Pizza

In our last post, we identified ketchup as “ubiquitously American,” despite it’s Asian origin. Today we turn our attention to another food item that dominates American diets: Pizza.

According to Pizza.com, 94 percent of Americans eat pizza on a regular basis, with 93 percent having done so in the last month. In one day, Americans will eat 100 acres of pizza, which calculates to a rate of about 350 slices per second. Thanks in part to pizza, the most popular category of ethnic food in America is Italian.

So, what exactly is a pizza?

Referring to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, we find that pizza is “a food made from flat, usually round bread that is topped with usually tomato sauce and cheese and often with meat or vegetables.”

From our look at other topics, we know that modern foods tend to be an evolution of ancient versions. Was pizza always tomato sauce and cheese on top of bread?

According to History.com’s article on the history of pizza, the answer is likely yes. Pizza was most likely created in Naples in the 18th Century as an inexpensive, quick-to-eat food for the working poor. It is described as “flatbreads with various toppings, eaten for any meal and sold by street vendors or informal restaurants.” Common ingredients were “tomatoes, cheese, oil, anchovies and garlic.” So truly, not much has changed.

As with the hot dog sold on a bun from street carts in New York City, we see pattern of protein, fat and sauces isolated from the consumer’s hand by a piece bread. This has the effect of eliminating the need for eating utensils, while also keeping hands clean, relatively speaking. With the dish being immediately edible, this amounts to what we think of today as a “convenience food.”

Check back for our next article where we’ll try to figure out how this Neapolitan commoner’s food became such an American staple.

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