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food / travel

Pasta v. Fascists: How Italy's Staple Dish Became A Symbol Of Resistance

Pasta may not be considered controversial today, but it played an important role during Italy's fascist years, particularly in one family's celebration of community and liberation.

Photo of the Cervi family.

Photo of the Cervi family, whose seven children were shot by the Fascists on December 28, 1943, at the Reggio Emilia shooting range.

@comunisti_alla_ribalta via Instagram
Jacopo Fontaneto

ROME — Eighty years ago — on July 25, 1943 — the vote of no confidence by the Grand Council of Fascism, leading to Benito Mussolini's arrest, set off widespread celebrations. In Campegine, a small village in the Emilian province, the Cervi family celebrated in their own way: they brought 380 kilograms of pasta in milk cans to the town square and offered it to all the inhabitants of the village.

The pasta was strictly plain: macaroni dressed with butter and cheese, seen as more of a "festive dish" in that period of deprivation. As soon as the Cervi brothers learned about the arrest of Mussolini, they procured flour, borrowed butter and cheese from the dairy, and prepared kilos and kilos of pasta. They then loaded it onto a cart to distribute it to their fellow villagers. Pastasciutta (dry pasta) specifically regards dishes with noodles that are plated "dry", not in broth. That would disqualify soup, risotto, ravioli...

Even though pastasciutta is the most stereotypical type of pasta today, it had a complicated relationship with the government during Italy's fascist years.

Over 400 people gathered around a pasta dinner.

Over 400 people gathered around a pasta dinner in a gesture of solidarity and unity in memory of the Cervi family.

@ema_bell via Instagram

Mussolini's last meal

The choice of pasta as a symbol of anti-fascist celebration has a double meaning: the first is the fact that the fascist government opposed pasta and other dishes, forcefully imposing its influence on the culinary culture of the people. An important boost to this came from Tommaso Marinetti's "Manifesto of Futurist Cuisine," where the first point was titled "Against Pasta."

Marinetti targeted a food that, according to the Futurists themselves, would be the cause of weakness, pessimism, nostalgic inactivity, and neutrality typical of the Italian people. Marinetti went so far as to theorize the necessary "abolition of absurd Italian gastronomic religion of dry pasta," discouraging its consumption, for instance, in favor of rice or soups, asserting that "the abolition of dry pasta will free Italy from costly foreign wheat and promote the Italian rice industry."

Mussolini had a meal consisting of plain pasta as his last meal.

And the second meaning? Well, ironically, Mussolini — who suffered from stomach issues and for whom food held little importance — had a meal consisting of plain pasta as his last meal on Lake Como, on April 27, 1945. Mussolini had already been captured by partisans and taken to the Guardia di Finanza barracks in Germasino where he was reunited with his lover, Claretta Petacci. The soldiers from the Guardia di Finanza arranged for the couple's last supper, having it prepared by the owners of the local inn, Giovanni Chiaroni and Teresa Mazzucchi. The menu included plain pasta with a little butter and roast kid (young goat). There was no wine, only flat and carbonated water.

Banner for the pastas ciutta antifascista 2023 marked " we are ready".

Banner for the pastasciutta antifascista 2023 marked " we are ready".

@circololenci via Instagram.

The Cervi brothers, and keeping their memory alive

The family of the seven Cervi brothers (Gelindo, Antenore, Aldo, Ferdinando, Agostino, Ovidio, and Ettore) were openly anti-fascist, Catholic, and democratic. After their iconic celebration of Mussolini's arrest with their anti-fascist pasta, they enlisted into the Italian Resistance, but their time of service only lasted a few months. They were tragically captured, tortured, and then executed. Their killing occurred as an act of reprisal: on December 27, the partisans killed the municipal secretary of Bagnolo in Piano, Davide Onfiani, and the following day, the Cervi brothers and their companion, Quarto Camurri, were mowed down by the machine guns of the Black Brigades at the shooting range in Reggio Emilia as an act of revenge.

There is even a "network of anti-fascist pasta events".

Over the decades, the tradition of keeping alive the free distribution of pasta in memory of the Cervi brothers has been maintained. There is even a "network of anti-fascist pasta events" in addition to the "Historical Anti-Fascist Pasta of Casa Cervi," which is held every year at the Alcide Cervi Institute in Gattatico (Reggio Emilia). This commemoration is openly dedicated to sharing, coming together, and promoting the values of anti-fascism, freedom, justice, and democracy of the Cervi family.

The Institute has three rules for an event to be considered an "official anti-fascist pasta event": the pasta must be offered for free, keeping with the origin of the celebration (other beverages and menu items can be offered for a fee); the event must align with the values of anti-fascism, freedom, inclusion, equality, and justice; and during the event, the significance of the anti-fascist pasta and the teachings of the Cervi family must be remembered through words, videos, images, texts, or other means.

Last year, there were over two hundred "anti-fascist pasta events" throughout Italy, demonstrating the continued importance and relevance of this tradition in preserving the memory and values of the Cervi brothers.

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