PRINT November 1989


Edible Art

The Futurist Cookbook, by F.T. Marinetti, introduction by Lesley Chamberlain, translation from the Italian by Suzanne Brill. San Francisco: Bedford Arts, 1989, 160 pp., 40 photographs and line drawings, $29.95 cloth, $19.95 paper. (The recent reprint edition of La Cucina Futurista [Milan: Longanesi & Co., 1986] attributes authorship jointly to Filippo Tommaso Marinetti [1876–1944] and Fillìa, pseudonym for Luigi Colombo [1904–1936]

. . . men think, dream and act according to what they eat and drink.
—Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

FUTURIST CUISINE WAS LAUNCHED by F. T. Marinetti from a radio microphone on the table of the Penna d’Oca restaurant in Milan in 1930. His “Manifesto of Futurist Cooking” quickly followed. Culinary experiments and lively debates that ensued in the press culminated in La Cucina Futurista in 1932. Authored by the “caffeine of Europe” (Marinetti) and “a saucepan always on the boil” (Fillìa), this brash assemblage of manifestos, ideology, polemic, descriptions of banquets, and recipes extended Futurist performance to new thresholds of zany illogic and sensory riot. Exploiting all the means of promotion for which the movement had become famous, Marinetti and his coterie made Futurism edible. They used their ideas about food to extend the physiology of esthetic response to the deep interior recesses of the body.

As an eating machine, the Futurist body was subject to its own anatomy. Accounts of Futurist meals spoke of exciting the enamel on the teeth, filling the nostril with heaven, choking the esophagus with admiration. The face, genitalized, was composed of “organs of adoration”: the Futurist palate, tongue, and mouth were voluptuous, insatiable, and attentive. Imagining the body from the inside, Marinetti condemned the passéist stomach as a sack filled with pasta, an archeological midden, in contrast with the Futurist body.

The full stomach was the enemy, for it set a limit on the duration and acuteness of gastronomic attention. Much Futurist writing on food was a critique of satiety and its dulling consequences. The first step in a Futurist gastronomy was to separate hunger and nutrition from the pleasure of eating, to dissociate food as fuel from food as art. Futurists proposed meeting daily dietary needs by pills distilled and synthesized scientifically in the laboratory and distributed free of charge by the state. They wanted to confine eating proper to artistically conceived dinners and banquets. In this way, Futurist gastronomes dispersed the sites of appetite and shifted the scene of digestion from the growling gut to the imagination.

From a Futurist perspective, once food hits the lips and vanishes down the hatch, the event is over before it has been experienced. So, the second step was to extend the gastronomic experience by staving off satiety. Futurists advocated light food, structured eating events around small units like the mouthful, and eliminated or delayed swallowing. In the recipe for “Raw Meat Torn by Trumpet Blasts,” mouthfuls of electrified beef alternated with “vehement blasts on the trumpet blown by the eater himself.” In what might be termed gustatory foreplay, Futurists elaborated “prelabial tactile pleasure” by banning the knife and fork and encouraging diners to touch food with their hands before putting it to their mouth. They also passed food around to be smelled and seen, but not eaten, a technique suggestive of gastronomus interruptus.

Though Marinetti declared in his 1921 “Manifesto on Tactilism” that “the distinction of the senses is arbitrary,” The Futurist Cookbook began to address their differences. Taste, an analytic sense, consists of four primaries—sweet, sour, salt, bitter. Smell, a holistic sense, is far more subtle, complex, and diverse. Such differences suggest a physiological basis for the great appeal of olfaction in Futurist theorizing about painting, performance, and cuisine. They found in smell an atavistic sensory experience that resisted analysis, evoked unpredictable associations, and carried its concrete source in the very language used to describe each aroma. In Marinetti’s “Extremist Banquet,” a two-day orgy of pure olfaction, the guests open French windows by means of an electrical keyboard and experience the “odours of waterlogged grasses and old burnt reeds, giving off traces of ammonia and a whip of phenic acid.” Aerofuturists, the primary contributors to Futurist gastronomy, also found in scent an airborne, ambient stimulus that could be directed by small electric fans placed in the hands of the diners. The whirring blades added a desired kinetic element to the event. Reminiscent of propellers, fans were a metonym for their favorite machine, the aeroplane, and became the Futurist dining utensil par excellence.

While aroma could be and was served up as an autonomous sensory experience, the components of what we experience as flavor are not so easily detached for Futurist reshuffling: smell and taste are tightly bundled, and most of what we experience as flavor is actually the result of smell, not taste. The experience of food in the mouth is so complex, so truly synthetic, that it defied even the most radical Futurist efforts to fragment it. The sensations of food in the mouth include touch (temperature and texture), sound (crispness is largely experienced as sound produced and heard inside the head), and irritation (the astringency of red wine, the burn of chili). As a result, where the sensory experience itself could not be split into independent parts, the Futurists dismembered the culinary system, scrambled its components, inserted the inedible, and, using an alogic of affinity, complementarity, and contradiction, created jarring combinations. In an effort to isolate “pure gastronomic elements,” Marinetti proposed a meal that included a bowl of tomato soup, a big yellow polenta, and white roses complete with thorns. Or the sense of sight might be turned off and the hierarchy and integration of the other senses restructured: diners closed their eyes or sat in a darkened room. They buried their faces in salad to activate the skin on the cheeks and lips. They fondled a tactile device while eating “polyrhythmic salad,” listening to music, and smelling lavender perfume.

Because smell and taste (unlike sight, hearing, and touch) are chemical senses, they are subject to relatively rapid sensory fatigue. A Futurist cuisine had therefore to find ways of reestablishing “gustatory virginity.” To annul one set of tastes and smells before presenting the next set, a suction fan would draw scents out of the room. To intensify sensory acuity, the Futurists periodically changed the lighting and room temperature, suddenly instructed the diners to quickly move themselves and their dinners two places to the right, released a live turkey into a room where diners had just eaten the bird, and presented blue wine, orange milk, and red mineral water.

Virtually all the major themes of Italian Futurism were explored through food, including passéism, machines, speed, simultaneity, synesthesia, words-in-liberty, art of noise, theater of objects, fisicofollia (body madness), a totalizing esthetic program of renewal, and the interpenetration of art and the quotidian. Futurist gastronomy was consistent with the more general tendency of fascist esthetics to separate objects from their uses, as in Marinetti’s estheticization of war. Offered up as an antidote to the suicidal tendencies of the bored palate, the Futurist separation of eating from hunger—the heart of so many eating disorders—was itself potentially fatal.

The alimentary target of Marinetti’s perennial attacks on passéism is appropriately enough pasta, the “dictator of the stomach” and the last bastion of obstinacy, the stereotypical emblem of Italy, “crude materialist,” and culprit in obesity and lassitude. The rallying cry “Pasta Is Dead, Long Live Sculpted Meat” touted the signature of Futurism: “the Sculpted Meat created by the Futurist painter Fillìa, a symbolic interpretation of all the varied landscapes of Italy, is composed of a large cylindrical rissole of minced veal stuffed with 11 different kinds of cooked green vegetables and roasted. This cylinder, standing upright in the center 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." Phallic and patriotic, Sculpted Meat was edible art for inspired cannibals.

The Futurist love of machines and industrial materials can be seen in the scientific instruments (ozonizers, ultraviolet lamps, electrolyzers) proposed for the kitchen-laboratory, the prediction of future “nourishment by radio” (the essence of the best dinners would be broadcast by radio waves), the use of the phonograph player as a lazy Susan, and the flavoring of food with steel. These Aerofuturists proposed vertiginous meals for the cockpit, created an aviatory mise-en-scène out of aluminum for their banquets, served rolls in the form of monoplanes and propellers, and filled dining rooms with the sound of roaring engines. The cape gooseberry was claimed as a Futurist fruit because its disposable “wings” made it resemble a parachute.

Their experiments with language resulted in what is an artists’ book, and in a distinctive gastronomic discourse that recovered the poetics of the recipe and delighted in neologisms. Their “little dictionary of futurist cooking” offered patriotic Italian alternatives for French culinary terminology and codified such Futurist principles as disprofumo, a “term that indicates the complementary nature of a given perfume with the flavor of a given food. Example: the disprofumo of raw meat and jasmine.” Fillìa’s “Edible Alphabet” and Marinetti’s notion of bicarbonate of soda as “the verb in the infinitive of all food and digestive problems” carried Futurist experiments with typography and words-in-liberty into the belly. “Intuitive Antipasto,” a Futurist version of the fortune cookie, featured an orange stuffed with salami, pickled mushrooms, and green peppers in which were hidden surprising sayings such as “With Futurist cooking, doctors, pharmacists and grave diggers will be out of work.” At the opening in Turin of that aluminum shrine to Futurist cooking, the Holy Palate restaurant, Fillìa, in his capacity as Speaker, would gastrocast, as it were, by announcing and illustrating each course.

A postprandial offering by the inaugural movement of the historical avant-garde, The Futurist Cookbook is a casualty of the exclusions of art-historical periods and canons. Coming too late in the “less important,” second phase of Italian Futurism, tainted by fascism, misogyny, and orientalism, and using the lowly medium of food and cookbook, Futurist gastronomical forays have all but vanished from accounts of the movement. Had their culinary adventures occurred early in the history of Futurism, they, like the serate, or evenings, where Futurist declamations were met with rancid pasta flung from the audience, would have been written into the “origins” of Futurist performance. Futurist menus and recipes are like sintesi, the brief scenarios and scripts on which Futurist theatrical performances were based. Futurist restaurants andtheaters share scenographic principles. Several of the key players—Fillìa, Fortunato Depero, Enrico Prampolini, Luigi Russolo, Luciano Folgore, and Marinetti himself—were active in Futurist theater and cinema. Coming at the end—a year later, in 1933, Marinetti issued his last major programmatic statement, “Total Theatre Manifesto”—The Futurist Cookbook seemed anomalous or even anticlimactic to later historians. Long out of print, it occasionally appeared in lists of ever more remote ”applications" of artistic ideas that had outlived the glorious early years of the Futurist movement. Yet in many ways Futurist cooking, much of it still worth eating, was the ultimate art of the concrete and the very apotheosis of Futurist performance theory and practice.

Barbaro Kirshenblatt-Gimblett chairs the department of performance studies at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.


Autumn Musical Dinner

In a hunter's cabin secluded in a green-blue-gilded forest, two couples sit down at a rough table made from trunks of oak.

The brief blood-red twilight lies in agony beneath the enormous bellies of darkness as if under rain-soaked and seemingly liquid whales.

As they wait for a peasant woman to cook, the only food that passes along the still empty table is the whistle that the wind makes through the door lock, to the left of the diners.

Dueling with that whistle is the long sharp wail of a violin note escaping from the room on the right belonging to the peasant woman's convalescent son

Then, silence for a moment. Then, two minutes of chick peas in oil and vinegar. then, seven capers. Then twenty-five liqueur cherries. Then twelve fried potato chips. Then a silence of a quarter of an hour during which the mouths continue to chew the vacuum. Then, a sip of Barolo wine held in the mouth for one minute. Then a roast quail for each of the guests to look at and inhale deeply the smell of without eating. Then four long handshakes to the peasant woman cook and off they all go into the darkness-wind-rain of the forest.

(formula by Futurist Aeropoet Marinetti)


The diner is served from the right with a plate containing some black olives, fennel hearts and kumquats. From the left he is served with a rectangle made of sandpaper, silk and velvet. The foods must be carried directly to the mouth with the right hand while the left hand lightly and repeatedly strokes the tactile rectangle. In the meantime the waiters spray the napes of the diners' necks with a conprofumo of carnations while from the kitchen comes contemporaneously a violent conrumore of an aeroplane motor and some dismusica by Bach.

(formula by the Futurist Aeropainter Fillìa)

Heroic Winter Dinner

A group of soldiers who at three o'clock on a January afternoon will have to get into a lorry to enter the line of fire at four, or go up in an aeroplane to bomb cities or counter-attack enemy flights, would seek in vain the perfect preparation for these in the grieving kiss of a mother, a wife, of children or in re-reading passionate letters.

A dreamy walk is equally inappropriate. So is the reading of an amusing book.

Instead these fighter sit down round a table, where they are served a ‘Drum Roll of Colonial Fish’ and some ‘Raw Meat Torn by Trumpet Blasts’.

DRUM ROLL OF COLONIAL FISH: poached mullet marinated for twenty-four hours in a sauce of milk, rosolio liqueur, capers and red pepper. Just before serving the fish, open it and stuff it with date jam interspersed with discs of banana and slices of pineapple. It will then be eaten to a continuous rolling of drums.

RAW MEAT TORN BY TRUMPET BLASTS: cut a perfect cube of beef. Pass an electric current through it, then marinate it or twenty-four hours in a mixture of rum, cognac and white vermouth. Remove it from the mixture and serve on a bed of red pepper, black pepper and snow. 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.

When it is time for the Peralzarsi; the soldiers are served plates of ripe persimmons, pomegranates, and blood oranges. While these disappear into their mouths, some very sweet perfumes of roses, jasmine, honeysuckle and acacia flowers will be sprayed around the room, the nostalgic and decadent sweetness of which will be roughly rejected by the soldiers who rush like lightning to put their gas masks on.

The moment they are about to leave they swallow the Throat-Explosion, a solid liquid consisting of a pellet of Parmesan cheese steeped in Marsala.

(formula by the Futurist Aeropoet Marinetti)

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.

(formula by the Futurist Aeropainter Fillìa)

Simultaneous Ice-Cream

Dairy cream and little squares of raw onion frozen together.

(formula by the Futurist word-in-liberty poet Giuseppe Steiner)


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 end 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 sectors 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.

(formula by the Futurist art critic P. A. Saladin)

A Simultaneous Dinner

For business unable in the whirl of affairs to get to a restaurant or return home a simultaneous meal will be designed which will allow them to continue various activities (writing talking walking) and eat contemporaneously:

A big smoker's pipe of lacquered red metal with a little electric oven will cook a soup.

Some small ‘thermos’ bottles in the form of fountain pens, filled with hot chocolate.

Some packet diaries will contain fish pastilles.

Letters and invoices of different strengths of perfume will be available in a file to calm, satisfy or excite the appetite.

(formula by the Futurist Aeropoet Fillìa)