Food Politics & the Moral Effects of Spaghetti
Adam Gopnik has compared le fooding, the movement to shake up French food, to two other movements: the New Wave and Futurism. The first analogy nails the way that le fooding seeks to marry American looseness to French style. It’s the second analogy that bothers me. The Futurists had very definite ideas about food, and they didn’t really involve rule-breaking for the sake of fun.
The 1930 Manifesto of Futurist Cooking denounced pasta for inducing conservative traits. Spaghetti is no food for fighters, the Futurists complained:
It may be that a diet of cod, roast beef and steamed pudding is beneficial to the English, cold cuts and cheese to the Dutch and sauerkraut, smoked [salt] pork and sausage to the Germans, but pasta is not beneficial to the Italians. For example it is completely hostile to the vivacious spirit and passionate, generous, intuitive soul of the Neapolitans. If these people have been heroic fighters, inspired artists, awe-inspiring orators, shrewd lawyers, tenacious farmers it was in spite of their voluminous daily plate of pasta. When they eat it they develop that typical ironic and sentimental scepticism [sic] which can often cut short their enthusiasm.
A highly intelligent Neapolitan Professor, Signorelli, writes: ‘In contrast to bread and rice, pasta is a food which is swallowed, not masticated. Such starchy food should mainly be digested in the mouth by the saliva but in this case the task of transformation is carried out by the pancreas and the liver. This leads to an interrupted equilibrium in these organs. From such disturbances derive lassitude, pessimism, nostalgic inactivity and neutralism.’
Pastasciutta, 40% less nutritious than meat, fish or pulses, ties today’s Italians with its tangled threads to Penelope’s slow looms and to somnolent old sailing ships in search of wind. Why let its massive heaviness interfere with the immense network of short long waves which Italian genius has thrown across oceans and continents? Why let it block the path of those landscapes of colour form sound which circumnavigate the world thanks to radio and television? The defenders of pasta are shackled by its ball and chain like convicted lifers or carry its ruins in their stomachs like archaeologists. And remember too that the abolition of pasta will free Italy from expensive foreign grain and promote the Italian rice industry.
I’d like to believe that a favorite food of mine induces skepticism and ironic detachment, but I remain, well, skeptical. Before we dismiss the Futurist views of food, it’s worth noting that the way Futurists used nutritional concerns to diagnose a national moral malaise bears a strong resemblance to the Cruncy-Con critique of our fast-food nation.
Despite these efforts, food debates in America still have a lot more to do with class than they do with politics proper. This is a shame. As strange as as the Futurist manifesto on food is, its hallucinatory flights of fancy articulate a real alternative political vision. There’s a lot more to be said about that kind of food politics that there is for tiresome insinuations about the snobbery of those who eat brie and sip Chablis and the vulgarity of those who don’t.