New rules drafted by the New York City Department of Environment Protection aimed at reducing carbon emissions produced by the city’s famous pizzerias have created the latest front in America’s ongoing culture wars, with even Dave Portnoy and Elon Musk weighing in on the affair.
Pizza in New York City is a sacred thing. Whether it’s pizza by the slice or a whole pizza pie, New Yorkers love their pizza, and New York-style pizza is an essential part of the city’s culture and indeed way of life.
Perhaps this is why so many New Yorkers (as well as blow-ins – or should that be blow-hards?) are up in arms about the city’s plan to enforce a rule that requires pizzerias with wood or coal-fired ovens to install air filters in their chimneys in order to cut down on harmful particulate emissions.
“All New Yorkers deserve to breathe healthy air, and wood- and coal-fired stoves are among the largest contributors of harmful pollutants in neighbourhoods with poor air quality,” the DEP said in a statement last week.
Seems pretty straightforward – but thanks to an incendiary (and largely inaccurate) New York Post article, conservatives have latched onto the law, claiming that it’s a “woke” attack on an NYC institution and that liberals are trying to “cancel” pizza.
“Apparently, in New York City, some little liberal arts, Ivy-League, pink-haired, crazy liberal who’s never worked one day in the real world… is trying to ban coal ovens. Are you kidding me?” ranted Dave Portnoy, the controversial founder of Barstool Sports, in an expletive-laden video on Twitter.
Twitter owner and would-be culture warrior Elon Musk weighed in too, Tweeting “This is utter bs. It won’t make a difference to climate change.” Far-right media commentator Benny Johnson also declared on YouTube that “New York has cancelled pizza”.
However, this is all just political point-scoring. The reality is that NYC isn’t coming after pizzerias – and, in fact, this new law could actually improve the quality of the time-honoured New York slice.
The original New York Post article quotes an unnamed restauranter that said “This is an unfunded mandate and it’s going to cost us a fortune not to mention ruining the taste of the pizza totally destroying the product,” and emphasises how expensive and difficult these air filters are to install.
However, The Guardian has set the record straight, relating that not only does the rule not target only pizza restaurants, but that it’s been on the books since passed in 2016, applies to all commercial kitchens in the city, and isn’t ask restaurants to cut carbon emissions or fight the climate crisis, but to reduce harmful particulate matter that affect New Yorkers’ health.
“What’s being asked of traditional oven pizza restaurants is simple: install a type of air filter in their chimneys to keep their cancer-causing dust from blowing into their neighbours’ homes. The city originally asked kitchens to do this by 2020, then postponed the plan until this year due to the pandemic. But many restaurants had already made the changes, some of them years before the rule was even drafted,” they explain.
They also explain that while some of these air filters can be expensive, they can actually make the airflow inside an oven’s chimney stronger and far more consistent, which ultimately makes for better pizza.
Ultimately, this feels like just another political point-scoring exercise; a classic battle between conservative American individualism and progressive communitarianism (and dare I say common sense). Musk, Portnoy and others are using this emotive topic – the New York City pizza – as a way to score clicks, boost their own profile and advance their own politics.
In reality, these rules will actually benefit locals and tourists alike… And crucially, aren’t going to effect the taste or quality of NYC pizza. Now, excuse me. I’m now desperate for a slice.