Toward a dialectical materialist grasp of “the question of pineapple on pizza”


[Originally written August 19, 2016]

1. as lenin said, concrete analysis of concrete conditions is the living soul of marxism. we must know that we will never have an answer to what is “better.” which class is served by whether pineapple comes on a given pizza in a given place in a given time must depend on what will be done with the pizza, by whom it is being produced, who will be consuming it, how much they will enjoy or be disturbed by it, and so on.

2. even if we conclude that it is always bad for any person who consumes a pizza with pineapple on it, that does not mean no pineapple pizzas should be produced. pineapple puree in the sauce of a pizza that will definitely be eaten by a CIA director who is deathly allergic to pineapple is in the interests of the masses.

3. in coming to the question of whether it is bad or good for a person to consume pizza with pineapple on it, we should acknowledge that there are concrete reasons why this question has sprung up in this place at this time.

4. the fake gravity around the question of pineapple on pizza in fact is intended to mock that it is in fact, to everyone’s amusement, not as mundane a discussion as it “feels like it should be.” people take the joke conversation seriously because despite themselves people take pizza nontrivially seriously.

5. with that said, some things are overdetermined by culture and cannot be reduced to simple material underpinnings; once the meme of “Maoists weigh in on trivial thing” has reached its full bloom, what the object whose qualities are being weighed at the center of the “debate” is is somewhat irrelevant; once it reaches a critical mass, the question will sustain itself.

6. in light of (4), we should investigate why pineapple on pizza is taken nontrivially seriously in the places where it sees high currency. what could these reasons be? let us examine it.

i. for many, pizza is a comfort food, or a “comfort consumption.” it has weight because it is part of how people cope with the anxiety of living in a capitalist-imperialist world filled with the accompanying oppressions and alienation.

ii. mechanisms by which we comfort ourselves frequently need to be “just right.” for something to be “off” in the quality of the comforting substance, or in the execution of the ritual of consuming the comforting substance, can in fact heighten anxiety. hence, if there is a potential variable in some aspect of the comfort substance, decisions surrounding that variable can become emotionally charged–often not even on the “objective” merits of the possible settings of that variable (e.g., does the pizza have more than a background level of sweetness?) but rather because the comforting process relies on the variable remaining fixed however it has been set (that is, it becomes important for the success of the instance of “comfort consumption” that regardless of whether one is accustomed to a nontrivial sweetness, one must get what one is accustomed to to be comforted).

iii. we must still ask why pineapple sees itself singled out here. i am no chef, so i can’t speak of its flavors, but we can speak of its “tastes” (specifically here its sweetness). while there are many notably sweet things one could put on a pizza, pineapple is probably the most common one. we cannot say that there is no sweetness in a pizza, since invariably there is sweetness in the tomato sauce and frequently in other toppings (e.g., bell peppers, and even some of the meats), but we can say with confidence that there is a qualitatively higher degree of sweetness with the ingredient pineapple than the very mild sweetness of other ingredients.

iv. it is instructive that in the past, anchovies formed the archetypal object of pizza topping debate, and anchovies are an order of magnitude saltier than most other toppings. this provides some corroboration for the idea that a qualitatively distinct experience of one of the basic “tastes” (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, savory) is one of the crucial variables. anchovies also have a very distinct texture and composition that is found to be unappealing by significant segments of the u.s. mainstream, and–at least in the context of pizza–this is true of pineapple as well.

7. pizza is a highly social food, and in fact its sociality is at a height in the negotiation of toppings. if one merely wants pizza, one can easily order a slice of any kind. but when one is in the discussion of toppings, one is always already in the question of trying to satisfy a particular craving.

8. why is the negotiation of toppings so social? it is for no other reason but that we find ourselves in the social arrangement of having to negotiate the toppings with someone who must also abide by that decision! we must therefore look into the question of what forces us to share pizzas. in fact, this is none other than the fact that as consumers, we seek to economize on cost. but this is not a question that affects all classes equally! in fact, the lower and deeper one is in the proletariat, the greater the political-economic pressure there is to split a pizza, and thus the more frequently one will find oneself negotiating toppings.

9. the question of pineapple on pizza is therefore a hotter one than it seems because it is one forced disproportionately on members of the proletariat and its allies, who are in the moment of the decision just trying to chill out and enjoy a pizza, and even seeking to do so with people with whom we find ourselves cordial or even comradely. and yet because of the pickiness that is close to the heart of “comfort consumption” and the distinctness of pineapple among toppings, the frustration we experience in the struggle for unity on this question is all the more heightened.