I disagree. Pizza as we know it represents the death of civilization. Fast food is spiritual starvation.
In modern times, the end of civilization is not chaotic, but orderly and convenient. On the surface, it is smoothly functioning and even appealing. But the sky might as well be falling and barbarians might as well be rushing into our homes. So serious is the loss of civility, beauty, courtesy, wonder, and love - all the things that distinguish human beings from animals and civilization from mere survival.
Pizza is just bread with tomatoes and cheese, and I agree with you that there is nothing objectionable about that in itself. As an occasional treat, especially when it is homemade, it is not bad at all. But in its pervasive, modern, industrial foamboard incarnation, pizza is animal feed. It is so radically inferior to the simple boiled cabbage and potatoes of your parents’ childhood that it’s impossible to consider them in the same category. One is denatured factory fare. The other is field and sun. One is a cash transaction. The other is mutual aid. One is sloth. The other is labor. One is commerce. The other is love.
Your grandmothers took cabbage and potatoes, cut them up and then made them into food for their families. They might even have grown these foods in their own gardens. (Regardless, the cabbage and potatoes they used would have been much higher in nutrients than the cabbage and potatoes found in most stores today.) Your grandmothers were not paid workers when they did this work. They were not making food for strangers. Even if they made these things poorly, there was something personal about their neglect. Your parents sat around family tables to consume their cabbage and potatoes. Their small portion of beef on Sunday was part of a time-honored ritual, part of a day devoted to leisure even for the poorest man. And when people feuded at the table or disagreed with one another, even when children misbehaved, there was something personal about their interactions. They talked and cooperated. They did more than grab slices from a greasy box and eat them with their hands. They didn’t sit in a communal dining hall sipping soda with strangers. They didn’t watch television with the cardboard boxes splayed before them. The shared cabbage was more than food. It was the rhythm of nature, the struggle for existence and human order. It was a meal with form and structure. Food has an ethical dimension and simple food is not necessarily coarse when part of a shared ritual.
At the end of the meal, that greasy box sits on the table. Does anyone think fondly of it? Will anyone wistfully recall the greasy pizza boxes of their childhood the way they might recall their grandmother’s simple noodles or the roast beef that infused the house with its smell? I remember once showing up at my grandmother’s house when I was a child and she made me a simple ham sandwich with ham she had roasted the day before. It was one of the best meals I have ever had in my whole life. There was something mysteriously good about it.
Fast food and convenience wraps, paninis, nachos and McMeals have dumbed down food preparation so much that many people have no cultural memory of dishes like cabbage and potatoes, meals that are cheap, satisfying and extremely easy to make. It takes about 20 minutes and $5 to make a meal of cabbage and potatoes, not counting the time spent shopping. It’s an excellent meal, as long as the cabbage is not overcooked. I could easily eat it five nights a week.
The English-speaking world does indeed have a history of good food and fast food is a radical break with this history, as different from the food of the past as Soviet architecture is from a gabled and turreted Victorian building or a small thatched cottage. The French and Italians are more sensual and intelligent with food, but the English-speaking world historically fed itself well, with the different ethnic groups expressing their ties to the past and their connection to land and sea in their own ways. Meat pies, biscuits, fresh cheeses, simple vegetables, homemade breads with fresh butter, broiled fish, roast potatoes - these are all traditional British and American soul food. In Victorian times, even a humble, middle class family might put a white tablecloth on the table for a weeknight dinner of any of these simple things.
One in three Americans is now obese and the country’s disastrous weight gain parallels the growth in convenience foods. I disagree with those who think large numbers of people can stay in good health on fast food that is lower in carbohydrates or healthier in other ways. There can be better fast food and it doesn’t need to be as devastating as it is, but fast food will always be incapacitating. People forget how to fend for themselves and lose a sense of their own physical environment, even their own bodies.
“Animals eat; only man dines,” said the cooknook author Isabella Beeton. What we eat makes us who we are:
The nation which knows how to dine has learnt the leading lesson of progress. It implies both the will and the skill to reduce to order, and surround with idealisms and graces, the more material conditions of human existence; and wherever that will and skill exist, life cannot be wholly ignoble.