Why do you think the great pizzas have gone downhill, except for changing people in the same pizza businesses?
Norma, over the years, I've bandied around a few theories as to the cause of the deterioration of NY area pizza, including a move towards younger, less experienced help (that couldn't stretch the dough thin), cheap pizzeria owners that wanted to save on gas bills and ran their ovens cooler, and the influence of chain pizzerias. While I still believe these to be valid theories, I've continued to wrack my brain on this topic and, in recent months, a slightly revised theory, a theory that I strongly believe in, has come to me.
The root cause is the chains, but it goes deeper than the independents getting their behinds beating by the chains and chainifying their pies in order to compete. It's the reason why
the independents got their behinds beat in the first place. Television. I watch a load of TV now, but I believe I was one of the last generations of kids that weren't planted in front of a TV. Dominos knew that they could never produce a crust on par with the independents, so they came up with the idea of loading up their pizzas with everything but the kitchen sink and advertising the living daylights out of it. In order to accommodate these heavy toppings, they had to increase the thickness factor for a sturdier crust. They didn't care if the increased TF made for a crappier crust- they weren't selling good pizza- they were selling an image of what people might think to be good pizza, while cutting corners in quality and lining their coffers with gold.
And they pummeled this image into the minds of children with TV babysitters from sea to shining sea, year after year. And it worked- in a massive way. These pied pipers walked all these children right off a cliff- and are continuing to walk these now grown up children off the cliff every day- soul after unsuspecting soul plummeting towards pizza quality calamity.
The independents couldn't impact the public psyche in the same way. A steaming meat lovers pizza flashed on the screens of millions and millions started salivating like zombies leering at brains, groaning,"me must have". "Me MUST have." And one by one, the independents made the tragic calculation that in order to compete they must sell something similar. It didn't make any difference that they could have likely kept on being just as profitable selling world class pies, they drank the kool aid just like everyone else.
Corporations are here to make money. Making money rarely goes hand in hand with providing the best food for customers. Corporatization and globalization have brought quite a few advances to society, but we've also paid/are paying the price in good food. In the past, the French have understood this better than anyone. French farmers used to riot at McDonalds. For decades they fought food globalization like it was a life threatening virus bent on world destruction. They fought so valiantly and for so long.
But, alas, there's TVs in France
And where there's a TV, you'll find a kid in front of it.
"Maman, pouvons-nous aller à McDonalds? S'il vous plaît?"
The good news is that people can wake up. If you see something delicious on the TV, go to the fast food restaurant and get crap, over and over again, you can start to learn that corporations aren't looking out for your best interests. I think this is part of the appeal of Neapolitan pizza- it has a pure, authentic, rustic, pre-corporation, pre-commodification, pre-gentrification artistry. The fact that NP is gaining such popularity, without any advertising whatsoever, is incredibly encouraging. All we have to get across to people is that NY style, in conscientious hands, can have that exact level of artistry, of authenticity.
I don't think we'll ever go back to the golden age of NY area pizza, but, if we make world class pizza, help others make it and shout our undying love for this pizza from the rooftops, someone's going to listen.