Look at Life: Pizza

14th September 2018

Getting a Pizza the Action

By Jill Glenn

One in three people describe pizza as their favourite takeaway. One in three consider it their favourite food.

And after a recent survey, analysts crunched the data (along with the black olives, the pineapple chunks and the little burnt bits on the edges) to reveal that the British are eating rather a lot of it: 5,847 slices in a lifetime, on average, which equates to around 731 pizzas.

It sounds a lot, doesn’t it, but if you equate that to, say, 60 pizza-eating years, from mid-teens to mid-70s, it’s just over 12 a year: around one a month. That’s actually quite moderate. Averages are deceptive, though; I don’t eat much pizza, for example, so someone out there is eating all the ones I’m not, and that means you need to slice the figures differently. An interesting adjunct would be the number of people who never eat it at all, to establish the real rate of consumption among aficionados. But surveys never tell you the whole truth…

…although this one, carried out for VoucherCodes.co.uk, did come up with some interesting information, including the fact that the UK’s fave topping (where countrywide preferences can be reliably extrapolated from 2,000 answers) is mushroom, followed by pepperoni, ham, chicken and tomato. A lifetime’s eating is likely to include 130 pepperoni, 93 meatfeast and 73 vegetarian versions.

Surely not by the same person.

Pizza gets something of a bad press, but it’s not fundamentally unhealthy; in fact, it can be a great source of nutrition, if made well: at home, where ingredients can be better managed, or from authentic outlets. We’ll come to what’s ‘authentic’ later. Bought as fast or frozen food, though, it’s likely to be high in carbohydrates and saturated fat. ‘Our survey says’ that the typical pizza lover will shell out a whopping £9,725 during their lifetime on takeaway pizzas, and another £6,303 on supermarket versions. They could save money and calories by making their own, but apparently only 68 of our lifetime allocation are likely to be home-made.

The two pizzas that have stuck most memorably in my mind (and fortunately not to the roof of my mouth) were both eaten abroad. One was the most casual affair possible, bought by the slice from a hatch in an Italian street, behind which a young man was creating the thinnest of thin bases with nothing more than a smearing of herby, tomatoey sauce and the lightest layer of cheese. Heavenly. It was in 1990, and I’ve never forgotten it.

The other, coincidentally, was also in the 1990s, in Caen, Normandy, when I’d taken my elderly father on a trip to the D-Day beaches in pursuit of his past. His tastes were not as adventurous as his history, and by the time we had walked the streets of the city in search of some food that might be acceptable, as he rejected every suggestion I made, my patience was as stretched as melted mozzarella.

Eventually we came to a rustic Italian restaurant. ‘I don’t think so,’ he began. ‘I do,’ I said, through what may have been gritted teeth (or perhaps they were just chattering with hunger). ‘I do. We are going to go in here and you are going to eat pizza and you are going to like it.’

And because he was, at heart, an amenable man, and because I knew him better than he knew himself, we did go in and we did eat pizza, and he did like it. It was, with respect, a ‘proper’ pizza: thin, again, and simply topped with the sort of garnishes that the average Italian might recognise. Authentic might be the word.

It’s generally considered that pizza originated in Naples in the 18th century, before mushrooming (see what I did there?) into a whole new bastardised life in New York in the middle of the 20th century… but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that, after a fashion, it was top of the takeaways for centuries before that, having been a regular component of the diet in the ancient Near East. The Armenians, Babylonians, Greeks, Egyptians and Israelis were all eating pizza-ish foods – flatbreads, or pittas, basically, topped with a variety of ingredients, though not tomatoes, which didn’t make their way to Europe from South America until the 1500s and were considered poisonous at first. Whether you could identify it as pizza, therefore, is open to question. One thing is certain, though: they certainly weren’t topping it with pulled pork or tandoori chicken.

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