Magazine Feature / People

DU professor tells history of pizza in new book

Although Carol Helstosky’s father ran the neighborhood restaurant when she was a child in Connecticut, she doesn’t consider herself a foodie. Yet somehow the associate professor of history at DU wrote the third book in Reaktion Books’ the Edible Series, Pizza: A Global History.

“I grew up around a restaurant culture and so food always meant something more than food. It told me about people and places and life,” Helstosky says. “I did not, however, learn to cook like a gourmet!”

In fact, the professor of 19th and 20th century European history wasn’t sure what to say when she was approached about writing the book, since it isn’t her background.

“It became a really fun project, taking a food and seeing how it goes global,” she says.

Helstosky found that while pizza originated in Naples, Italy, the food was widely popularized in America. In fact, she found Americans eat nearly 100 acres of pizza each day!

“In America it became a standardized food that offered great comfort; people knew what to expect,” she says. “Both main chains of standardized pizza, Dominos and Pizza Hut, were started in the Midwest by non-Italians.”

Helstosky says the great thing about pizza is that it can be a gourmet food or a common meal. Either way, she learned that people are passionate about their favorite pizza.

In addition to following pizza’s roots in Italy to its standardization in America, Helstosky follows pizza across the world. She found that in many countries pizza isn’t promoted as an Italian food. Advertisements for Pizza Hut in Poland display an Indian woman peddling pizza.

Series editor Adam Smith, who authored the first book, Hamburger, is planning many more.

“Each book provides an outline for one type of food or drink, revealing its history and culture on a global scale,” Smith says.

Pie, Hot Dog, Lobster and Beer are already in the works.

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