Monthly Marvel: Pizza Effect

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I’m sharing the pizza effect, which concerns the creation of “authentic” cultural artifacts abroad.


PIZZA EFFECT

This week’s idea is the pizza effect.

Image source: Jeffreyw at flic.kr/p/f57dsm. Jeffryw has a large number of high-quality creative commons photographs of pizza, in case that’s a resource you’ll need some day.

Image source: Jeffreyw at flic.kr/p/f57dsm. Jeffryw has a large number of high-quality creative commons photographs of pizza, in case that’s a resource you’ll need some day.

The pizza effect refers to a phenomenon in which an element of one culture is transformed or embraced in another culture and is then imported back into the culture of origin in this new way. You could also think of this as the way in which a culture or community’s self-understanding is influenced by outside sources. A term from religious studies and sociology, the pizza effect gets its name from the idea (possibly false) that pizza was mostly developed by immigrants from Italy in the United States and exported from there to Italy at a later date, where it was interpreted (and became) a specialty in Italian cuisine. Hindu monk and anthropology professor Agehananda Bharati coined the term in the 1970s to address issues of Indian culture: for instance, the popularity of yoga and several gurus which developed in the West led to their adoption in India, and the Bhagavad Gita which, while always important to Hinduism, became even more exalted when Western anthropologists and orientalists interpreted the Gita as Hinduism’s Bible.

Other examples include Islamist terrorism and suicide bombing, Theosophy, Buddhist modernism, Mahatma Gandhi’s religion (he was not interested in religion until he studied in London), and chicken tikka masala (which is now popular in India, but started as a British attempt at Indian-style cooking).

Of course, the pizza effect can have more complex permutations: Italy changed the pizza it got from the US, for instance, and that now-Italian pizza has come to the United States, branded as “authentic” Italian pizza. As Stephen Jenkins puts it, “Americans met their own reflection in the other and were delighted.”

Image source: Michael Coghlan at flic.kr/p/2sMmKA. The Bhagavad Gita was never a Hindu Bible…until it became one.

Image source: Michael Coghlan at flic.kr/p/2sMmKA. The Bhagavad Gita was never a Hindu Bible…until it became one.

For the most part, Wikipedia discusses the pizza effect assuming that Anglo Europe or the United States is the cultural centre which modifies a culture and sends that modification back to the quote-unquote original culture. (Simply, it always the US or Britain that makes the pizza and sends it “back” to Italy.) But I wonder in what ways this has happened the other way: how often do cultures that aren’t Anglo-American make “Western” things and send them “back,” which Britain or the US then enthusiastically accepts as their own?

Posted by Christian H.

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