The Thinking 

The United States of Pizzafication

March 17, 2012


Lucas Cranach the Elder depicted the Silver Age. Will any artist capture the Age of Pizza?

THE website Dash offers a brisk history of pizza in the United States, culminating in the Pizza Society, with 65,000 pizzerias (that’s an understatement; there are 65,000 pizzerias in my town alone) and 100 acres of pizzas consumed every year.

Dash points to the emergence of the artisanal, wood-fired pie in recent decades. It’s true, pizza at its best is one of the world’s most sublime foods. However, pizza in America is generally not at its best, not anymore. The elite dines on charred, organic pies while the common man, who no longer has a real family or a real home, feasts on greasy slabs of fiberglass covered with mock cheese, a substance that haunts his dreams and creates a leaden, ineffable awareness that something – something — is profoundly wrong.

Dash forgot to mention the children who carry cold slices in their school lunch day after day; the college students who gorge on pizza late at night, bewildered by the transition from normal life to a depersonalized, pagan subculture of binge drinking and serial hook-ups; the divorced fathers who can’t afford anything other than pizza for dinner and the empty cardboard pizza boxes piled in corporate offices, where employees sit at their desks struggling silently with Pizza Impasse Disorder, indigestion that comes in both acute and chronic forms.

The history of pizza is no longer cause for celebration. Only slick advertising can erase the truth. The Greek poet Hesiod identified five Ages of Man: the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, the Heroic Age and the Iron Age. We are immersed in something he could not have foreseen: the Pizza Age. Someday even our rivers will turn red with excreted tomato sauce. There will be so much pizza in our bloodstreams that doctors will have to open de-mozzarella-fication clinics. As people sit in reclining chairs, the cheese globules painstakingly extracted from their veins by sophisticated technology, they will see their internal horizons gradually expanded and restored. Their souls and bodies will return to a state of innocence they never knew existed.

— Comments —-

Vincent C. writes:

Odd…to write about pizza on St. Patricks’ Day. Perhaps a discussion of the topic could have been postponed more appropriately until March 21, the day the Church celebrates the feast day of San Giuseppe, better known as St. Joseph. Still, pizza it is.

For those interested, Wikipedia has a length history of “pizza,” which translated from the Italian simply means “a pie.” While Americans and others take pizza as something to be enjoyed either hot or cold, or taken as a lunch in a box, there is one group of Italians to whom pizza making…and eating… is taken very seriously. Here I refer, with arguments from other interested parties I am sure, to the art of pizza making in Naples and its environs.

I have been fortunate enough to walk the labyrinthine streets of Naples, and without a question, each block seems to have its own pizzeria – or more than one. For the most part, upon entering such an establishment, you will rarely if ever see a young man behind the counter making the dough; that is left to far more experienced hands. And the wood burning oven – never gas – must be carefully monitored to make sure that the interior never gets too hot or cold – although I cannot ever remember seeing a temperature gauge.

There are also severe restraints in selecting “varieties” of pizza: one will not be able to find “Hawaiian pizza” in these locales. If memory serves, one can select about 3 types: without cheese, with cheese, or with anchovies, that’s about it. Then what’s so special about the Neapolitan pizza? The answer is simple: what goes into it, combined with the craftsmanship (I’ve never ever seen a female pizza maker in Naples), and the wood burning oven.

In many of the wine producing countries of Europe, the term “DOC” (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) means that the grapes used in making the wine come from one region. Champagne can only come from certain parts of France; Chianti only from the Val di Chianti in Tuscany. It is only in Naples and its surrounding area that the term “DOC” is used in making pizza: all of the products – the cheese, flour, tomatoes come from the region of Campania. So carefully is this monitored that the illuminated sign of a well-known pizzeria in Naples will say: Pizza DOC. You don’t see that anywhere else.

One final thing: while pizza may be eaten as a snack while walking, no self-respecting Neapolitan would ever do so. To them, pizza is to be enjoyed served warm from the oven on a plate with a knife and fork. St. Joseph would have agreed.

Laura writes:

Italians may have meant well by introducing pizza to America but it was like introducing whiskey to a native tribe that had never evolved a capacity to control alcohol consumption over many thousands of years. Italians don’t become addicted to rot-gut pizza the way Americans do.

And because we don’t have those exacting standards, pizza can be made cheaply and has a high profit margin, a big reason why there are so many pizza places. There has, however, been an extraordinary development on the pizza scene where I live. One of the 65,000 pizza establishments in the area has changed hands and is going to make grilled cheese sandwiches instead.

Buck writes:

I must confess to being a backslider. A recent power outage at a friend’s house brought three thawing pizzas to my door. Better to give than to throw away.

I ate them. Then, I found myself buying more. First, one drink, then another… $3.99 each, if you purchase two or more.

Odd coincidence: they fit perfectly into my new Oyster counter-top convection oven (fourteen minutes from frozen), and the boxes fit perfectly in the width of my standard side-by-side frig/freezer.

One could speculate that they were designed that way.

I’m applying for victim status.

Laura writes:

I don’t condemn all pizza eating. I eat pizza too.

It’s excess that’s the problem.

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