My family and I live on the north side of Evansville just inside the city limits. It is a convenient place to reside, just a few minutes from most amenities. Recently, though, I started noticing that there seemed to be a disproportionate number of pizza places right around the corner. Like most people, pizza remains a food that I still crave from time to time even if the number of slices eaten has decreased over the years. It also seems to be one of the few foods (not just ethnic options) that has literally created its own industry in this country, other than maybe ice cream. There is something about the variety, cheapness, convenience, and confluence of ingredients that has driven this boon.
But when I finally sat down to determine how many pizza places were within 2 miles of my home, I was shocked. The number is ten. This does not include restaurants who may offer pizza on their menu, gas stations that have warm pizzas available, or grocery stores that sell it frozen. This simply includes restaurants that have the word “pizza” in their name. As supply and demand would have it, it apparently pays well to have a pizza joint in this area because multiple places have arisen just in the last few years. The north side isn’t alone. Plug “pizza places” and “Evansville” into a search engine and you will suddenly see red dots popping up all over the map. It raises the obvious question. Just what is the satiation point for pizza joints? Or on the contrary, maybe the famous words of a baseball movie of years past might actually be at play: “Build it and they will come.”
Pizza places aren’t the only eateries that have seen significant expansion. Although data on restaurant growth over the past few decades was not available in Vanderburgh County, let’s consider a national perspective. In 1970, the U.S. Population was approximately 205 million people. By 2014, it had reached nearly 308 million. That’s about a 50% increase over 44 years. In comparison, restaurant industry sales in 1970 were 42.8 billion dollars. In 2014, sales were approximately 683.4 billion dollars (adjusted for inflation), which is almost a 1,500% increase over the same period of time. Sales had grown approximately 30 times more than the population. But it isn’t just restaurants that seem to have exploded in number. In the same two mile radius I mentioned earlier, we now have five full service grocery stores (one just added in the last few months), not to mention other small shops that offer various types of foods. Nationwide, grocery store sales increased by 83% between 1992 and 2015. Not 1,500%, but still solid growth. Food expenditures in general seem to have taken off like a leer jet with pizza leading the way.
Recently, a new cardiologist moved into town. While speaking to a number of people, he publicly acknowledged that the Midwest was an attractive place to relocate because there was plenty of business to be had. Ouch. We all are aware that this area has taken its recent hits in regards to health perceptions. But to hear a medical professional acknowledge this as an allure to start a practice seems to particularly hit where it hurts. Right in the pizza gut.
Still, there appears to be more to the story of pizza proliferation and the restaurant rise than just growing appetites. On New Year’s Eve, my family and I swung by one of the aforementioned pizza places on the way to our friend’s home. The clerk noted how busy they were. She indicated that they had already set a record for the store with hours still left open. The previous record—set on Christmas Day. So much for mom’s homemade turkey and dressing.
Statistics don’t always tell the whole story. But they do tell a pretty good tale of where we invest our money and how we invest our time. And it is interesting to note that while most foods have increased in price over the last few decades, pizza (and sodas) has seemingly defied the laws of inflation. When I was in high school, “5 dollar Tuesday” wasn’t something to just gloss over. Today I can still find 5 dollar pizza deals with regularity.
Regardless of all the factors at play, one thing is clear. How we spend our money will ultimately shape the landscape and society in which we reside. Nothing against pizza joints, but if we want a more beautiful, healthy, vibrant community, then each of us is going to have seriously consider reallocating some of our time and bankroll to other product and endeavors. And if we find ourselves questioning our own budgetary constraints, consider what Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, has to say on the matter:
While it is true that many people simply can’t afford to pay more for food, either in money or time or both, many more of us can. After all, just in the last decade or two we’ve somehow found the time in the day to spend several hours on the internet and the money in the budget not only to pay for broadband service, but to cover a second phone bill and a new monthly bill for television, formerly free. For the majority of Americans, spending more for better food is less a matter of ability than priority.
What’s for dinner tonight?