Prompt: creeping meatballism
A REVOLUTION IN DINING
Remember the fate of the once-mighty meatball and weep! Round and proud, it is now humiliated and mutilated beyond recognition. Squash it and stick it between two pieces of circular bread, and it is degraded as a hamburger. Shrink it into a pellet, imprison it in a can with some noodlish strings and “sauce,” and it becomes spaghetti and meatballs for little children, who rightly prefer to dump it over their heads rather than eat it. It was not always this way.
On top of spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
Meatballs can be found all over the world. In China, they are known as wanzi. In the Middle East, they are kofta, while albóndigas grace recipes in Mexico. But the ancestral home of the meatball is in Italy, and representations can be found as far back as pre-Etruscan art. A dish of meatballs has even been preserved in the lava flow that engulfed Pompeii; unfortunately, the recipe for lava-proof meatballs was lost in the cataclysm.
Italian meatballs were first combined with spaghetti in the United States. They are generally the size of golf balls, and made from varying combinations of ground beef, pork, and spices. They are firm on the outside, moist on the inside, and delicious through and through. Meatballs also share a deep, unquenchable desire.
More than anything, meatballs want freedom.
I lost my poor meatball,
When somebody sneezed.
Nobody knows when the yearning for freedom first stirred in a meatball. Prof. Abigail Williams, formerly of the Stanford Museum of Eating Food (who headed the sadly ignored exhibit “Food and Sporks!”) places it in the late 1950’s to the early 1960’s. This was the same period that American society began its own liberating changes. It was also during this time that spaghetti and meatballs reached its peak popularity and became a standard American dinner.
It rolled off the table
And on to the floor
Early signs of freedom-seeking included the unexplained increase in meatballs rolling off plates, first documented by Charles Windhelm, Ph.D., in his seminal work, “Meatballs and Gravitational Anomalies” (Ground Beef Monthly, Oct. 1963).
At first these brave meatballs only made it as far as the tabletop; unfortunately, they were quickly retrieved and eaten without any concern for their political aspirations. Where would America be today if the British had treated Paul Revere or George Washington so brutally?
Despite these early setbacks, the liberation movement spread. Meatballs could be found huddling together in frying pans, desperately seeking independence from their gastronomic overlords, their initial hopes for a better existence lost in the noise of being cooked.
Who had time to listen to these spherical patriots when children needed their dinners? An army marches on its stomach, but what happens when the army is created for the stomach? Prof. Williams was surprised that meatballs even tried to escape. “After all,” she said, “they have no legs.” Reputable historians were quick to point out that they have no eyes, mouths or arms, and, as far as anyone can tell, no brains. “Yummy” was the consensus opinion.
And then my poor meatball,
Rolled out of the door.
The next step in meatball liberation occurred when a few brave spheres managed to make it from the table to the floor. These unusually hardy balls were often derided as “tough” and “dry,” but these meatballs possessed a drive not seen in their softer relatives, who would break apart on impact.
Once again, these early members of the meatball resistance met horrible ends. They were usually thrown into the garbage, unless the five second rule was invoked and they were eaten. Too often dogs, the gustatory tools of their masters, would devour them.
The urge for meatball freedom almost died during these dark days, and the fight for recognition might have perished but for the biological imperative to live free buried deep in the middle of any true meatball. “They’re like little round lemmings,” observed noted biologist Leslie Glarsdak, author of “Over the Cliff: Group Behavior in Meatballs,” Journal of Food Psychology (Dec. 1979).
It rolled in the garden,
And under a bush,
The Great Meatball Uprising of 1998 was the movement’s biggest success. It began as a mass revolt of 25 brave meatballs in the Armistead household. Mr. Armistead accidentally fell onto the dinner table while carrying a nearly-empty bottle of Scotch. This launched a plate of meatballs out a fortuitously open window, and the meatballs’ innate love of freedom took over as they scattered about the yard.
Search parties eventually rounded up the heroic meatballs, and as retribution, these unsung patriots were fed to the family dog. Only one meatball survived by hiding under a nearby bush.
And then my poor meatball,
Was nothing but mush.
This brave revolutionary could not survive long in the outdoors, exposed to the elements and an aggressive sprinkler system. The struggle of a free meatball huddled under a bush has been memorialized in at least one song.
The decomposition of the poor meatball was not the end, however. A miraculous transformation took place. When the corporeal body of the meatball fell apart, it released its unquenchable thirst for freedom, and it became part of the great cycle of nature!
The mush was as tasty
As tasty could be,
And then the next summer,
It grew into a tree.
The Meatball Tree in the Armistead’s backyard is as important a symbol to meatballs as the Liberty Tree in pre-Revolutionary Boston was to bipedal patriots. Word of the Meatball Tree gradually spread up the food chain, inspiring a resurgent meatball liberation movement.
Except for the occasional accident or desperate picnic breakout, however, incidents of successful meatball escapes remain rare. The difficulty in achieving freedom, however, has only served to inspire those whose fate is otherwise to be drowned in spaghetti sauce, followed by the unspeakable horror of being eaten. Fight on, brave warriors, fight on!
The tree was all covered,
All covered with moss,
And on it grew meatballs,
And tomato sauce.
That lone meatball’s love of freedom was so great that an entirely new family of trees grew from its remains, the pro libertate carnis sphera tree. Unlike any other tree, pro libertate bore meatballs on its branches and tomato sauce dripped down its bark. “Those meatballs were inedible and they rolled around on their own,” said local arborist Katherine O’Malley. “We just had to let them loose.”
So if you eat spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
Hold on to your meatball,
Whenever you sneeze.
And so a few gallant meatballs finally achieved their freedom.
If you are ever served a meatball that will not stay put, the best solution is to plant it in your yard. If the fire of liberty burns bright enough within that poor downtrodden sphere, you will be rewarded with a rare pro libertate tree, its branches heavy with the meatballs of freedom, and you will have the satisfaction of helping some poor meatball achieve its destiny.
Freedom! Freedom for meatballs!
# # # # #
The current state of spaghetti
The legendary Meatball Tree
(pro libertate carnis sphera).
This photograph was taken
in the fall, after the leaves have
fallen, before the meatballs
are harvested and released.
This entry was inspired by an exchange of comments with lrig_rorrim in the April 26 Green Room.