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Sadia Islam
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Why is everything uncommon for pizza toppings considered “taboo” in Italy?

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Let’s first clarify the concept of taboos. In anthropology, a taboo refers to a customary prohibition or avoidance, often rooted in religion or social norms, based on a group’s perception that certain behaviors or utterances are excessively repulsive, offensive, sacred, or restricted to specific individuals. Taboos typically exhibit strong superstitious beliefs. For example, the extreme taboo against non-sexual nudity in the US may be perplexing to non-Americans, considering that in many European countries, going topless or nude on beaches is widely accepted. This difference reflects deeply ingrained cultural attitudes and superstitious thinking within American society.

Similarly, over decades, a superstitious mindset has developed around gun ownership in the US. Many Americans, when presented with examples from similar countries like Australia, cling to the myth of American exceptionalism to refute the notion that the situation could be managed more effectively elsewhere.

Now, let’s address the question of whether Italians embrace unconventional pizza ingredients. Throughout history, Italians have indeed embraced innovation in pizza toppings. Traditionally, pizza was topped with cheese, anchovies, or greens. Tomato sauce, now a staple, was introduced only in the mid-19th century and gained popularity in the last century. Italians are open to incorporating unique ingredients into their pizzas, as reflected in menus like that of the Pizzium chain. Offerings such as the “Garfield” with Grana Padano and turkey sausage, or the “Trentino” with Taleggio, speck, and baked potatoes showcase this culinary creativity.

Gabriele Bonci, a renowned pizzaiolo from Rome, offers unique creations like “pizza e fichi” in the fall—a Roman white pizza topped with prosciutto and ripe figs, a traditional Italian pairing like prosciutto and melon.

However, there are boundaries when it comes to pizza ingredients. Ingredients like pineapple and banana, not native to the Mediterranean or Italian culinary tradition, are generally avoided. These imported ingredients, which are relatively expensive, clash with the essence of pizza as affordable street food.

Although Gino Sorbillo introduced pineapple pizza, possibly as a nod to international tourists, his version differs significantly from poorly executed American renditions. The opposition to such pizzas arises not from the inclusion of pineapple per se, but from the perception of poor quality associated with these versions.

In summary, Italians have a rich tradition of embracing diverse pizza toppings, but certain ingredients like pineapple and banana are generally avoided due to cultural and culinary considerations. The aversion to unconventional pizza ingredients is more about preserving the integrity of Italian culinary traditions rather than a blanket rejection of innovation.

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