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10 Peculiar Examples of the “Pizza Effect”

by Kieran Torbuck
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Happiness, heartburn, and even heart disease can all be effects of pizza, but when the anthropologist Agehananda Bharati first mentioned “the pizza effect” in 1970, he did not mean anything caused by eating it. The iconic Italian food’s history was an example of a pattern he had observed where something unimportant in one culture becomes popular in another. This then changes how it is seen back where it came from.

Pizza used to be unpopular in Italy and was seen as food for the poor. Its popularity only grew when Italians moved to the U.S., and new toppings made it a hit there. This gave pizza a whole new image back in Italy, that of a treasured national dish. This type of feedback loop does not only happen with food. From music to mindfulness, here are ten more examples of the pizza effect in action.

Related: Top 10 Enduring Trends, Movements, And Subcultures

10 Carbonara

WWII Carbonara – the ORIGINAL Spaghetti Carbonara Recipe?

Although it has been widely known in social science since the 1970s, many Italians in early 2023 had never heard of the pizza effect. And when a professor of food history dared to suggest in an interview that it applied to a lot more of their cuisine than only pizza, the country was outraged. One of the controversial claims made by Professor Alberto Grandi, himself Italian, was that carbonara was really an American dish.

Grandi’s claim was backed up by the work of a fellow food historian who found that the dish was first served to American soldiers during the Second World War. It dates back to 1944 when an Italian chef in Riccione whipped it up using the soldiers’ bacon and egg rations. Grandi knows his fellow Italians see their food as part of their identity, but he thinks that this link has gone too far. He cannot understand why he is attacked for simply pointing out that, like pizza, many dishes beloved by Italians today were developed in the U.S. in the last six decades.[1]

9 The Day of the Dead Parade

James Bond inspires Dia de los Muertos in Mexico City

In the right circumstances, the pizza effect can happen surprisingly quickly. One example of a sudden pizza effect occurred in 2016 when Mexico City decided to turn the Day of the Dead celebrations into a festival with a parade for the first time. Officials were inspired by the fictional parade from the opening scene of the James Bond movie Spectre, which was released in 2015.

The scene in the film had, of course, been inspired by the real Day of the Dead—the holiday dates back to Aztec times and celebrates dead relatives visiting their families. However, it was a more solemn occasion then, and the activities were very low-key. Homes and cemeteries would be lit with candles, and most people would spend the day with their families.

But after the Bond film, more than 1,000 actors and dancers took part in the parade through Mexico City. Spectators were treated to the sight of giant skeletons, skulls, and performers in traditional costumes dancing down the street.[2]

8 The St Patrick’s Day Parade

Why St Patrick’s Day went global

Another traditional parade that the pizza effect is responsible for is the St Patrick’s Day parade. However, it did not take hold very quickly in its home country. In the years since the first official parade took place in Dublin in 1931, it has become Ireland’s biggest annual celebration. And although that might sound like a long time, other countries had already been hosting St. Patrick’s Day parades for centuries before they ever took off on the Emerald Isle.

An Irish priest in St. Augustine, a Spanish colony in what is now Florida, held the first known parade to mark the occasion in 1601. But the modern parades are derived from Irish soldiers who were stationed in New York in 1762. They celebrated the day by marching in the street, wearing green, and playing Irish music on their military instruments. As more Irish people moved to the U.S. during the 19th century, parades like this became annual events, and the idea eventually made its way back to Ireland.[3]

7 Yoga

Why Indians say Americans are doing yoga wrong

Ask someone what they know about yoga, and they will probably say it is an ancient Indian tradition. They are not wrong… unless they think that this means yoga is a big part of most Indians’ lives. In the first decade of the 21st century, some yoga teachers in India said they were teaching classes of hundreds that did not have a single Indian in them. But things started to pick up after that. Big cities like Mumbai saw a resurgence of yoga studios, and teachers began offering private lessons at home.

So, had Indians suddenly reconnected with their ancient culture? Not exactly.

Director Kate Churchill, who made a documentary film about yoga in India, attributed the growth in popularity she saw during her time there to Madonna. People wanted to copy the habits of the Queen of Pop. She cannot take all the credit, though; that is only one example of how yoga’s adoption in the West was causing its revival in India. Another is how the Indian teachers offering private lessons had been inspired by American yoga DVDs.[4]

6 Meditation

The science of meditation | Catalyst

Another trend that has made its way from the ancient East to the West is mindfulness, and it is now on its way back again. It started making waves in the West in the 1960s but has recently gone mainstream. Many of the mindfulness practices that have become popular, such as meditation, have been adopted from Buddhist traditions, but they are often used outside of their original religious context and with a different purpose in mind.

Some religious scholars dismiss this as “McMindfulness.” Still, it has made it possible for doctors to study and use mindfulness practices in medicine. It is in this form that mindfulness is returning to Asia, where it is only just starting to be seriously considered in a medical context. This is because, in the past, the practices were not seen as individual tools with which to achieve specific goals. But this is starting to change. Doctors in Asia are beginning to see Western mindfulness tools as new and potentially helpful treatments.[5]

5 Tibetan Singing Bowls

The Science Behind Singing Bowls

The sonorous tone heard when a Tibetan singing bowl is struck can certainly be relaxing. Today, sound-healing and spiritual treatments, workshops, and recordings can be found across Tibet, Nepal, and other countries with Buddhist cultures. The bowls themselves are also widely sold. But despite the claims that those who sell them might make, historical evidence for their use in spiritual contexts is thin on the ground.

Tibet does not even have a specific term for singing bowls, which were originally just food bowls from Nepal and North India. They were always able to make a beautiful sound, but—like wine glasses—they were not seen as spiritual objects, and it is not known exactly when or how they came to be viewed as such.

Curiously, the lack of evidence helped sell them to Western customers by making them seem more secret and mysterious. It has also allowed Tibetans and Nepalese to create their own singing bowl practices. At first, this might have been to earn money from foreign visitors. Still, the bowls have now become closely linked with the Tibetan national identity.[6]

4 Preppy Menswear

How Japan Saved American Style

To know which American cultural trends are likely to last, a good place to start looking is Japan. From bourbon whiskey to workwear, the Japanese are masters at recognizing and refining the best of American products. These Japanese reinterpretations can then be sold back in the U.S., where they have helped revive the fortunes of things that have fallen out of favor.

For example, when “Ivy style” fashion became popular in Japan, it helped save preppy men’s fashion back in the U.S. The classic American brand J. Press, which is still going strong after more than a century, has been Japanese-owned since the 1980s. The iconic American brand Woolrich hired a Japanese design director after finding success in the Japanese market; he went on to found his own brand, which sells vintage American-style clothes in the U.S. And smaller Japanese brands such as Kamakura Shirts have opened U.S. stores to sell American-style Japanese shirts back to Americans.[7]

3 Greek Dance

Attendees at a Greek celebration, say a wedding or birthday, will likely find themselves at some point linking arms with their fellow guests and kicking their feet in time to some classic Greek folk music. First slowly, then gradually speeding up until chaos ensues. It is tradition, right? Well, it might be now, but only since 1964, which is hardly any time at all, considering this is a culture with one of the longest and most well-documented histories.

Dance has, of course, long been a part of that history, but the particular dance described above—arguably seen as the most quintessentially Greek dance—was an invention of the composer Mikis Theodorakis for the finale of the 1964 film Zorba the Greek. It is actually a combination of two traditional dances, one slow and one fast. The dance in the movie became known as syrtaki and is now symbolic of Greek culture, not only among non-Greeks but among natives too.[8]

2 Blues Music

How Britain Got The Blues 01

Blues musicians like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters are rightly viewed as iconic and influential today, but this came to be recognized in a pretty roundabout way. By the early ’60s, blues music was old news. The rock ‘n’ roll fad of the ‘0s seemed to have passed, and the blues had returned to the African-American communities where it had originated. At least, that was the case in the U.S.

In the UK, American blues music found an audience in working-class youths who empathized with the melancholy music of a people placed at the bottom of society through no fault of their own. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and many more British musicians based aspects of their sound on their beloved blues records. When their popularity soared and the “British Invasion” took place, many bands’ passion for the blues encouraged young Americans to explore the genre. This led to a blues revival, which evolved into genres such as classic rock as a new generation of American artists took inspiration from the blues and the invading British rock bands.[9]

1 Terrorism

What Does Jihad Actually Mean?

It might have given the world great food, music, and better mental health, but the pizza effect is not always a force for good. One way it could be bad for the world is by causing political commentators to unwittingly encourage terrorists. This could happen in cases where important concepts have more than one interpretation, such as the Islamic idea of jihad. It has two main definitions—striving to do a good or godly thing and using violence against non-Muslims.

Unlike most Muslims, terrorists subscribe to the latter. Many hawkish Western commentators also use that one. The historian Mark Sedgwick has suggested that this could cause a pizza-effect problem because some Muslims, whose background or education means that they do not know any different, will hear it said by these people that jihad means violence against non-Muslims. And they will believe that it is true.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen