No culinary creation has divided more homes, destroyed more friendships, or started more internet flame wars than pineapple pizza. I, for one, am a huge fan, as are many of my close friends. I do, however, know several people who absolutely loathe the idea of pineapple anywhere near their pizza. Over the years, I’ve noticed that not only have cries for and against pineapple on pizza gotten louder, with even world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsey weighing in, it has become so polarized that finding anyone with a neutral opinion is like trying to find Waldo in a pile of candy canes. The debate has even gone so far as to permeate dating apps like Tinder. Just the other day I found three people in a row with their opinion on pineapple pizza in their bio, and yes, it did affect who I swiped right on.
I intend to analyze what I’m humbly dubbing, “The ‘Za Wars,” through research on the origins of pineapple being used as a pizza topping, its relevance in relation to a growing internet culture, and why, exactly, it is so hated or so loved by so many people.
It’s January 28, and Twitter user diabeetus guacc (@OriginalSDM) posts an image of a pizza slice topping with heaping piles of pineapple, encouraging people to, “retweet to ruin a pineapple on pizza haters timeline”. The tweet garners thousands of retweets within days, subsequently going viral. Less than a month later, Swedish president Guðni Th. Jóhannesson weighs in on the issue while hosting a question and answer session with some high school students, stating that he is “fundamentally opposed” to pineapple on pizza, and that he would ban it as a topping, had he the power to do so. He later redacts his statement, saying that he is glad he does not have such power, implying that banning things that he personally dislikes would be an immoral abuse of power.
By this point in the timeline, Twitter is riddled with tweets and polls and in-comment arguments about pineapple on pizza. The pot is further stirred by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who, in an interview on “The Nightly Show”, berated pineapple pizza in his signature crass, cuss-ridden way. Because I would like to keep this paper professional, I will leave out the specifics, but Ramsay’s words were very choice, for lack of a better word. Soon after, the pineapple on pizza debate was granted a page on Know Your Meme, an honor which any regular user of the internet can recognize. Having a meme archived on Know Your Meme is more or less the same as a professional athlete making it into the hall of fame, so suffice to say, the debate was quickly becoming a catalyst for a cultural shift.
We know all about the messy politics of “The ‘Za Wars”, but what about the history behind putting pineapple on pizza? The idea of using pineapple as a pizza topping was birthed from the mind of Sam Panopoulos, a Greek immigrant who moved to Ontario, Canada at twenty years old. Panopoulos claims that he and his brothers discovered the delicious combination while fooling around with ingredients to see what stuck. In 1962, Panopoulos decided to put his creation on the menu to attract customers to one of his restaurants, calling it, “Hawaiian pizza”, after the brand of pineapples he used to make it. Sadly, Panopoulos passed away earlier this year, but his delicious, controversial legend continues to live on.
I recall the first time I encountered pineapple on pizza. I was about six years old, and went out to eat with some friends from soccer practice. One of my friends ordered a Hawaiian pizza, the first I’d ever heard of it, and upon discovering the toppings on this monstrosity I was instantly disgusted. We all, of course, made fun of her for this seemingly bizarre order. However, our minds changed once she offered us each a bite. I immediately became smitten with this new and exciting flavor combination, and from that day forth, it remained one of my go-to orders. Over the years, I would get the occasional comment on my topping preference, be it positive or negative, but such conversations were mere table-talk, and never found its way outside of the pizza’s presence. That is, of course, until 2017.
Because the meme had become so widespread, it stopped being documented as heavily as it had been during the earliest weeks of the year. Memes of the debate moved from Twitter, to Facebook, to Tumblr, to Reddit, and nearly every social media platform in use today. The debate even permeated the real world. Suddenly, something that was never discussed became a household topic of conversation. Battle lines were drawn. People began defining themselves as either pro-pineapple on pizza or anti-pineapple on pizza. Had this been a better world, this debate could have single-handedly ended all racism, sexism, and homophobia, and replaced such discriminations with ones based solely on arbitrary pizza topping preference. However, this is not that world, and we are not such people, which leads us into the more interesting topic of discussion: why people hold their opinions on this so strongly.
It’s no secret that our society, especially the younger portion of the population, rely heavily on the use of social media and the internet. It has permeated nearly every facet of our lives, but is this necessarily a good thing? Well, in many ways, yes. For one, we as humans are naturally social creatures. It’s how we survived to evolve into the advanced (evolutionarily speaking) creatures we are today. Communication is so vital to our behavior that we invented tools in order to execute it more effectively. From the printing press, to radio, to television, every new era can be more or less defined by the technological breakthrough of the time. In the case of modern day, that defining advancement is social media. Near unlimited access to communication has conditioned people to fulfill the inherent need to share their thoughts through social media. Because this is a fast-paced and widespread medium, internet users have the ability to share whatever they want with whomever they want, for whatever reason they please. This normalized the spread and debate of trivial current opinions like pineapple on pizza.
We know why such opinions can exist, but what about the reasoning behind them? In order to find this out, I gathered a few close friends, asked them their opinions on pineapple pizza and encouraged them to come at me, “no holds barred,” with their thoughts. No matter how much I disagreed, no matter how ridiculous the justification, I was going to listen. I’ll start with the opposition. Across the board, everyone I talked to against pineapple pizza held the same opinion: they don’t want their salty pizza topped with sweet fruit. This mixing of flavors simply did not please their tongues. One asserted that she doesn’t experiment much with toppings on her pizza the same reason she doesn’t experiment with toppings on a sandwich — the classic combination of bread, cheese, and meat is unmatched by anything else. Two others stated that their distaste for pineapple on pizza stems from their belief that such an act bastardizes the classic Italian dish. Both instead preferred to stick with traditional toppings such as pepperoni, sausage, and peppers.
Those who were very pro-pineapple on pizza were, unsurprisingly, the exact opposite of their counterparts. The sweet and savory flavors of pineapple and pizza in harmony draw them to it, rather than repulse them. These people admitted that pineapple on pizza is not the only way they get this kind of flavor fix, citing kettle corn and salted caramel as other personal favorites. Recently, at least as far as taste-bud research goes, scientists discovered the underlying cause of people’s craving for sweet and salty flavors together. Different kinds of taste cells cover the human tongue, functioning in such a way that when proteins from a flavor interact with their respective flavor receptors, the brain receives a signal which registers the flavor. However, this new study conducted by a team of researchers, under the leadership of Dr. Robert Margolskee, revealed that certain sweet receptors previously thought to only exist in the gut actually exist in certain sweet taste cells on the tongue as well. These specific receptors only transport sugar into cells in the presence of sodium, which explains why a large number of people enjoy savory flavors supplemented with sweet and vice versa. This group also directly opposed the other in that they readily embraced experimenting with toppings they haven’t tried before such as spinach, broccoli, and even corn.
There was one outlier that I that I hadn’t expected when I rounded up my friends and interrogated them about their pizza preferences. This particular individual held the belief that pineapple only tastes good if it’s on certain kinds of pizza. His reasoning lies in desiring the perfect balance between sweet and salty. The difference in recipes between popular American pizza chains, according to him, greatly affects his enjoyment of pineapple as a topping. Chains with sweeter dough and sauce, like Papa John’s for example, are made entirely too sweet with the addition of pineapple. When asked to pick a side on the matter, however, the subject expressed his support of pineapple with very little hesitation.
One can take away two irrefutable facts from this great debate of pizza toppings. The first is that there are two types of people in this world: people who like pineapple on their pizza, and people who don’t. Neither choice is inherently wrong, of course. After all, it ultimately comes down one’s personal taste, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The second is why any of this even matters. “The ‘Za Wars” is just one example of how social media influences our culture, and continues to aid in our evolution as communicators. At no other point in human history have people across the globe had so much access to each other as we do now. Slowly but surely, we are gaining the ability to circumvent cultural and physical borders that bar us from achieving complete and total global connectivity. If something as insignificant as a pizza topping preference can rally people from all walks of life to open discussions and debates with each other, imagine what could happen if we learned to collaborate on such a major scale when it comes to serious global issues. In dividing us, pineapple pizza brought us all together. Pineapple pizza, love it or hate it, is a motivator toward future social change. If that doesn’t make you hungry for what the future has in store, I don’t know what could. As for myself, I won’t be stepping down from my position anytime soon. In fact, the next time I order a pie, I think I’ll get it with extra pineapple.