Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2017

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J. Patrick Coolican: Death to pizza!


Leila Navidi

Pizzas are shown at the San Gennaro Feast festival at the Rio last year. Pizza is an American staple that is almost universally beloved.

Click to enlarge photo

J. Patrick Coolican

I hate pizza. There, I said it. This isn’t an easy thing to admit, and for years — decades really — I suffered in silence.

As with most foods, I judge pizza both by how it tastes and by how it makes me feel after I’m finished eating. Pizza makes me feel terrible. I presume I now associate the smell and taste with sickness, so now it kicks in even sooner, but generally speaking, within 30 minutes I feel full of stomach and generally awful.

Adding to the misery, eating pizza is often accompanied by some celebratory occasion — a co-worker has won an award or a friend announces his wife is having a baby — marred by yet another painful pizza incident.

Until now, few have known my secret.

Why? Consider the central place pizza plays in American life. It’s basically inescapable. Across race and religion and class, we take fistfuls of dough, we cook it, and we top it with tomato sauce, bilious cheese, and vegetables and salted meats. We are a fractious and polarized nation, but on this, we are united — pizza’s greatness rivals the men on Mount Rushmore. In fact, many people would prefer Rushmore be made of pizza.

We eat pizza at work (an election night tradition in most newsrooms), at home (“I don’t feel like cooking — let’s order a pizza”) and while walking a city street (“Let’s stop and get a slice.”).

So now consider why I haven’t widely publicized my outré opinion of pizza.

Next time you’re at a party and there’s pizza (better than even odds it will happen this weekend), decline an offer of a slice and watch the expression on the host’s face when you explain that you don’t like pizza. You’ll be looked at like there’s something not quite right about you, like you haven’t seen “Star Wars” or you don’t think women should be allowed to drive.

What’s wrong with that guy? Who doesn’t like pizza?

So I glumly accept my slice of pizza or say merely, “No thanks,” and eat the salad.

Since coming out against pizza among a few friends and relatives, I have been offered diagnoses and potential treatments, like I have a strange disease (“Have you tried yoga?”).

A nutritionist friend said I could have a mild gluten allergy because I also feel ill after pasta, breads and — the absolute worst — bagels.

I was actually elated at this because it gives me a good answer when I hear the unanswerable question, “Why don’t you like pizza?” — even if gluten allergies, like attention deficit disorder, seem somehow suburban and fake. (The reality is that Celiac Disease, a full-on gluten allergy, is a big deal for those who suffer from it.)

And so I have been directed to gluten-free pizza and thin-crust pizza like that found at Settebello. (“Yeah, I know, I should try Settebello,” I’ve said a half-dozen times.)

So here I am Thursday, in my own personal Dante’s Inferno, the International Pizza Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center: the DOUGHPRO press oven, the Middleby Marshall PS670 Wow! Oven, vinyl table coverings for pizzerias, Pizza University: “Pizza is a precise science,” Hatco lamps.

It’s 10:30 in the morning, and a lot of people here are eating pizza — and chicken wings. The chicken wing people have smartly formed an alliance with pizza, like Robin glomming onto Batman.

“Pizza Today” is a trade magazine, and Jeremy White, editor-in-chief, gives me the rundown. There are 72,000 pizzerias, including 33,000 independent shops, in the United States doing $38 billion in sales, not including frozen ’zas. This is second only to hamburgers in food popularity.

(Most popular cause of American mortality? Heart disease.)

This is my first food convention, and though it’s not surprising, I find it striking how they can make food seem so industrial. A cheese boasts of its “functionality.” “Reduced moisture vegetables” offer “less water, greater value.” A company promises “innovations in baking and food solutions.”

I arrive at the booth of Venice Bakery, a decades-old family company that does regular and now a gluten-free crust. On the first day of the convention, they gave out 200 gluten-free pizzas, and it’s all the rage. They’re very nice people.

I take a small gluten-free slice, and sure enough, the usual sickness isn’t there. It has a thin, crispy crust and is not altogether unpleasant.

Still, I cannot betray my principles and will not relent from my cause: Death to pizza!

Do you suffer in silence, too? Share your pizza hatred story in the comments.

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