The pizza saga continues. Men’s Health editor-in-chief Dave Zinczenko recently appeared on the Today Show to discuss a New York Times article that implicated a marketing arm of the Department of Agriculture in the promotion of high-fat, excessively cheesy pizza and other cheese-heavy foods.
A few weeks after Domino’s Pizza CEO J. Patrick Doyle traveled to New Delhi for the opening of the company’s 9,000th franchise, he unveiled the next phase in the master strategy for global pizza domination. The company will establish a foothold of restaurants in Malaysia while doubling the number of U.K. locations by 2017. “We’re in 65 countries right now,” says Doyle. “We’re not seeing many places where it doesn’t make sense for Domino’s pizza to go.”
Pizza is the world’s most popular food, and that enormous appetite is fueling what has recently become a transnational melee for market share and profits among four players: Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and Little Caesars. On the face of it, this intense competition for the dough we spend on dough sounds like a good thing. We eventually bite into better-tasting pizza that’s made faster and sold cheaper. “Pizza is as economical to buy now as it was back in the ’80s, if not more so,” says Jennifer Litz, editor of PizzaMarketplace.com, an online trade publication for the industry.
But what if that large pie delivered to your doorstep costs more than you think? A number of economists, sociologists, and food scholars claim that the $36 billion-a-year success of Big Pizza has ominous undertones and implications that reach far beyond weighty matters like deciding between extra cheese and anchovies. They argue that the unrelenting push for ever-cheaper pizza ingredients is hurting the planet and driving small and medium-size farms out of business. Some of these farmers feel they have no choice but to move to the megacities sprouting across the globe. Once relocated to urban slums, many find themselves among the estimated 1.1 billion people earning less than $1 a day, an amount that makes it hard to survive, let alone afford Domino’s recent special offer of $5.99 a pie for two medium pizzas. Of the farmers that decide to stay put, some opt for a quicker death, at their own hand.
“We are faced with two possible futures,” says sociologist Harriet Friedmann, Ph.D., a professor of geography and planning at the University of Toronto. “One is a diversity of crops, of cultures, and of cuisines that can inhabit ecosystems sustainably and produce healthy food for urban centers. The other is long-distance food from nowhere, monocultural systems that aren’t sustainable, and simplified diets, especially for the poor. Global pizza typifies the second option.”
Another outspoken opponent of the circumstances underlying the worldwide pizza trade has been Philip McMichael, Ph.D., a professor of development sociology at Cornell University. He believes that the combined processes of bioindustrialization, the ever-increasing reliance of agro-industry on fossil fuels, and the relentless search for the most rapidly expanding overseas markets has led to a phenomenon he calls “the food regime.” The machinations that lie behind this new world order perform very well when it comes to churning out profits for transnational corporations, but that success comes at considerable social and economic expense, says McMichael. “It’s undermining people who make their living off the land everywhere.”
While I can understand acute hysteria and mass terror when it comes to melting icecaps, oil slicks the size of Arkansas, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with his finger on the trigger of a nuke, I haven’t quite gotten my arms around the pizza apocalypse. So I decided to start my investigation at the beginning of the pizza chain, at the place from which a Domino’s pie springs forth. I inch my rental car through a dismal-looking industrial park outside Detroit and pull up in front of a low-slung, nondescript building that houses one of Domino’s 17 U.S. dough factories.
Way back in 1960, Domino’s founders, brothers Tom and James Monaghan, purchased their first pizza joint not all that far from this forsaken stretch of Michigan frost and weed. Today the chain employs more than 10,000 people, and its 2010 fiscal revenue topped $236 million.
I’m met at the dough factory by public relations manager Chris Brandon, an enthusiastic 20-something who leads the way into an antiseptic dough-making room of clattering conveyor belts, industrial mixers, precision dough cutters, and metal detectors. It turns out that each lump of Domino’s pizza dough must be x-rayed before it can be released into a litigious world, just in case a tooth-crushing twist of metal or stomach-puncturing screw might have fallen off the assembly line and dropped into the mix.
I approach a stainless-steel tureen that comes up to my chest, and watch as a carefully calibrated stream of water flushes into the bowl. After the water comes an autodispensed dose of soy crush–more commonly known as vegetable oil–that turns the liquid a dull yellow. Then 500 pounds of industrial flour explodes out of yet another stainless-steel pipe to join the fun. Through billowing clouds of white I catch a glimpse of the computer that runs the proprietary Domino’s software. “Step #17,” reads the screen. “Adding Flour.”
Clearly this is high-tech bioindustrialization at its finest.
Soon it’s time for a lifting machine to hoist the quarter-ton glob of dough 15 feet into the air, and then for a tilting machine to tip the entire concoction out of the tureen and into an extremely large stainless-steel hopper. “It’s going to miss the bowl,” I say.
“It may look that way,” Brandon reassures me, “but it never misses.” The dough slithers out of the tureen and into the center of the hopper; he smiles.
But a few minutes later, the next 500-pound batch hits the metal ledge of the hopper, teeters off the side, and unceremoniously plops onto the factory floor. Red lights flash, alarm bells ring, and the production line jolts to a halt.
For the first time in recorded history, a batch of Domino’s pizza dough has missed the bowl.
I guess overall the corporate food culture and structure is just bad. Men’s Health really dove in here this investigative article is a novella. I give them a lot of credit for pursuing something that really is critical and fundamental in American health. All the more reason to support your local pizza parlor, and make your own pizza.