A couple of days ago (July 20, 2018) a column appeared in the Washington Post, called “Five myths about pizza“. The article, regarding pizza myths, is by Carol Helstosky, author of one of our favorite pizza books, Pizza – A Global History.
First, regarding the word “myth”. Merriam-Webster has several definitions of “myth”, the most common being “a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence.” Well, Ms. Helstosky (who, again, is a fine historian and pizza-lover) casts doubt on a few, but I don’t think she hits on all five.
Pizza myth #1 – Returning soldiers made pizza popular in the United States.
Helstosky states, “Americans, including soldiers, probably sampled pizza in Italy in the years after the war, but what they ate bore little resemblance to the varieties of pizza made in the United States in the 1950s, which were described in the New York Times in 1956 as thick-crusted “pies,” the pizzaret (an English-muffin pizza), the pizza bagel, and pizzas topped with sour cream, cinnamon or sliced bananas.”
Now, I (Cary) have the advantage of presumably being older than the author of the WaPo article. While my evidence is anecdotal, I had my first slice of pizza in 1958, and it was no English muffin or bagel, it had no sour cream or bananas. It was PIZZA. As we know it.
I would agree that it wasn’t American soldiers but the influx of postwar Italian immigrants that made pizza popular in the U.S. Which brings us to:
Pizza myth #2 – Pizza is available everywhere because of Italian immigrants.
I’ve gotta give her credit – it takes guts to contradict the Encyclopedia Britannica, and Helstosky does that. And here she nails it. While Italian immigrants definitely brought pizza to America (and I’m talking about pizza – not that deep-dish Chicago stuff invented by a Texan), there are a lot of additional factors that made pizza international. So score one for the Washington Post.
Pizza myth # 3 – Pizza chains have ruined pizza.
My problem here is that this is not a myth, it’s an argument. Pizza isn’t ruined. Much has changed that leads to the cheapification of what started as peasant food anyway: oven temperatures, the attempt to standardize, calling things pizza that not everyone considers pizza. And more.
But, as Helstosky points out, good pizza continues, and in some cases, grows. Heck, you can even find good pizza in Los Angeles!
Pizza myth #4 – The Pizza Margherita was invented for Italian royalty.
My favorite of all pizza myths. In this case, I like a different definition of myth: a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon. In other words, it might be true, but even if it’s not, it reveals a greater truth. Professor Helstosky doesn’t disprove the story, although she offers a pretty good argument that it might not be completely accurate. We don’t care. I’m sticking with Queen Margherita and the pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito. And here’s the story.
Pizza Myth #5 – Everyone Loves Pizza
Is this a myth? Does anyone really believe this? Those of us who do love pizza all know people who don’t love pizza. I’m still of the opinion that most people who don’t love pizza haven’t had good pizza, but there are still some holdouts. I will never understand them.
Your comments? Your pizza myths?