Pizza is as American as apple pie. In an increasingly polarized state, one thing stands strong at the forefront of the American conscience. That unifying, wondrous, satisfying and gooey vice is … pizza.
According to a study conducted by the National Association of Pizza Operators (NAPO), one in eight Americans eat pizza on any given day, with college students leading the polls in pizza consumption. As NAPO reports, over 40,000 people subscribe to Pizza Today, the leading pizza industry magazine, and over 5,000 books about pizza can be found listed on Amazon.
In many ways, pizza purports to be a non-divisive issue that can bring together even the staunchest Democrats and Republicans. And yet, a closer analysis of the pizza industry reveals that may not be the case. The pizza industry has a long history of supporting Republicans. Founder of Domino’s Pizza Tom Monaghan has long supported anti-choice groups such as Operation Rescue, Right to Life and Committee to End State-Funded Abortions in Michigan. In 2001, he financed a ballot initiative to remove sexual orientation from Michigan’s non-discrimination act.
Founder and CEO of Papa John’s Pizza John Schnatter is a top donor for the Koch Brothers, funding birther politics and anti-homosexuality legislation. Schnatter has taken a public stance against Obamacare and minimum wage laws. These are only two business bureaucrats within the larger scheme of pizza politics, and yet they set the stage for a broader critique of the pizza industry.
In the 2012 and 2014 elections Bloomberg reports the pizza industry gave $1.5 million to political candidates and political action commitees, with 88% going to Republicans. Pizza Hut gave 99% of its political contributions to Republicans, totaling over $685,000. Similarly, Papa John’s, Schwan’s Pizza, Domino’s Pizza and Little Caesars Pizza all donate upwards of 73% of their political contributions to Republicans.
Pizza companies have even come together to create their own lobbying group, the American Pizza Community (APC), to push a conservative agenda.
But when did pizza become a partisan issue? Can’t we all find common ground in the cheesy value of a transcendent slice of pepperoni pizza with extra cheese? Paul Krugman, a columnist for The New York Times, explains that the answer may come down to America’s nutrition wars.
“The pizza lobby portrays itself as the defender of personal choice and personal responsibility,” Krugman said. And those personal liberties are considered to be under attack by Democrats pushing to have stronger labeling requirements and healthier school lunches.
Chair of the American Pizza Community Lynn Liddle argued that labeling requirements put an undue burden on pizza chains as the range of toppings for pizza makes accurate labeling “near impossible”. Moreover, she argued that posting calories for an entire pizza might lead some customers to seek out different food options.
Democrats have also called for healthier school lunch options for children. Under existing nutritional guidelines, one slice of pizza is considered to be equivalent to one serving of vegetables (due to the two tablespoons of tomato paste in the average slice of pizza).
Giving consumers the knowledge to make informed decisions about the food they put in their bodies and expanding school lunches to include healthier options should seem like a no-brainer. However, these changes come at a cost that the pizza industry is not willing to make.
The pizza industry has a vested interest in the Republican Party and the sheer political contributions made towards the Republican Party should speak for themselves. The real danger of the pizza industry isn’t just nutritional considerations when ordering a pizza, it’s everything the party stands for.
Like many college students, I wrestle with the question: does my passion for pizza implicitly support the patriarchy? And if not the patriarchy, then perhaps a far right-wing agenda of limiting a woman’s right to make informed decisions about her own body, denying individuals the right to marry the person they love and blocking attempts to raise the minimum wage? Does the sheer quantity of pizza I eat contribute to the rise of the misogynistic, homophobic pizza-eating man? As we approach this upcoming election, I am reminded not only to vote my conscience, but to eat it too.
Siri Ericson ’17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Falcon Heights, Minn. She majors in political science and sociology and anthropology.