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The SopranosCourtesy HBO

What’s in the gabagool? Investigating the Sopranos cannibalism theory

A wild fan theory suggests that Tony and the gang made literal mincemeat of their enemies – and it kind of makes sense

“Salami sub, hold the mayo!” Meat in The Sopranos is everywhere, whether it’s the gabagool Tony is constantly reaching for in the fridge, the bone-simmering sauce of Carmela’s Sunday gravy, or the Italian sausage-stuffed baked ziti. Preserving tradition and family dynamics, food is a device that brings families together, but there’s also a sinister thread that runs throughout the show, connecting animal flesh to the mobsters’ brutality.

One fan theory shared on Reddit, which recently resurfaced on YouTube, has suggested that the members of the New Jersey crime mob were not just serial murderers, but manufactured meat products out of their victims’ bodies. The theory is centred on Satriale’s Pork Store, the butcher’s shop used as a business meeting place, a hangout spot, and where the very first killing of the series goes down. In a dream sequence from the first season, human body parts are seen mixed in with the meat in the store’s display case. With razor-sharp machinery, industrial-sized equipment, and bloodstains that wouldn’t raise eyebrows, a deli would arguably be the perfect cover for a string of corpse disposals by the Italian-American gang.

From then on, a pattern emerges whereby human bodies are treated, brutally, like pieces of animal flesh: Ralph Cifaretto is dissected with a meat cleaver, Dominic “Fat Dom” Gamiello is wrapped in butcher’s paper, and Shlomo’s son-in-law is beaten with a meat tenderiser.

One Reddit user verifies this idea, citing a behind-the-scenes Sopranos documentary where supposedly Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero explains that they made sausages out of the guys they whacked. A line of dialogue in season two episode “​​The Knight in White Satin Armor” corroborates this: Christopher Moltisanti tells Furio Giunta, while disposing of Richie Aprile’s body in a meat grinder, that “it’s gonna be a while before I eat anything from Satriale’s.” The implication here is that these same grinders are used for the animal meat, and that there may be some cross-contamination – but are we talking about a drop of blood, or an actual systematic way to dispose of bodies by feeding them to Satriale’s customers? Offering round a platter of cold cuts at the family home in a later scene, Meadow warns Livia: “Don’t eat the gabagool, grandma, it’s nothing but fat and nitrates.”

There’s also the strange fact that Satriale’s never seems to have any customers other than the mob gang: the two FBI agents are the only patrons we see in the eatery (which makes for a comic touch if they’re munching on human flesh). This lack of footfall conveniently means that Tony and his men can openly converse about their next hit while sunning themselves at the shop front. We also never see Tony bring Carmela any meat home from Satriale’s – despite there being plenty of pork products in their well-stocked fridge. We do see the mobsters holding sandwiches, but don’t see them actually taking a bite. 

There’s a real-life basis for this theory: the fictional crime family Tony takes over from is named DiMeo, which seems like a link by the show’s creator David Chase to Roy DeMeo, a notorious mobster and rumoured psychopath infamous for the amount of bodies he stacked up – committing over 200 murders throughout his reign. A former butcher’s assistant, DeMeo bragged about possessing the skills to slice, chop, and dismember his victims for easy, discreet disposal. In the show, Ralph is slaughtered using the same brutal technique as the DeMeos were famous for (‘the Gemini method’) and there are rumours that DeMeo’s crew (specifically Joe “Dracula” Guglielmo) practised rituals like drinking victims’ blood out of jars.  One documentary recounts the gang cutting up a body and draining it in a bathtub, before ordering a pizza and eating it with bloody hands – describing this as one of their many “sadistic” rituals.

Other real-life mob bosses were big in the meat processing game (and would reportedly bribe government inspectors to falsely grade their products), one of which being John Gotti's underboss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, which has naturally led to gruesome rumours about what he did with the bodies. True or not, let’s not forget that some depictions of the mafia in The Sopranos were so accurate that genuine mobsters thought they were being spied on.

While the meat-packing theory checks out in some ways, we can also simply see the recurring theme of meat as metaphorical: Tony puts food on the table for his family by chopping up human flesh. He has his first panic attack as a boy watching a roast being carved by his father, remembering his dad cleaving off the finger of the market’s original owner, Mr Satriale. “It’s my livelihood – it’s how I put food on the table,” Johnny Soprano tells his son. When we see a young Livia licking the meat juices off Johnny’s finger, it looks like a drop of blood. In this way, meat also functions as a metaphor for how violence consumes and drains people of their humanity, and how the mobsters saw other people as hunks of meat ready to be devoured or disposed of.

The Sopranos depicts other examples of exploitation via meat: Gloria throws a cut of beef at Tony’s head after he treats her poorly; he punches Ralph over a quip about beef and sausage, and he gets in trouble with Dr. Melfi for tearing a steak recipe out of a magazine. While it’s more likely that the meat symbolism exists as a nod to Tony’s ongoing psychological trauma, The Sopranos is so layered with meaning, foreshadowing, and call-backs, that it’s impossible to rule out a theory like the crime mob dining out on their victims.