For today’s American Culture and History lesson, we’re going to learn about Pizza and Italian Immigration in the U.S..

It’s time to learn the fact of the day and today we’re going to be talking about something related to cheese. Can you take a guess? What do you think America’s favorite food is?

Well, according to the Harris Poll, who interviewed 2,000 Americans, they found out that it’s not pasta and tacos which both came in fourth and fifth place. It is not the American hamburger which came in third place. It wasn’t steak, which came in second place. It was pizza. 21 percent of the 2,000 Americans interviewed said that pizza was their favorite food. In fact, according to a recent survey completed by Mintel, 93 percent of Americans eat pizza at least once a month and 40 percent have pizza once a week and that’s according to Technomic. So it’s not the hamburger people, it’s the pizza.

And so where does this tradition come from? Well, we can’t really talk about pizza unless we learn a little bit about the mass migration of Italians between the years of 1880 and 1914. A total of 13 million Italians emigrated, which is the world’s largest voluntary emigration in recorded history. In total, four million came to the United States and about 84 percent of that 4 million came from southern Italy or Sicily.

But why did so many people leave Italy? Well, there was economic hardship after reunification. And it just so happened that the United States had just finished the civil war and there was a labor shortage. The United States needed more workers to construct buildings, to work in the mines, to do agricultural work, mill work, factory work. The United States recruited Italians, we wanted them to come and in fact we can thank the Italian immigrants for helping build the transcontinental railroad from Nebraska to the west. So apart from manual labor, some of the Italians decided to bring their food culture. And they did so by opening some pizza shops (aka pizzerias!).

So, as you know, Southern Italians – well Naples in particular – is famous for creating what we know as the ‘modern pizza’. They added tomatoes, tomato sauce, to the pizza in the eighteen hundreds…

American Culture and History of Pizza in the U.S.

Owner John Brescio with a classic margherita pie in the main dining room at LOMBARDI’S, 32 Spring Street in Manhattan. December 20, 2013. (Photo by Gabi Porter)

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