On Pizza-Boxing

Originally written in the Summer of 2009, possibly during a fit of insomnia and/or hunger.

The great problem of our time can be summed up with a simple observation: that the man who makes the pizza does not make the pizza box. While our cook is hard at work, spinning dough and sprinkling cheese, a generic box rolls off the line in some factory town hundreds of miles away that happens to specialize in cardboard production. The delegation of work here is not the issue, nor is the physical distance between our cook and our depressing little cardboard town. If the pizza boxes were blank the world could go on spinning and the humans along for the ride could continue to shove slices of varying geometry between the lips of genuine smiles. This is, however, not our reality.

The pizza box is non-specific. Aside from big chains, most parlors use boxes without logos. For the sake of “authenticity,” these boxes will often feature a large picture of something Italian; perhaps a Venetian street or, if shooting for a ridiculous pun, the leaning tower of “Pizza.” Any normal Joe becomes immediately aware of the lie. It’s fairly obvious: the tomato sauce is from San Antonio, the cheese is from Alberta, the dough is canned in Wyoming, and the box comes from the depressing town that we have continued to dwell on, evidently without consideration for our precarious mental conditions.

The pizza box still has more tricks up its sleeve. In many cases generic boxes will have writing on the side that says something so obtuse that, if it weren’t for the maddening pizza cravings that led to its acquisition in the first place, normal rational creatures would ignore. But these too are outright lies. If a pizza box says “Fresh Hot Pizza,” it is a semi-fabrication and leap into the world of the unknown, where it appears that the slogan writer has little concern for the accuracy of his statement. In a way it’s almost like bad English used on products in Asia — the accuracy of the translation is not as important as the overall idea that it hopefully points towards. We are supposed to be reminded of a time when we indeed had pizza that was fresh and hot. And guess what? The food inside that box is something similar to that experience. At least, this is what the box makers and pizza cooks hope for.

If the pizza has been sitting under a heating lamp for several hours, a situation so common in the late night eateries of America that the high-wattage lightbulb industry might as well lobby for the Tomato-Pureeing Union, then the pizza box slogan is patently false. Fresh? No. Hot? Oh yeah. Pizza? Questionable. The point is that the box makers can’t possibly know whether the pizza will be hot, fresh, or even pizza at all (imagine their outrage if, after hiring a private culinary investigator/statistician, they found out almost half of their boxes are actually used to house calzones). Instead, they make a hopeful guess — a guess based on an ideal, possibly a wish for better pizza — that will commonly turn into opposite of itself when faced with the enormous disappointment of the innards of their little cardboard creation.

Is attempting to pass off something that one knows may not be true the same thing as an outright lie? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to call this “pizza-boxing,” a semi-lie that serves as cheap mortar to fill the incredible gap between bricked factory and brick oven. These semi-lies we all take square on the chin, and if it weren’t for our insatiable pizza gorging we might instead serve up doses of indignation instead of handfuls of dollars. And this, again, is our problem: that we are promised the lofty ideal all the time and are mostly given less-than, because the real world is typically less-than; the Pizza-Boxers of the world tell everyone that everything is always better than it actually is while abdicating their part in the collective responsibility to improve conditions all over the Earth.

Faced with these issues, we all have only one alternative: dining in.