Aug 24, 2009

The Cheese Pizza Conundrum

I have always heard it said that to have a fun and peaceful dinner party, you should avoid discussions about politics and religion. And while that may be good advice, I have noticed that many a good party has been damaged by something less obvious than the chatter. It was waylaid by the actual food served. For, alas, the poor hosts decided to order pizza.

I really believe that the most contentious topic on earth is pizza toppings. You could take a delivery menu into a monastery high in the mountains that has observed a millenia of silence and gets the residents fighting within five minutes. "Anyone in their right mind knoweth that boar goes better on pizza than pemican." I think people are more opinionated about their pizza toppings than just about anything, and they are not willing to compromise. They want what they want and aren't going to choke down nothing else. Even if they say they will "eat anything," they are dirty liars. I'm not talking about ordering pizza from one of those fancy places with funky new wave toppings. Places like that usually have figured it out and have personal sized pizzas. So each person can order their own weird combo at Pizzeria Uno (Chicago Classic with Hamburger instead of sausage) or California Pizza Kitchen (Carne Asada) without bothering anyone else.

I'm talking about the long-standing tradition of having a dozen people over and trying to order pizzas from the local pizza joint for the group. It is worse than negotiating a corporate merger. It is worse than a divorce settlement. It probably has caused a few divorces. There are few things I hate more than ordering pizza for a group. Sure, you can go with the approach some youth pastors have with their 200 person group - 20 cheese, 20 pepperoni, get here on time or don't gripe. But that doesn't usually work for that group of 10-25 people that we usually have to deal with. I have worked in student ministry for so long I have nightmares about ordering pizza. I'll wake up in a cold sweat, "Don't worry, you'll get your five bucks' worth."

You have different pizza people. There is the garbage guy - the one who insists on getting every topping on the pizza. "The more junk the better." His pizza is basically a replacement for a salad bar plate at this point. It has twenty items on it. The structural integrity is completely compromised. Then there is the pepperoni crowd. This is the number one group - they swear by pepperoni like it was in the Bill of Rights. "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of long aged meat sticks." You have the mushroom people - and there is NO middle ground with mushrooms. You either love them or hate them. I don't know people who are ambivalent about mushrooms. It is either, "Oh man these things are great" or "What the heck is this? A tumor?" You also have the fringe people - the heat addicts, the anchovies loving weirdo, the vegetarian, the people who think fruit belongs on pizza, and the no-sauce totalitarians (my kids).

But there is that one group - the cheese only crowd - that becomes the biggest problem. I know because for a looooong time I was in this group. I finally have switched to the "Ground Beef" camp, for the most part. But until recently, I was a cheeser. My wife is usually a cheesehead - except at Donato's (mmm, Donato's. Tearing up.) My father-in-law is a huge cheeser. The thing about this group is that they don't like other pizza toppings. I understand completely. I never have been a big pepperoni lover - too much oil, weird floppy texture. I don't usually get veggies on my pizza - unless it is part of a whim combo. I won't eat mushrooms because who would willingly put fungus in their mouth? You don't suck on athlete's foot. But we'll eat the fungus that springs up in the woods behind our house. And the other meats have been hit and miss depending on the store. Cheese is safe, it is pure, it is easy. It is the same reason why so many people like vanilla ice cream. How bad can you screw up a basic cheese pizza?

The problem is that the other people all will eat cheese, but the cheesers won't eat the other stuff. So you order five pizzas. You get the garbage one for the one guy who swears he'll eat it all, you get two pepperonis for that huge group, one sausage and peppers, and one cheese. What is left at the end of the night? Two-thirds of the garbage pizza, half of a pepperoni pie, a couple pieces of sausage, and no cheese. And not only that, the cheesers each got one slice and are starving - eating potpourri in the corner. Why? Because everyone else went, "And I'll take one piece of cheese," and there was none left. All the toppings crowds get irate if you order too many cheese pizzas - saying it is boring. But they will all eat it.

I used to have to take drastic measures. I would hide a cheese pizza in the oven for the true cheesers. I would pay for my own pizza to make sure I got enough. I would stand there and police the cheese pizza, driving off the interlopers. I made a lot of enemies, but I defended my cheese-loving minority. People would say it was wrong. I would say, "Go eat the one with goat cheese and salamanders - that is what you wanted, right?"

You see the same conundrum played out whenever there is a lot of choices - the vanilla ice cream, the plain milk chocolate, the sugar cookies, the plain potato chips all get scarfed while the more elaborate jalapeno and anise cookies sit there. There is always just a small minority pushing for these items, but a large minority ready and willing to eat them. I am not sure the best way to even deal with the issue. You can always order one extra cheese pizza just in case, but then everyone gripes about the price per person. And that is already ugly enough - everyone wants to gorge themselves and have someone else pay. And I'm sure our government isn't going to be working on solving this any time soon - they're too busy working on health care and running for re-election. So, until then, please try to take care of your plain cheese loving guests. It is the good and right thing to do. It is American. "Bring me your huddled masses, starving and craving cheese pizza." I think I read that somewhere.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As usual, very funny. Especially the part about the salamanders.