In A Nutshell
When Mussolini started his domestic campaign to make Italy a self-sufficient country, he took aim at one of Italy’s most beloved foods—pasta. He raised the fees associated with importing grains and insisted that Italians begin eating rice instead of pasta. He even had the support of the art movement known as the Futurists, who derided pasta as not being modern enough. Needless to say, the campaign didn’t work.
The Whole Bushel
What’s more Italian than pasta? There are so many different kinds of pasta that it’s impossible to keep track of them all—vermicelli, spaghetti, ravioli, conchiglie . . . literally, there are hundreds of different types. That almost wasn’t the case, though, at least not after World War II, Mussolini, and the Futurists.
One of Mussolini’s many goals was to make Italy as self-sufficient as it could possibly be, which seems like it just might be reasonable enough. Italy was relying on huge amounts of imported grains to keep up with the demand for not just pasta, but different types of bread as well. To discourage this reliance on imports, Mussolini raised the import fees associated with grains, and began a propaganda campaign to encourage only consumption of foods made from home-grown grains and produce.
The dictator even went so far as to write a poem on the matter, bidding his subjects to love bread but not to consume too much of it—and then, only eat what was made in the country. He also pushed the Italian people to turn their back on a longtime staple—pasta. He wanted farmers to devote their fields to raising rice instead, and he had a huge base of supporters in the Futurist movement.
The Futurists were an up-and-coming art movement that derided anything that wasn’t on the cutting edge of modern. They wanted Italy to be on the front lines of the future, and they saw one thing holding the entire country back—its love of pasta.
Movement leader Filippo Marinetti scorned pasta, being none too subtle in what he thought of this cornerstone of the Italian diet. He called it heavy and anti-virile, saying that no true fighters would ever eat pasta because of its tendency to weigh you down. He also made it clear that pasta wasn’t a choice for a man’s man or a lady’s man, as no one ever got amorous with a stomach full of starch.
He pointed fingers at the diets of other countries, saying that others had chosen foods that brought out the best in them; he insisted that Italy needed to do the same.
It was a pretty clever political move as well. The Futurists took up the idea that rice was a more modern food, that it was better for the Italian people and that it was cutting edge at the same time. This got their thinking right in line with one of Mussolini’s major domestic campaigns in a time when Italy’s allies were cracking down on the development of avant-garde art movements elsewhere in Europe.
Not surprisingly, the movement to replace pasta with rice was met with quite a bit of pushback from the Italian people. They wrote and signed petitions, they refused to like—or even try—some of the trendier dishes that the Futurists put forward in an attempt to get them to forget about pasta (because who doesn’t like chicken roasted with ball bearings?) and they even wrote verses that appeared in newspapers across the world.
The view of the people was summed up quite nicely by this verse that appeared in a newspaper in Adelaide, South Australia: “A dear food has vanished; spaghetti is banished, from every Italian home. The Duce Mussolini they reckon a meany, although they won’t say it aloud.”
Show Me The Proof
TIME: Foreign News: National Rice Day
The Telegraph: A plateful of revolution
Delizia!: The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food, by John Dickie