Pizza is a very popular food in the United States, and it is popular in many different ways. In fact, like so much else we surround ourselves with, pizza, beyond its denotation of a flatbread covered with sauce, cheese and toppings, has connotations that differ based on where and how it is eaten. So here is a brief list of some of the forms that pizza takes:
- Retail pizza: is pizza that is bought at a store, usually frozen, and then brought home and cooked. Since this is cheaper and more convenient than most restaurants, this is the type of pizza that is most often consumed. Within this group, there are several sub-groupings:
- Ghetto pizza: this is usually pizza that can be made in a microwave, and is sold for very cheap, sometimes under a dollar per pizza. You get what you pay for. These are usually made without real cheese, and don't have a crispy crust, but rather a big doughy slab that squashes around. The tomato sauce is...well, not very good. The biggest market for ghetto pizza is college students who only have microwaves in their dorm.
- Standard frozen pizza: for the small increase in price (usually from 3 to 8 dollars each), these pizzas are a pretty good deal, especially since they are usually a bit larger than discount pizzas. The quality of these types of pizza varies from "mediocre" to "actually quite good".
- Gourmet frozen pizzas: these exist, but since there is only so much quality that you can get in a frozen pizza, it makes more sense to go and eat a real pizza. A big subset of this is exotic pizzas, which are exotic either for dietary reasons (such as vegan pizzas) or because some yuppie insists on putting yak cheese and mangoes on their pizza.
- Fresh pizzas: some delis have pizzas that are freshly prepared and then refrigerated without being frozen. For that matter, there is actually chains of "restaurants" that make nothing but uncooked pizzas. They prepare it, give it to you, and you go home and cook it later. It seems to be somewhat of a niche market to run a restaurant that doesn't do any cooking, but there is probably some reasons why these chains exist.
Homemade pizza: For some reason pizza is not widely made as a home food. There are actually pizza crusts for sale, on which a person can make a pizza of their choosing. Why pizza should not be a popular homemade food is not due to technical reasons. It does not require more effort to prepare than lasagna, for instance, and yet it is not usually part of the arsenal of home-cooked meals. I think that the reason for this is that so much of the connotation of pizza revolves around it being a "fun" food, and having to prepare it yourself ruins the sense of indulgence and festivity that pizza grants.
- The traditional pizzeria: This is a traditional pizzeria that sells pizza, and usually nothing else but pizza (and perhaps some sides). This is usually an independent business, and sometimes a local chain. They usually also will sell pizza by the slice. Most of these have minimal dining facilities, but are instead take-away. This is the type that you will find in New York City, and also in other urban areas and college towns.
- The fun filled family pizzeria!: This is a place that sells pizza, and also sells atmosphere. Best epitomized by the Chuck E Cheese franchise of pizzerias, this is a pizza place that attracts families with young children for occasions like birthday parties. Some of these are more like nightclubs for kids that happen to serve pizza, while others may be a restaurant that happens to have a toy train running along the wall, and an arcade.
- The big chains: Dominoes and Pizza Hut. These chains specialize in pizza delivery. They serve a pretty standard pizza, which is usually of okay quality, as long as you don't mind lots of grease. These big chains are used frequently both by Middle America and stoned college students alike. This is also the type of pizza that the less adventuresome might be the most used to.
- The fancy pizzeria: this is a pizzeria that serves quality pizza. Quality pizza is a good thing, although attempts to make a normal pizzeria more fancy by going to the conventions of a normal restaurant is close to blasphemy in my mind. Pizza is a casual food, and having a waiter at a pizza restaurant just ruins the experience for me. As discussed above, many of these fancy pizzerias also dabble in health food, or just plain yuppie exoticness.
And here, having investigated the various forms that pizza takes, we find that instead of being just a simple dish, pizza is often an experience, allowing the consumer to avoid responsibility and care in the form of a dish. The denotation "unleavened bread, tomato sauce, and cheese" denotes a quesadilla as much as it denotes a pizza, but quesadillas are not cultural symbols for fun and indulgence. And thus, we find that pizza is more than the sum of its parts.