Futurism’s legacy is tainted by its fascist ties, otherwise it would be more highly-regarded. Now it’s practically ignored and met its end before its time.

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