American pie

You may have missed the latest eruption of severe first world problems. If that is the case, I am happy to be of service to fill you in. It all started in Iceland, of all places. Usually Iceland is pretty well behaved (except for Bjork of course) and doesn’t get on the radar much unless its volcanos are busy disrupting air traffic. However, the genesis of the whole thing was a comment made by the president of Iceland that pineapple did not belong on pizza and he would ban it if he could.

This hit particularly close to home here in Canada because we invented the Hawaiian pizza. Or actually Sam Panopoulos, a transplanted Greek and pizzeria owner in Chatham, Ontario, is credited with first putting ham and pineapple on a pizza. Mr. Panopoulos says he was inspired by the Chinese food he also served (in the grand tradition of the small town pizza, Chinese takeout, and ‘Canadian’ food emporium).

Regardless of where you stand on the fruit on pizza thing, most of us would be content to let the toppings fall as they may and agree to disagree or even agree to relegating any offending ingredients to one side of the pizza. But that is not what happened here. What Guðni Jóhannesson started way back in February fueled an Internet storm that still rages five months later, surely a record in the fickle world of the Internet’s attention span. Everyone from Gordon Ramsey to Justin Bieber has weighed in on the subject (by the way Gordon is as against it as you can possible get, while the Beebs is way cool with it). Apparently, the Hawaiian is the most popular pizza in Australia (based on frequency of takeout orders), while in the U.S. pineapple is among the top three most hated toppings, right behind anchovies. So clearly there are some cultural divides at play.

But the most definitive cultural divide is between Italy and the rest of the world. If you have ever been to Italy, you know how they stand on messing with the top of a pizza. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find anything other than tomatoes and mozzarella cheese (in any combination you like) on offer, although a handful of arugula tossed on after it comes out of the oven seems to be acceptable. That’s because like most cuisine that migrates across the pond, pizza lost its way.

Or one could argue it found its way – free of the arbitrary restrictions in the name of purity, it could branch out and become all things to all people. North American pizza is truly the most democratic of foods. Don’t like thick crust? Then have it thin. Don’t like tomato sauce? Have pesto or even no sauce at all. Don’t like bread dough? Wait, maybe that’s taking things a little too far… But I don’t think we can stop the argument just yet. That can only happen when the Americans can come up with a good explanation for putting ‘Canadian bacon’ on their Hawaiian instead of ham.

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