Pizza is, indisputably, a very important food of the American people. According to the USDA, 13 percent of us eat pizza on any given day—make that a whopping 25 percent if you're looking at the demographic of males aged six to 19. Three billion pizzas are sold in the US every year out of the roughly 70,000 pizzerias nationwide.
Regardless of our dividing lines of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, and political affiliation, we Americans fucking love pizza. But what if you found out that your pizza was anything but apolitical?
A recent Bloomberg article delves into just how intense and powerful the pizza lobby is in regards to its attempts to sway federal organizations to keep pizza in school lunches and, more generally, in the hearts and bellies of America. Unlike their floundering friends in the rest of the fast food world—who have faced ever-increasing challenges in marketing their products due to mandated caloric content disclosure and frequent finger-pointing from public health experts—pizza corporations have found ways to dodge many bullets.
One thing you may not realize as you dive into your Meat Lover's or Hawaiian is that the dollars from your lazy late-night order may make their way into some very political pockets. Though political contributions from major pizza retailers totaled only $1.5 million in the 2012 and 2014 elections, their leanings were strongly in the red.
Eighty-eight percent of the dough (pun intended) went to Republicans, with 99 percent of the roughly $685,000 donated by Pizza Hut, for example, turning sharply to the right. (A mysterious 1 percent of the money went to Democratic candidates and groups.) Or take a peek at the monetary gifts of Papa John's: almost 87 percent of their $116,807 in donations went to Republicans—and just 4.6 percent to Democrats. Domino's and Little Caesars—though slightly more balanced at 20.7 percent and 27 percent of donations to Democratic recipients, respectively—also threw thousands of bucks each at Republicans, according to Bloomberg. But this is no coincidence.
Despite the fact that pizza is not fooling anyone into thinking it's healthy, it's simply too beloved and too profitable to be removed from our plates without a fight—if not from consumers, then from the pizza lobby. Better known as the American Pizza Community, the pizza lobby's goal is essentially to work in the best interests of the industry's biggest players, finding loopholes and exceptions that will save pizza from being dethroned by new laws or federal guidelines.
Take, for example, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the much-publicized battle over improving school lunch nutrition that has been waged since 2010 with the aim of increasing schoolchildren's intake of vegetables and reducing the amount of sodium in their meals. Almost $500 million worth of pizza is served in cafeterias around the country each year, meaning that the Act didn't exactly score favorably for frozen pizza purveyors (who, naturally, have their own lobby). The frozen pizza lobby initially succeeded in getting the tomato sauce on its pies to qualify as a vegetable, only to sound the alarm when the USDA later tried to increase the minimum amount of paste permitted for it to count as a full serving of vegetables. But Congress blocked the USDA from making the change in 2011, and currently, tomato paste actually gets a special pass on kids' plates because it's made from concentrated tomatoes and does qualify as a serving of veggies. A personal pizza is practically a trip to the farmers' market!
Or eyeball the drama over menu labeling, the mandate that has accounted for your sense of horror and guilt any time you've considered ordering a fettuccine with cream sauce at a major chain restaurant in the past few years. Ever notice how your pizza box never tells you how many calories are in a slice? That's no coincidence. Domino's took to Washington with friends (at least for the moment) from Papa John's and Little Caesars to argue that such a practice wouldn't make sense for pizza, since toppings are customizable, serving sizes are so variable (in addition to the disciplined single-slicers, there are, let's admit, those of us who might choose to eat their feelings via a whole pie), and so much of it is ordered online rather than from an in-person menu.
And they may have won. Cue the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, a bill currently pending that would allow delivery-based pizzerias to merely tuck away their nutritional information online and post calorie information by the slice rather than by the whole 'za. The pro side: you may not have to stare down the 4,000 calories in the pepperoni and olive creation that just showed up piping hot at your door. The cons: many people truly have no idea how bad for their bellies pizza can be, and still won't. With more than one-third of our citizens certifiably obese, the US doesn't exactly get top props for nutritional awareness.
So, yeah—your pizza provider might be throwing some bucks around Washington, and not necessarily to your favorite people. But it's only because they want to make sure that their slices stay on your plate.