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March (pizza) Madness

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More on that later. First some numbers. During the few short weeks of the college basketball tournament, food industry sources say Americans consume:

•52 million slices of pizza, with pepperoni being among the most popular (13 million slices).

•More than 100 acres of pizza a day, which, for you ecofriendly types, is about the same amount of rain forest that disappears in Brazil every hour.

•Enough pizza during the 19-day tournament to cover nearly 1 million basketball courts, laid rounded edge to rounded edge. Don't try to dribble on the black olives, though. They create funny bounces.

Pizza is "flexible and portable," says Lynne Olver, editor of foodtimeline.com. "It fits into the American culinary mantra better than just about any food."

• • •

Yet pizza is hardly an American food. According to Ms. Olver and others, forerunners of the food date back at least to third-century Macedonia and probably to the Stone Age campfires of Neolithic tribes. Takeout would have to await the invention of the wheel, and the pizza we know today required the introduction of the tomato.

Olver credits Spanish and Portuguese explorers who journeyed to Mesoamerica in the 17th century for combining New World ingredients – notably, the tomato – with Old World traditions to create something that would be recognizable as a pizza today. (The tomato, incidentally, is a fruit, but it was classified as a vegetable by no less of an eminence than the US Supreme Court in 1893 in order to protect domestic growers.)

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