Canadian Pizza Magazine

Pizza: a global history

By Carol Helstosky   


October 29, 2008 – Pizzas began with terrible PR. Alexandre Dumas wrote that they were the
staple diet of the poor "Lazzaroni", the living dead of Naples.

Carlo Collodi, author of The Adventures of Pinocchio, described the
ingredients as "complicated filth". Samuel Morse, of Code fame, found
them to be "reeking of the sewer".

This was the food of folk so poverty-stricken that they bought their pizza on
a form of hire purchase , eating one day and paying during the subsequent
eight. Fortunately, the downmarket image was given a makeover towards the
end of the 19th century, according to a tasty legend. The wife of King
Umberto I chose a royal takeaway and the variety she plumped for still bears
her name: Margherita.

Together with Ken Albala's Pancake and Andrew F Smith's Hamburger,
Carol Helstosky's Pizza makes up the first course of this "Edible
Series" of slim, readable volumes from Reaktion (coming soon: Caviar
and Curry). All three authors are culinary historians who serve up agreeable
titbits. "Take new thicke Creame a pinte," begins a 1588 recipe
for cholesterol-rich pancake. And if anyone asks the question, "What
have the Americans ever done for us?", the answer lies in a full-page
reproduction of an ad featuring a bottle of Coca-Cola surrounded by eight
stomach-churning hamburgers.


Unlike that gem, some of the artwork is dire, and many captions read as if
dashed off by a teenage delivery boy after a hard night on his moped. The
most spectacular picture in Pizza is a double-page spread of a woman
dressed as the Statue of Liberty, tucking in at a New York pizzeria.
Americans, declares Helstosky, fill their faces with an estimated 100 acres
of pizzas a day. Pizza is now a global spread: another good illustration
depicts an Indian model advertising a US pizza franchise, in Poland.

Italy may claim the dish as patriotically as France claims Champagne, but it
was one city, Naples, where pizzas were first cooked up. Evolving from the
lard-based junk of the slums, they were taken up by foodies. The coveted "VPN"
(Verace Pizza Napoletana) certificate goes only to restaurants using
wood-burning ovens at the correct temperature. Most pizzas have evolved in
very different ways; and not all of them taste worse than the cardboard
containers in which they reach your door.

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