Vegan Pizza: Going Back to Neapolitan Roots

Vegan pizza (no meat, no cheese) might seem to many like another strange and unwelcome perversion of a classic favourite food. But the reality is actually the opposite.

It is not vegan pizza that is the “perversion”. Vegan pizza is actually the original! The first pizza was made in Naples, and is called a Neapolitan Pizza. There are two types of Neapolitan pizzas now officially recognised by the European Union (yes, it’s that official!). The more familiar Margherita was first made for Queen Margherita of Savoy in 1889, to represent the three-coloured Italian flag, and therefore included mozzarella cheese. But the original one, the purest and the best according to many pizza enthusiasts, is the Marinara: crushed tomato sauce, oregano, sliced garlic, and olive oil, on a yeast-leavened flatbread base, cooked in a wood-fired oven for 60 to 90 seconds.

The European Union has named this traditionally vegan food as one of its officially recognised Traditional Food Products (TFP) in December 2009, and accordingly has specified requirements for pizzas to be properly considered authentically Neapolitan. The dough must weigh between 180 grams (6.34931 oz) and 250 grams (8.81849 oz), and it cannot be thicker than 0.4 cm (0.157480 inches). The diameter must be 35 cm (13.7795 inches) and the border must be 2 cm (0.787401 inches). The calories per 100 grams cannot surpass 188. Italy has also asked that the Neapolitan pizza (including the Marinara vegan pizza) be added to the Unesco List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. In other words, this vegan pizza is no limp substitute, but the real deal!

Why is such a traditional food vegan, you might ask? Well, the fact is that daily meat-eating (and three times a day at that) is a very recent phenomena in the broad span of human history. Also, the standard “four food groups” (which has a strong bias toward the meat and dairy industry, while downplaying the complex array of fruits, grains, vegetables, legumes, roots, nuts and seeds, etc.) was not yet invented by the USDA food industry lobbyists. While “veganism” may be new (the word was first coined only in 1944), vegan dishes have been around for a long time, as a regular part of people’s diets. Indeed, you will find a lot of much-loved traditional foods from around the world that are actually authentically vegan, just like the Marinara vegan pizza.

If you haven’t yet enjoyed a real, Marinara vegan pizza, you must. The surest way is to go to Italy, where they are commonly available (along with many other traditionally vegan pizzas, that people don’t there even think of as vegan). Alternatively, your town or city may have an authentic Italian pizzeria which serves real Marinara pizza. Another way is to learn to make it yourself using the authentic ingredients (which many restaurants may not use themselves). It is easy enough to learn to make a Marinara pizza, but it is the ingredients and method that matter. There is a special flour needed (not widely available in North America), and using the right cooking tools, such as a wood-fire oven or a substitute, is crucial.

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