The Thinking 

Pizza and the Annihilation of Food

December 10, 2009


Is pizza technically a foodstuff? I’m not referring to the artisanal pizza baked in wood-fired ovens and sold for $15 a bite. And, I don’t mean homemade pizza, which is easy to make and satisfying.

I mean the ubiquitous stomach-stuffers sold in pizza shops across America. In the town were I live, there are as many pizzerias as gas stations and pizza is the gastronomic equivalent of Regular Unleaded. These outlets sell the exact same product, which arrives on the table with pools of grease shimmering on the surface like petroleum residue on the road. It’s the Fix-a-Flat of the gastro-intestinal system, akin to cotton wadding or foam insulation blown into crawl spaces.

This material is too lifeless, too uniformly made, too commercially engineered to be anything but anti-food. Sad to say, it also invites anti-social behavior. Each diner grabs a slice from the table and then walks away. This isn’t just a post-food era. It’s post-meal.

Pizza has contributed to the quasi-destruction of the American body, to making us the fattest nation in the history of the world. Carbs kill, as a reader eloquently wrote in a previous post. Some people mistakenly believe pizza is relatively healthy because it’s not as fatty as meat. Pizza shops should team up with cardiologists and other medical specialists to offer package deals. Eat so many pizzas and get discount treatment in exchange.

There’s only three possible justifications for the existence of this nutritional simulacra. It’s cheap. It’s easy. And it’s fast.  It all ends forlornly with a large greasy box that doesn’t fit in the trash. We don’t have to do anything to produce it. We don’t even have to cut it. We just have to pay for it and get rid of the box. Our passivity is complete. Pizza is enslaving.



Garrick writes:

The problem with pizza is that people love a refined carbohydrate combined with meat or cheese. This combo is human catnip. The combining also makes the meal less digestible and more fattening. If the bread of a pizza were eaten just by itself and the cheese and tomatoes sauce as another meal there would be less problems. But no one ever does that.

I don’t eat pizza much because it is junk. Even the artisan pizzas are junk because it is made from the same refined bleached flour but with better cheese and tomatoes. The best policy is to eat whole grains. The carbo-protein combination then becomes more healthy. Another way to make a hamburger or pizza more healthy is to eat the burger with salad and no bun, zero carbohydrates. Pizza? Eat the cheese you want with a tomato salad instead of on a delicious pizza.

Laura writes:

There’s something else going on with this commercial pizza, aside from the refined flour and the carb overload. When I make pizza at home, it doesn’t give us that horrible hangover. You know, the feeling that your stomach is filled with fiberglass. There’s something about the cheese and sauce, some form of industrial sorcery that is probably a highly-guarded secret. If the Cold War wasn’t over, I’d suspect the Russians, maybe a secret plot to undermine America.

Gail Aggen writes:

Mmm, that pizza looks yummy…..oh, sorry, back to what I wanted to say. I am of Italian heritage, and it is ironic to me that pizza has come to take on such a life of it’s own. Do you know how pizza came about? The women used to start their bread dough on a Friday night and bake on Saturday. They would often take part of that dough and make a pizza on Saturday night, but only with whole tomatoes or a simple sauce, some grated cheese and sometimes some anchovies. Maybe a little oregano. Sometimes they would also take a bit of their bread dough and make pizza fritte (fried bread dough) and sprinkle it with sugar for a breakfast treat. In defense of the non-whole grain bread dough, I recently did some research about how consuming whole grain products, if the grains weren’t properly soaked before baking, can really be rough on the digestive system and contribute to some pretty troublesome gastrointestinal maladies. This is because the phyto-toxins (toxic to us) which protect the seed from predators and disease must be leached from the grains before being consumed.

Though I am American, back in the day, we always referred to Italian bread as bread, and white bread as American bread. The Greeks were the first ones to bake “Italian” bread as we know it, and the Romans, who formerly consumed only porridge, took the Greeks’ innovation and went absolutely nuts. I’ve read that in the ancient ruins of Pompeii that they have discovered a bakery shop, so even the commercial consuming of Italian bread has been going on for millenia. It is made of only four ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt. I don’t know how bad it is for you, and this is only anecdotal, but I can tell you that my relatives on both sides have lived very long, healthy lives. So have their friends. I say healthy, because to me, when you can still be functioning, walking around, doing work in your eighties and nineties, that’s a healthy life.

I know that I am missing your point about how we live in this weird, take-out, pizza culture now, and I agree that it is bad. Because of this crazy, artificial life that people have become accustomed to, people don’t have time or energy to cook and dine the way they used to. Those poor women who hold down full-time jobs, sometimes as single mothers, opt for easy things like pizza I guess. Of course, people don’t realize that the circle completes itself when you are working just to pay for the daycare, fast food, restaurant food, work clothes, and transportation that allows you to work. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad and pathetic.

We just need more women to come home to stay, start their dough on Friday night…..

Kimberly writes:

I think the main thing they put in the pizza sauce that makes people sick, along with all the preservatives and toxic waste types, is sugar. It’s everywhere, in everything, in one form or another. And if you really taste that stuff, it’s way too sweet. There must be a lot.

Rita writes:

I love pizza but a few years ago I picked one up at a major chain and on the side of the box were the words “Now Made With Real Cheese!” I wonder what was used before!! Now if I get pizza, it’s from a local mom-and-pop restaurant. It’s the real thing and it’s wonderful.

Brenda writes:

All I can say is: Durango’s In Racine, Wisconsin. That’s how pizza was meant to be!

Gail Aggen writes:

Speaking lf the sauce, the thing that they load on pizza and use ad nauseam in pseudo-Italian restaurants is garlic powder, instead of using real garlic. That stuff will give you a wicked stomach ache, a feeling of doom, and make you promise yourself that you’ll eat only oatmeal until the Lord comes back.

The Post-Modern Antiquarian writes:

You seem surprised at the ubiquity of bad pizza, and given what I’ve read of your work — and I am a big fan — I must say that I’m surprised that you would be surprised. 

We have bad pizza for the same reason that we have bad architecture, oversize houses, desecrated landscapes and ever-uglier vehicles. Our aesthetic senses have been deadened. Don’t blame the architects or the pizza makers. This could only have happened with a complicity that comes with predisposition. 

You may argue that in a time of war and battered economy, not to mention swine flu, that bad pizza is not a national crisis. I disagree. To paraphrase Victor Hugo, nothing can withstand the force of a bad idea that has taken hold, whether or not it’s time has come. As an example, I would invoke the Third Reich if that tragic episode in human history hadn’t already been beaten senseless by abusers of metaphors.

I implore you to keep reinforcing the message to your readers: Taste matters.







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