Hawaiian pizza, food wars… and why a simple slice of pineapple reminds us to mind our language

Recently there was a post on LinkedIn about quality DMs, ending with a joking hot take on pineapple on pizza being right, just for a bit of Friday fun.

Most agreed: Hawaiian pizza is yum!

A lone Italian on the thread replied, predictably, that pineapple does not belong anywhere on pizza.

Now, disagreement over this ‘creation’ (I hate to credit it with such kudos) has caused much mirth and dinner party ribbing over the years.

It spawned a million-plus views TikTok video.

Even Sky News questioned the Italian ambassador to the UK whether it was acceptable, to which he replied an unequivocal ‘No’. The news anchor then proceeded to tell him the station was sending one over as a gift.

The sheer discomfort on the diplomat’s face revealed just how much grace he was having to muster to handle that broadside.

Sure, we can all laugh at these things. I found it funny at first… then I didn’t, when this comment popped up:

Pineapple belongs on pizza – who cares what the purists say?! Sweet and sour chicken pizza is the [bomb emoji].

The thing is, I am Italian (Sicilian heritage, to be precise). If this individual were to say anything like that in Naples, the birthplace of the classic Margherita – or have the temerity to order a sweet and sour chicken topping anywhere in Garibaldi’s great nation – the reaction would be bafflement, at best.

At worst, abject horror. With the distinct possibility of being frogmarched straight to the nearest harbour and summary ejection into the sea.

Let’s look at this another way. How would British people react if someone were to sit down at a restaurant and order mango with their roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, or Kiwi fruit on a full English breakfast, just for a laugh?

Much the same! These dishes are examplars of great pride in English cookery, and rightly so. They represent, are deeply embedded in its culture.

So why did I feel so offended by such an apparently innocuous comment?

To Italians (and indeed, many national cultures), food isn’t just fuel. You spend ages selecting the best ingredients. And if you aren’t actually cooking, you’re thinking about it.

Traditional dishes are a manifestation of history and culinary invention. They carry recipes and stories of lived experience handed down through the generations.

Above all – certainly for Italians – food is a symbol of amity and care. Presenting a lovingly prepared meal to family and friends is an act of giving. The table is significant: it’s where all of this is to be found.

In that light, saying ‘Who cares what the purists think?!’ reads as somewhat unaware. And pretty dismissive.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t about food snobbery or obsessing over such an ostensibly trivial debate.

It’s about understanding language, and the way it can represent so much more than it appears. It’s about recognising signifiers, what they mean to the communities that own them, and being sensitive to that.

As editors, it’s key for us to be aware and mind not only our own language, but those of the texts we edit.

Microaggression is a fact.

Silencing is a fact.

Potential for offence is most definitely a fact.

Thoughtless language risks dismissing and marginalising cultures, people and voices that often struggle to, and should be, heard. Sensitivity and supporting inclusivity is part of our job, period.

As for me, I’ve never ordered a Hawaiian pizza, and I’m not going to start now. Put it this way: I don’t want to be deported!

If you want to go over well in Italy, do the same. Order something simple, local, traditional and delicious. Enjoy your beautiful surroundings. Savour those flavours.

Italians will love you for it.

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