After a series of traumatizing food-related events in his childhood, Dan Janssen has survived on nothing but pizza for the last 25 years. I spoke with Dan to try to understand how and why he doesn't eat anything else.
My friend Dan survives on nothing but pizza. It's said that variety is the spice of life, but for Dan, a 38-year-old woodworker based in Maryland, oregano is the only spice involved, because it's the only thing that he will put on top of his pizza. The next time people tell you to eat your vegetables, you can tell them to fuck off and enlighten them with the story of this guy.
Everyone who knows Dan wonders how he's still alive. Beyond the fact that his diet is completely horrifying, he also has diabetes and frequently gets low blood sugar. When his blood sugar dips into the danger zone, it sometimes results in his blacking out on the kitchen floor in his underwear with frozen food scattered around him. There was that one time he bought a new car and then blacked out on the drive home. He swerved off the road and totaled the vehicle, but besides from that isolated incident, his pizza diet seems to be working out for him. I recently spoke to Dan to hear more about how he came to subsist on gluten, tomato sauce, and cheese alone.
VICE: It's been said that you're the king of pizza. How did you get that reputation?
Dan Janssen: I've been eating pizza exclusively every day of my life for the past 25 years, and I'm not just talking about a slice of pizza every day. I usually eat an entire 14" pizza, and I only eat cheese pizza. I never get sick of it. If I go to one pizza shop or another brand, it's like eating a completely different meal.
What's your go-to pizza?
My absolute favorite pizza is from Pontillo's in Upstate New York. [Author's note: It's a chain based in Rochester with 20 locations in that area.] I haven't had it in over ten years, so I can't speak to whether it's still good, but the last time I had it, it was far above any pizza I'd ever had.
Why don't you eat other food?
I used to eat "regular food" like every normal American, but when I was 15 or 16, I made the decision to become a vegetarian based on ethical reasoning. I still loved the taste of meat, and I still love it to this day, but due to my beliefs, I gave it up. That was about 23 years ago. I also hate vegetables.
Does your current diet affect your diabetes?
When I first got diabetes, my endocrinologist said, "You should go to a nutritionist. You eat horribly." So I went to a nutritionist, and it was a waste of time. They just basically give you a list of things to try, saying, "Oh, you're a vegetarian; you should try this, this, and this." And of course I'm not going to try any of those. I like pizza. I've never gotten a negative reaction except from my first endocrinologist. But all the other doctors have said, "Your cholesterol is fine. You seem healthy. Keep doing what you're doing." I haven't had anyone truly concerned about it, except for my fiancée, and she's not overly concerned. With her advice and support, I've been seeing a therapist about my food aversion, and we've been exploring why I have such a limited diet. I must say, even though I sound like a horribly unhealthy and fat person, I'm not. I'm thin. I have tons of energy, and I feel great every day, so there might be something to the exclusive pizza diet.
Can I ask what you have been talking about with your therapist?
They've helped me uncover some things that I always knew but never realized the significance of. Like when I was four or five, we lived in the backwoods of North Carolina, where I went to daycare in Ms. Stanfill's home. She would try to feed all of us Brunswick stew every day, which is not something you would ever feed a five-year-old. It's either chicken, pork, or rabbit with beef and okra, lima beans, corn, potatoes, and tomatoes. I would protest and try to run away, but she would grab me. I can't remember whether she would beat me or spank me, but I know that she would throw me in a closet as my punishment for not eating the stew. I would sit in there crying and screaming for a couple hours until my mom came to pick me up.
Wasn't there was another traumatic story that you mentioned involving your sister?
When I was five, I was in the backyard. My sister fed me some mushrooms, which turned out to be poisonous, and I had to be rushed to the hospital. They fed me Coca-Cola and Karo syrup until I vomited, and then I kept vomiting uncontrollably the entire night. I was fine after that.
That sounds terrifying. Of the major pizza chains, which are your favorites?
Well, I'd say they're all pretty bad, but I do frequent them. Pizza is like sex—even when it's bad, it's good.
Do you like to cook at all?
God, no. My cooking consists of the microwave oven. I never really understood cooking. You put so much time, energy, and expense into it, and then you eat it, and it's gone.
Are there any foods in particular that you would like to try to eat in the future?
I never want to give up my love and passion for pizza. However, I would like to be able to go to a restaurant where they didn't serve pizza and order off the menu, which I can't really do right now. My fiancée is vegetarian, so it would be nice to be able to go out to nicer restaurants with her. We're sort of limited as to where we go because of my pizza addiction. But at the same time, I don't want to give it up. And I don't want to become a foodie or one of those people that has a fetish around food—other than pizza—because I think that's a dumb by-product of our narcissist society. They have to have locally grown food from around the corner and all that bullshit. I like processed food. I like preservatives and pizza. My dad's the same way, too. He had triple bypass surgery and then a week later went out and had a huge steak dinner.
Since you've been seeing the therapist, have you started eating any different foods?
[Laughs] No. In fact, one of the reasons I like to go see her is because she's in the city and I can go to Joe Squared (a pizza place nearby) after to get pizza.
Great. Enjoy your pizza, Dan.