Thursday, September 10, 2015

Counting Calories Isn't a Square Deal in Pizza Universe

It’s cool to be square. I’m talking deep-dish pizza squares, like the renowned Chicago-style variety perfected by our friends at Rosati’s. They craft their square-cut gems at 48 sites in seven states around the country. Rosati’s president, Marla Topliff, is worried about whacked wording in the FDA’s menu labeling mandate, re-scheduled to take effect December 1, 2016, that, she says, penalizes square-cut pizza operators (with more than 20 locations) for daring to divide pies into non-uniform slices. That’s what you get when you try to cut round pies into square pieces. Yep, you get that delicious little odd-shaped rectangular nubbin salvaged from the pizza perimeter. No, I mean you get a competition-busting edict from the Feds requiring the square-cut rebels to post in-store calorie information for the whole pie instead of each slice. That spells a potential 800% calorie over-count and market meltdown vs. the big chains just to comply with the regulation.

The only course I flunked in high school was geometry so maybe I’m not the guy to expound on the case for square food over triangles, but here goes. You see, traditional triangular slices, like they carve out of their perfectly symmetrical round pies at Empire franchises in the Pizza Giant star systems, are considered “uniform sectors” by the pizzeria planet’s FDA overlords. Has something to do with a dude named Euclid and pi without the “e.” Now geometry disgrace that I sadly personify, still seems to me that pizza triangles are curved at the base and so—ipso facto—not really triangles at all. Pizza was invented to fuel the Roman Legions, you know? These tomato-and-cheese-pointers have a streamlined advantage when it comes to modern data tabulation—and that’s unfair, un-American and uncool. Bogus because it’s big-time disrespectful to some of the tastiest pizza types ever munched.

The short list of non-circular pizza magnificence starts with pan-made, Sicilian-style squareish varieties, including the Philly Tomato Pie, Pizza Al Taglio and Grandma Pie. Consider the oblong (more geometry) New Haven-style Pizza, Pennsylvania’s Old Forge Pizza, shaped a little like the Quaker State itself, and Grilled Pizza, which shares a similar outline to a random milk spill. Back in the beautiful, non-uniform Midwest, we find the thin-crust Chicago-style (think White Sox, Cubs), the amorphous self-described Midwestern Pizza, the cracker-crusted St. Louis-style pizza hybrid and, finally, the ever-more-popular Detroit-style dough barge of goodness that could haul the Motor City to recovery all by itself.

A plethora of non-triangular pizza slabs: Perfect in their rectangular non-uniformity; deliciously defiant in their non-compliance. The insurgency against the FDA’s imperial pizza bias is led by Jedis like Topliff and Betsy Craig, CEO and founder of the nutritional data consulting firm MenuTrinfo, who consult with Rosati’s. “This unfortunate, rigid stance by the FDA puts all Chicago-style pizzerias at a massive disadvantage,” she says. “Big chains, like Domino’s and Pizza Hut, won’t face the same calorie sticker shock per slice.” As a compromise, Craig suggests the FDA adopt the same “calories per average slice of uniform weight” standard that they’ve mandated for grocery store pizzas.

Topliff, who serves on the National Restaurant Association’s Pizza Council, adds the FDA’s apparent ignorance about America’s rich and diverse pizza portfolio isn’t shared by pizza-loving shape-shifters nationwide. “Great pizza is created in different shapes and unique styles around the country,” she says. “When you go into a pizzeria like Rosati’s, you’ll find loyal customers who are willing to stand up and fight for their favorite kind of pizza. They’ll argue endlessly about what’s better—Chicago-style or New York-style. Bottom line: Pizza fans are the most loyal consumers of any food item. They’re not looking for cookie-cutter uniformity. They want pizza that meets their needs and that’s exactly what we intend to continue to offer them.”

May the Force be with you, Marla! Indeed, victory may be on the horizon. As we’ve reported in PMQ.com, new bipartisan legislation called the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015 may exempt all pizzerias (yes, even those non-squares at Pizza Hut and Domino’s can feel the pizza love) from in-store menu board hell. Unfortunately, the geometry tsars in Washington haven’t resolved the calorie count dilemma for a square slice in a round whole pizza.     

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