I’ve consumed a lot of pizza in my days. Maybe it’s because pizza came into its own as an entre′ while I was a teen, or the fact that it’s probably my favorite food indulgence. I’ve eaten more than my share of those pies. I’ve had them homemade in my grandmother’s kitchen when I was nine years old, I’ve eaten them across Italy and the rest of western Europe, I’ve consumed them in the Virgin Islands, Mexico, Canada, Hungary and even on board a sailing vessel on the ocean. I’m reasonably certain that I must hold some sort of unofficial pizza consumption record for my days in college. In short, I am an expert.
But one of the most unlikely and satisfying slices occurred just last month, during my most recent visit to Nicaragua. Yes, it was the first pizza I have consumed in that country. But more important than that was the group of young women with whom I shared the pizza. What might be the odds that on any given day in my life I would find myself having a Chefella’s pizza with 15 female cooperative members in Matagalpa, Nicaragua? On March 12th, the answer was 100%
I love pizza anywhere, and under nearly any circumstances. But when we arrived to join this mid-day meeting of entrepreneurs to the announcement that we would share pizza for lunch, I admit to being triply-excited: first, to talk again with these adventuresome women, most of whom were new to the idea of cooperative life; second, at the prospect of my first-ever Nicaraguan pizza; and third, to consider once more the collaborative symbolism of my favorite food.
You see, pizza in my experience has always been a cooperative meal. When our kids were young, pizza night was a time for all of us to be in the kitchen and contributing our own labors to the creation of something worthwhile, in this case, for dinner. Katie made the crust, I formed it in the pan, Megan and Molly spread the sauce, Ian added the meat and Nikki sprinkled the cheese. We collectively watched the baking and timing. And of course, we shared happily in the end result.
The entire process was one of great participation, involving every member of our family. The fear might have been that if you didn’t help out, you wouldn’t get any pizza. But the reality was more that this was something that we loved doing together, and that made the entire outcome- the pizza- even better. Of course, the process mandated complete transparency. Some of us couldn’t eat onions; indeed, a hidden agenda here would have resulted in stomach upset! Others didn’t care for green peppers. One in our family didn’t wish to eat meat. So we had to be very clear in drawing the lines of content in our pizzas. Those ingredient boundaries were our respective stakes in the outcome. And, of course, eventually we experienced the satisfaction and reward of shared effort: taking a piece of the pie. Collaboration made homemade pizzas tastier than frozen ones, and more cost-effective than pizzeria models.
A pizza with the 15 women did not involve our collective making and baking, but it did connect us in a shared result. Sitting around the tables which had been laid end-to-end created a loop of continuity, of solidarity, of oneness for at least that special lunch period. It will be up to the women members of the cooperatives to determine whether they can sustain that linkage to their ongoing mutual benefit.
Meanwhile, it made that unlikely pizza one of the best slices I’ve had, and I’ve had a lot….