Food: for a maverick Italian with fascist leanings, cooking was a revolutionary act
What is an "intuitive antipasto"? Filippo Marinetti, author of The Futurist Cookbook (first published 1932), instructs us to hollow out an orange and place in it different kinds of salami, some butter, some pickled mushrooms, anchovies and green peppers. Inside the peppers you hide little cards printed with futurist sayings, such as "Futurism is an anti-historical movement" or "With Futurist cooking, doctors, pharmacists and gravediggers will be out of work".
Marinetti did not only propose that we should eat his words; he suggested eating each other, too. His recipe for "Strawberry Breasts" features a pink plate with two breasts formed from ricotta that has been dyed pink with Campari, and nipples of candied strawberry. He adds: "More fresh strawberries under the covering of ricotta make it possible to bite into an ideal multiplication of imaginary breasts." In his recipe "Carrot + Trousers = Professor", he tells us to build a sculpture of a raw carrot standing upright, the thin part at the bottom, to which two boiled aubergines are attached with a toothpick so as to look like violet trousers in the act of marching: "Leave the green leaves on the top of the carrot to represent the hope of a pension. Eat the whole thing without ceremony!"
What would Marinetti have made of the Slow Food movement? His Futurist Cookbook celebrates not so much fast food as radically new approaches to art inspired by what seems now an almost romantic belief in the possibilities opened up by technology. The cookbook embodies a revolutionary manifesto, strongly flavoured with violence, racism, misogyny and anti-feminism, that calls on Italians to liberate their lives, culture and language from tradition and convention.
Marinetti's dalliance with fascism prompted successive generations of Italians to try to ignore him. The English edition of his work, translated by Suzanne Brill and edited by Lesley Chamberlain, came out in 1989. So we can judge for ourselves how successful Marinetti was in creating a harsh, passionate, would-be-shocking voice with which to extol fantastic inventions such as the aeroplane, the motor car, the cinema and the telephone, to call for radical transformations in every area of life. Cooking was a metaphor, a cookbook an elaborate joke. Out went pastoralism and sentimentality; in came dynamism, speed, conflict.
Marinetti remains more compelling as an artist than as a tub-thumping iconoclast. Male preachers, whether priests or vanguardists, tend to be a tiresome lot. But a poet/performer who can imagine roses in the soup, or candied atmospheric electricities, or raw meat torn by trumpet blasts, can whet our appetites for change.