This leaves us at a standstill. Currently, not only is deep dish not pizza, but the overwhelming majority of pizza produced worldwide is also not pizza. Legally, we’ve all been unknowingly eating open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches our whole lives, under the false impression that we were enjoying a melty slice of pizza. The question then becomes whether or not this legal definition is at all helpful. If nothing is pizza, isn’t everything pizza? This is where linguistics might help.
Julia Davidson, a local teacher with a masters in both literature and education, tackles the debate from a more utilitarian perspective. "I think that 'deep dish' accurately modifies the noun 'pizza' to describe deep dish as a type of pizza," says Davidson. "I think part of the decision has to be composition -- what is the difference between deep dish dough and flat pizza? For me, ingredients would determine it."
In short, she views the category of “pizza” as a large set, with many different subsets inside it. It implies that there is no one true pizza -- that all pizza types need to be modified with descriptors in order to have any real meaning. And this holds up in common usage. Cracker-crust pizza, French bread pizza, taco pizza, hell, even pizza bagels are all ostensibly cousins under the larger pizza umbrella. Davidson goes on, though, to say that much like pizza bagels and French bread pizza, thin-crust and deep-dish pizza each fulfill different culinary and gustatory goals. A craving for deep-dish pizza will not be sated with a thin, head-sized slice of New York-style pizza, and vice versa.
She went on to note that this might disqualify deep dish as pizza, if you’re using a normal, regular crust pizza as a barometer, but if that precedent is set, it brings us back to where Scalia left us once the infinite possibilities of pizza toppings are considered. Anybody who has ordered pizza for a group of four or more knows that pizza cravings are flighty and persnickety beasts that possess the body and occasionally will not be satisfied by anything less than a pineapple-jalapeño-olive-and-salami slice with double cheese and extra garlic dipping sauce on the side.
We are left with the obvious: that pizza, as it exists now, is a blank canvas, ripe for interpretation. And much like anything can be art if an artist calls it art, anything can be pizza if it evokes the form of pizza. It won’t necessarily be good pizza, as anyone who has watched Chopped and seen contestants present “deconstructed” versions of foods will know well, but that doesn’t matter. Pizza, like art, is in the eye of the beholder.
So where does that leave deep dish? As a regionally famous riff on the theme of pizza, it definitely belongs under the larger pizza umbrella. But given the fact that pizza, by its nature, has changed so much over the years -- remember, it didn’t even come with cheese until relatively recently -- perhaps deep dish's innovation and creativity is a necessary element to the definition of pizza today. And by that logic, not only is deep dish pizza unquestionably a member of the pizza family, but it may indeed be the family’s favorite child. The defense rests.