A short story.

Image courtesy Chanel van Eeden

It is said the Italians invented pizza, but this dish was carried to such absurd depths in America that it was (perhaps inevitably) elevated to cosmological status.

It was in the American state of Texas — itself flat as a plain cheese pizza — that a beautiful and brilliant (or insane) young woman, isolated from the world by poverty and philosophy, developed the following Theory of Everything, which was related to me by a traveller on a cold winter’s night. You will surely have heard mere slices of this story, which travelled through darkened chatrooms of the Internet. But this traveller gratefully shared the most complete version of this legend I have heard, which I am compelled to relate to you.

In the boredom and hunger of her desperation, her frequent munchies were only satisfied by one item — the now-legendary Mac & Cheese Pizza, a particularly American specialty, possibly native to this region. Italians and pizza purists scoffed at the very notion of such a seemingly comical pizza — surely another example of American excess. But, she said, once you’ve tried it, there is no going back — only forward, until no longer do you consume it, rather it consumes you.

And so, instead of a hyper-caloric perversion of Italian cuisine, the Mac & Cheese Pizza was elevated to the status of art, and then of science, and then of philosophy. If, instead of merely eating it as quickly as possible (while it’s hot), one contemplated it closely and carefully enough, the magical pie reveals secrets only visible to those with chemically-induced visions or the long periods of contemplation afforded by enforced poverty.

In this case, the details that emerged upon close inspection (through visual, aural and masticant means) combined such that it started to resemble a world — indeed, the world itself. This pizza began to stand as a model of reality, a landscape of possible journeys. Such was the young woman’s talent for singing and storytelling the secrets of the pizza that the physicists, geometers and cartographers of the country, and then the world, began to take notice, and one adventurous academic somehow secured funding, from one of America’s leading technologists-turned-philanthropists, to construct first a computerised, then a real, model of the Mac & Cheese Pizza, in order to deduce, predict, then imagine an alternate but nonetheless complete and comprehensive, reality.

So detailed and effective was the Pizza Model of Reality that the findings, first published online in a free, moderation-free forum, were subsequently picked up by an attentive journalist (trawling the Internet for Pizzagate rumours). Then followed a major grant from a national science foundation, which funded a larger, even more complete model of the pizza. It became a map of the world itself, and its detail and scale increased such that, inevitably, the pizza map began to occupy more of the world itself, until only a 1-to-1 model of reality could be detailed enough: The pizza became the territory itself.

People thus colonised and inhabited the pizza. Its pasta toppings, baked into distorted shapes — variously crunchy or soft –were made more exotic by the lashings of melted cheese. It proved a vast terrain worthy of exploration. Hills of piled macaroni; valleys of cheese, sauce and oil; distant mountain ranges of crust, all harkened the curious. An intrepid geometer noticed that the sun at noon cast a different pasta-shaped shadow in two different locations, and conjectured that perhaps the pizza might not be flat at all. A spherical pizza — it was unheard of, and the geometer was ignored or chastened during the rest of his lifetime. But no one ever seemed to reach those far mountains of crust. Where, and what, were they exactly? What was their chemical composition, their topography, their flora and fauna?

Centuries later, a great Pizza Enlightenment brought many more questions, but few answers. If the world-pizza was a sphere, what was inside — below the crust? Conversely, what was above, outside the pizza-world? Who or what was the great Pizza Maker? Might all those stars in the sky host other pizza-worlds, perhaps with different and unimaginable toppings? Did life arise in primordial sauce as the pizza was cooling? One far-thinking theoretical physicist even posited a pizza inversion — a topological (and so far unobserved) phenomenon in which the pizza twists in on itself until it is inside out — yes, you know it as Calzone Theory. Others discovered ever-smaller particles that made up the matter of pizza-reality — the so-called ’00’ Theory.

In the worldwide zeal to map the world-pizza, exploration inevitably became exploitation. Larger and larger slices were taken by the greedy, pasta cities attained great heights, olive oil was extracted in ever-greater quantities, a scattered dusting of exotic minerals was discovered, synthesised and sold for ever-greater profits. And in all this frantic activity, the population boomed, and the pizza began to warm. Previously hardened cheese began to melt. Like on any pie out of refrigeration too long, new microbes emerged, infecting the land and the people.

Alas, it was the very practices of mapping and modelling which came to be seen as the root of exploration, exploitation, colonisation. And these practices gradually failed to satisfy, and both inhabitants and ingesters of the Great Mac & Cheese Pizza began to appreciate it merely for what it was, in itself — its existence, not essence. The pizza-as-map was soon useless, and now nothing remains of the practices of geometry and simulation. By contrast, our young pizza theorist is still today celebrated, her songs and stories sung and shared with each generation, celebrating the look, the taste, the smell and the general satisfaction of the pizza in itself, for itself, and for all humanity.

With apologies to Jorge Luis Borges.