Canadian “pizza historian” ate 712 slices to write his PhD thesis

Apr 6 2023, 6:38 pm

A PhD candidate at York University has written their thesis about pizza. Specifically, the examination of pizza in Toronto and Buffalo, the history, and the commodification of it by other cultural groups.

The paper is written by Alexander Hughes, a Canadian historian who consumed 712 slices over a five-year period for research purposes.

The dissertation explores the importance Italian immigrants played in both Toronto and Buffalo in the 1900s.

The economic boom from 1950-1990 post-war in Toronto contrasted with the economic decline of Buffalo meant there was a wealthier and larger working middle class here.

This meant more people were able to eat out at specialty pizzerias, franchises, as well as influenced a shift in premium pizza styles and toppings.

In 1970, General Foods surveyed Toronto housewives and gathered that 83% of these respondents bought five to 12 pizzas a year.

Interestingly, the first pizza boxes are said to have been Italian bakery boxes. In 1966, Dominick’s Pizza — which later became today’s Domino’s Pizza — in Michigan would create the first corrugated cardboard pizza box, changing the concept of takeout forever.

Unlike Buffalo, Toronto saw a boom in Canadian franchises during this time. Among them are Pizza Pizza, Pizza Nova, Pizzaville, and Mother’s Pizza. This is said to be the result of Buffalo’s dwindling economy.

phd thesis pizza

Pizza Nova Menu from the original location at Lawrence Avenue E. and Kennedy Road. (Pizza Nova)

From 1975-1981, Pizza Pizza alone grew from three to 42 franchises. By the ’80s, Toronto’s wealthy middle class sought out more luxurious pizza styles as ways to project their affluence.

Influenced by the Southern Californian style popularized by Hollywood, toppings like eggplant, ricotta cheese, red peppers, and smoked salmon were used.

The use of premium ingredients like heirloom tomatoes, asparagus, and truffle oil is said to have been born out of this period — much of which we still see to this day.

It’s fascinating to see what a city’s historic and ethnic influence could have on something that is essentially dough, sauce, and cheese.

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