It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a dating app must reference pizza in the course of his profile. Never mind that liking pizza is about as remarkable as disliking warm beer, cold drizzle or indeed dating apps. My “research” would suggest around 50-60% of male users consider their preference for pizza an alluring personality quirk; up there with climbing walls and labradors when it comes to courtship displays.
Don’t get me wrong: I like pizza just as much as the next person – or, rather, the next man, and the next man, and the one after that. As a food writer, I am even more attuned than most to the potential of a good meal, or even just talk of a good meal, to spark connection, conversation and debate. My issue with this food in particular is that, in and of itself, it says absolutely nothing about you. Pizza and its close cousin pasta are almost by definition blank canvases on a plate.
This isn’t just about men, though, and it isn’t just about pizza. “Men put pizza, and women always talk about gin, Pimm’s and cheese, as if that is their sole diet,” a bisexual friend informs me. Of course, there is a good reason food and drink crop up so frequently: they are universally consumed, common reference points for anyone passing by your profile.
So how can we use food and drink to communicate something of ourselves to the swiping masses? My first instinct is to build on Victoria Wood’s preference for “Garibaldi” over “biscuit”, and suggest the secret lies in specifics. Replace “cheese” with a stinky, squidgy Époisses or perhaps a bag of pre-grated cheddar from Sainsbury’s (something about the potato starch coating the individual strands really makes it for me, texturally).
If pizza is so central to your sense of self you simply must mention it, detail which one, where from and what topping you always double. Defend Domino’s to the hilt (I’ll judge you, but someone else will love you for it), or signal your London metropolitan elite credentials by referencing Yard Sale’s “Maestro”, with a side of Marmite garlic bread. Sure, these are all still references to pizza – but at least you’re giving the scrolling users something to chew on.
But then, does specifying sourdough or deep pan stereotype us? This brings us full circle to the chief problem with dating apps, which is that these short, swipe-able profiles are necessarily reductive. They flatten our personalities into a series of tropes so that everything from the university we attended, to the books we read, to the places we buy food from are magnified into signs of our being basic, pretentious, common, posh, quirky or cool.
In real life, off screen, food and drink can be more than signifiers of class or “coolness”, but of values. The way you always ask your grandma for advice when baking a cake not because you need advice any more, but because you know how much she loves imparting it; your steely determination to nail a sourdough despite a string of dead starters; the fact that during your dad’s lockdown birthday you spent hours slaving over a lasagne just so you could eat his favourite meal with him over Zoom. These are the culinary stories that show character, not answering “pineapple on pizza” to a Hinge prompt – an answer even the CEO of Hinge is considering limiting, according to Business Insider last week.
At my male single friends’ chief complaint – the endless references to cheese on women’s dating profiles – I squirm in recognition. “OK yes, I mention cheese – but I write about it for a living! I work with cheesemongers! I did a whole IGTV series on it to support cheesemakers during lockdown!” I protest. “Yes, but they don’t know that,” one replies. “So far as swiping men are concerned, you’re just another posh girl who likes a cheese platter at parties. And I’m just another basic bloke who likes pizza and climbing.”