Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

December 24, 2012

As American as pizza pie

By Mike Redmond
CNHI

— Like most Americans, I like American food. Such as pizza.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Oh, Mike Redmond, you are so silly. Pizza is not American. Pizza is Chinese. Marco Polo brought it back to Italy along with gunpowder and a stack of Jackie Chan DVDs (this was before Leonardo DaVinci invented Blu-ray).

OK, maybe not. Perhaps you're thinking:

Oh, Mike Redmond, you have it wrong again. Pizza is authentic Italian food, just like chimichangas are authentic Mexican food, chop suey is authentic Chinese food, and French's mustard is authentic French food.

All right, then. Maybe it's:

Oh, Mike Redmond, you shouldn't be eating pizza. In which case I say, "Hi, Mom!"

Anyway, I maintain that pizza has become an American food by virtue of being ubiquitous. It is found nearly everywhere and consumed by nearly everyone in this country. Our love for pizza crosses all boundaries: geographical, political, racial, and philosophical.

True, pizza originated in Italy. But I think you have to make a distinction between pizza as practiced in that country and pizza as practiced in this one - Italian pizza vs. American. It's kind of like what we call pudding vs. what the English call pudding. With us you get Jell-o. With them, you get Charles Dickens and Tiny Tim and God bless us, everyone.

And so to the Italian immigrant, pizza.

We made it bigger, for one thing, as is our practice for just about everything, including ourselves. Then we started adding things - meats, vegetables, cheeses - in such profusion that a simple Italian street food made of bread, tomato, and herbs transmogrified into a manhole cover of dough topped with half a garden and multiple preserved pig parts.

Pizza also reflects American regionalism. What passes for pizza in one part of the country would not qualify in another, and I'm not just talking New York Style vs. Chicago Style.

(Just between you and me, I think Chicago Style pizza is a mistake. I always imagine that I'm going to like it, and then after eating a slab or two (they're not slices; they're slabs) conclude that the Chicago pie is pizza as created by someone who had only heard about pizza and didn't really understand the concept. I believe this also explains that stuff in Cincinnati they call "chili").

Regionalism can be reflected in our toppings. I read the other day that people in the Midwest are more inclined to top their pizza with sausage, while people in the Northeast prefer pepperoni. California you just have to forget altogether. Those people will put anything on a pizza. (Note to California: There is a place for squid. It is called the ocean. It is not under the mozzarella.)

The same story said Midwesterners are also more likely to eat pizza for breakfast than those in other parts of the country. This surprised me. I thought all Americans loved cold pizza for breakfast. There's something about a clammy slice of claylike dough topped with hard, dry cheese and pools of congealed grease that says "most important meal of the day."

But regional differences aside, pizza is American the same way we are American. Our families originated someplace else, and we don't much resemble them anymore, because we are our own people now.

What goes for us goes for our food.

E pluribus, pizza. Also chow mein, tacos, and fries.

© 2012 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.