Friday, January 15, 2016

A Degree in Pizza Is Worth a Thousand Words

I’ve read recently about college courses on pizza in England and at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. My first reaction is: Where do I sign up? I teach a college course in writing fundamentals here in Oxford, Mississippi, home of Ole Miss and PMQ headquarters, and I think teaching students about the history of the world’s favorite food would be much easier than explaining active voice. Pizza fits the modern zeitgeist so much better than split infinitives.

I’m not minimizing the complexity of pizza studies. Menu planning, marketing, pizzeria operations, point of service technology and supply budgeting are all subject hurdles that would send me sprinting to the registrar’s office to beg for an incomplete. I just like eating the stuff. Although, if I won the Powerball, I’d be tempted to open a chain of those fast casual places to ensure my longevity among the world’s richest businessmen and set up my 2020 presidential bid…against He Whose Comb-Over Reveals No Part. Pizza’s march into the academic domain doesn’t surprise me at all. As I’ve chronicled previously in my first year at PMQ, it’s on everybody’s mind…and on their underwear…and in clear plastic pouches hanging around their necks. Yes, some lonely dude in the Gateway City even married a funky slice of St. Louis-style Provel cheese-laced squareness. No word yet on offspring.

On the other hand, no one much cares about verb-subject agreement anymore. The same millennials who rack up texting minutes like Fitbit steps never met a comma they didn’t like, or stopped to capture a direct quote with two pairs of those crooked little critters that appear over written text versus dangling at the end of their hands.  On the other hand (oops, running out of hands) those same I-phone jabbing youngsters are pizza brainiacs. They all seem to instinctively internalize the quickest, smartest most App licable (See what I did there?) tech savvy way to order pizza online.

So, I ask you, as a teacher, what group would you like to challenge? The pizza entrepreneurs of tomorrow or the never-wanna-be-a-Faulkner two-hand texters of today? Actually, I have no choice.  Already admitted inventory and cash flow are way above my brain synapse firing range. I’m only good at a couple things and, tragically, one of them is locating the perfect injection point for em dashes—here, maybe—which, so far, never made me a fortune or got me one date. I take that back. One date, but she was an English major who didn’t shave her legs.

I’m not complaining, really. I love my students, even if some of them roll their eyes when I suggest that typos detract, in some small way, from a professionally written press release. I make it up to them by ordering five large pizzas for our end-of-semester celebration.        

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

May the Pepperoni Be With You

With Star Wars dominating public consciousness I was thinking about the role pizza might play in a galaxy far, far away. On the day the new movie came out some of my co-workers were fully regaled in stormtrooper gear. While shooting a recipe video our test chef attempted to slice a pumpkin seed pizza with his light saber acquired in the WalMart Empire outpost here in Oxford, Mississippi, where the PMQ Deathstar orbits.

To be perfectly honest, I was always more of a Star Trek guy. Since my dad was a Naval aviator (that’s cooler than a mere pilot or even a Jedi Knight in my book) the Naval nomenclature in Captain Kirk’s universe had personal appeal. I remember when the crewmen, not to mention the crewladies in their 23rd Century mini tunics and boots, pressed a button and the fakey-looking rectangular door on the instant food replicator whizzed open to reveal trays of never-found-in-nature-hued nutrition blocks, maybe chased down with some blue Romulan Ale. Never saw them grab a smoking slice of pepperoni pizza out of that thing. Too messy, maybe?  Not enough heat produced by the dlithium crystals to bake really authentic Neapolitan crust? Politically correct concern for Vulcan dietary mandates?   Don’t know, but the Trekkies are missing the starship when it comes to good eats.

While I put this blog under the heat lamp during my holiday week off, I actually went to the theater myself (alone, yes pathetic) to view the new Star Wars blockbuster. I was hoping director J.J. Abrams would pay homage to the famous cantina scene from the first flick, and he didn’t disappoint. Still, no pizza! In fact, I didn’t notice grub of any kind, although a few of the patrons at Maz Kanata’s place did resemble grubs…or termites…or something equally intergalactically repellent.  Old (apparently thousands of years ancient) Maz is a dead ringer for a spectacled lizard herself, or maybe the (really) old wisecracking broad from Golden Girls. What’s Star Wars got to do with pizza, you ask. Well for one thing, I figure those legions of evil stormtroopers would be naturals to subsist on some 3-D food-printed version of the same staple that their Roman predecessors marched on while conquering Planet Earth. After all, 3-D pizza printing is already part of 2016 military planning as the DOD tests integrating America’s favorite food into the rations for today’s deployed GIs. When I was in the Air Force, the best we could hope for in our MRE (Meals Ready to Eat—but not enjoy) was reconstituted beef stew.

Now I love syfy, even if my tastes run to more authentically cosmic physics-aligned approaches like last year’s hit Interstellar. Even in Matthew McConaughey’s fifth dimensional, gravity-curved worm hole of a fun time there’s no time for pizza. Ditto my favorite mind-bending film experience from childhood, 2001 a Space Odyssey. The astronauts again feast on rectangular essence of real food. The mysteries of creation are found in a black monolith, but not one sliver of leftover pizza crust exists in the vast expanse of space.

I don’t buy it. Don’t tell me that any advanced civilization will be able to survive without a cheese dripping, meat and veggie-laden slice of doughy, saucy perfection. Nutritional convenience and tidiness may be important values for space travel, but great food has always been about more than existing. It’s family and fellowship and pleasure and art. When the force really wakes up—it’ll send the Millennium Falcon out for a space cruiser full of pepperoni pizzas.