America recreates a great deal of food from other countries and transforms it into something unique. Oftentimes these Americanized foods barely resemble their predecessors, and instead have taken on a form that reflects the United States itself. Pizza is a prime example. The original pizza came from Italy, but it has become a common American food. Pizza embodies the values and contradictions of America through its accessibility and its various forms.
In his book The Hamburger, Josh Ozersky stresses the importance of the public place in establishing a popular food into an icon. Ozersky notes that the prominence of the hamburger is at least in part due to its standardization and commercialization in American culture. The same argument can be made about pizza. The frequency of pizza chains as well as local restaurants adds to the influence the food has within the country. The food’s easy access also means that more people will consume it, which will cause it to rise in importance. Another factor that plays into pizza’s role in public space is that it is something that is almost always purchased outside of the home. While one can make one’s own pizza, most people choose to order it or dine out, or at the very least purchase a frozen pizza. In fact, pizza has become a common meal for when families do not want to or have the time to cook that night. In this sense, pizza reflects a sort of “luxury”, a break from a normal routine. The ability to have a pizza delivered is in a way a luxury, although it is not typically referred to as such. Not only does one not have to cook, but one does not even need to leave the house to get food. Pizza’s role in the public space and its prominence as a food not generally made in the household helps it to reach its icon status.
Pizza became an icon due also to its various forms that reflect contradictions in America. The food item addresses the tension between individuality and community. It is common for people to grab a quick slice of pizza during the day by themselves for an easy lunch. However, it is just as common to find a family ordering a pizza together on a weekend night. The pizza also deals with the contradiction between authenticity and conformity. Just as the hamburger was commercialized by various fast food restaurants, pizza was also turned into a corporate business through various chains such as Pizza Hut and Domino’s. However, there are also countless local pizza shops in every city and town. These local restaurants give off the authentic feeling that is so integral to American identity. The fact that one can personalize their own pizza is another way the food represents this authenticity. Even in chain restaurants, people can order pizzas with various toppings and crusts. In this sense, pizza has avoided some of the backlash against places like McDonald’s for their mass-produced food.
Pizza has become a powerful American icon. The importance of the food in the public place, as well as its diversity and ability to serve the needs of individuals, families, lower classes, higher classes, etc. has established it as iconic. The ability of pizza to be mass-produced in the Capitalist society while also retaining choices and originality makes the food unique in its ability to balance the tension between authenticity and conformity. Pizza captures and reflects many American ideals.