The World's Most Beloved Food Is Under Serious Threat

The World's Most Beloved Food Is Under Serious Threat

Why you should care

Because pizza making is a noble endeavor.

When you stop by for a quick lunch at a pizzeria in Rome, you expect to see Roman or Neapolitan chefs in front of brick ovens throwing pizzas in the air to give them that roundish shape. Today, though, the pizza makers you encounter are more likely to be Egyptian, Pakistani and Indian, who pizza-make with sublime artistry. In fact, according to Confcommercio, Italy’s food retail association, 2 out of 5 pizza makers in Italy are Egyptian or Moroccan.

But there are still aren’t enough hands to make dough into discs: The country that invented the world’s most heavenly flatbread, says Confcommercio, needs

6,000 pizza chefs.

Despite the more than 5 million pizzas that are made each day in more than 60,000 pizzerias and taverns scattered across the boot, job vacancies for pizza makers are rising. “That’s because young Italian people are abandoning traditional jobs in search of more gratifying ones,” says Marco Omizzoli, who runs a migrant center near Rome. Even for the unemployed — and some 43 percent of Italian youth are jobless, a record in Europe — making pizza is apparently not so gratifying. Some experts say that’s because the pay is poor.

But it’s also a matter of losing passion and roots. Gone are the days when Italian pizza men raced to invent new twists of pizza, for centuries the only kind of street food a poor person could afford. Pizza margherita — the iconic tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil version that recalls the colors of Italy’s flag — was created in the 1800s by a Neapolitan chef to honor the visit of Italy’s Queen Margherita of Savoy. “Even when teenagers opt for a career in the food sector, they all want to become famous chefs and gourmet experts, looking for a spotlight on national and international stages. In the meantime, Egyptians are becoming more and more specialized in making pizza,” says Enrico Stoppani, head of Confcommercio. Experts are calling for more pizza-making courses — and some way to make pizza sexier, instead of a simple behind-the-counter cooking role.

But another reason for the supply crunch is that pizza demand is rising at an incredible rate, explains Stoppani. The protracted economic crisis has tightened food budgets,and more and more “white collar” clients opt for a quick take-away slice of pizza at the many stop-and-go pizza stands, rather than sitting down at pizzerias and restaurants. These pizza parlors, known as “pizza al taglio” (literally: “pizza to slice”) are cheaper to set up and run than ordinary taverns.

And 8 percent more Italians are now having pizza even for breakfast, not just for lunch or as an evening snack, savoring it especially during the summer while they suntan on beaches or walk along the shore. Maybe what Italy needs is — blasphemy! — a revolution in frozen pizza.

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