7 Life Lessons You Can Learn From Eating A Lot Of Pizza

There are few foods more iconic, more classic than a slice of pizza from New York City. And though New York's pizza is the best food of all time, deciding to eat a slice from every pizzeria in Manhattan sounds borderline insane, even for the most devoted pizza-lover, because that is a lot of ground to cover and a lot of pizza.

But Colin Atrophy Hagendorf drunkenly decided to do just that, calling himself "the Slice Harvester, like some kind of mozzarella-fueled superhero." And perhaps most amazing is that he actually did it. Over the course of two years, Hagendorf systematically walked through Manhattan, starting at the northernmost tip and working his way downtown, eating plain slices all along the way and posting his reviews on his blog Slice Harvester.

It should come as little surprise that after 435 slices of pizza, Hagendorf learned a lot about both pizza and Manhattan, but this seemingly goofy, quixotic quest quickly developed into something deeper and became the catalyst for some major life changes.

In his memoir Slice Harvester: A Memoir in Pizza, Hagendorf candidly writes about his personal struggles at the time, which included a pretty severe alcohol addiction, and how pizza helped him get through it. "Looking back, it almost seems foolish," he writes. "‘Oh, yeah, so I did this thing were I reviewed all the pizza in Manhattan, and in conjunction with a really wonderful relationship, it taught me how to love myself.’ That sounds so cheesy, but it’s true.” (Unclear if the pun in that sentence is intentional, but it's brilliant, either way.)

Here are 7 life lessons Hagendorf learned from eating 435 slices of pizza, proving that pizza is not only delicious but can be literally life-changing.

Don’t Judge A Slice By Its Storefront

Hagendorf had been putting off eating at Europan Pizza Cafe on the Upper East Side because it looked crummy, and not in an appealing way. “I’m talking about the kind of crummy that is too clean and polished to trust; the kind of crummy that has flat-screen TVs mounted in the walls, all playing the same looping video of a fireplace...” But the slice at Europan Pizza Cafe “was surprisingly good–crispy and warm, with nice ratios and ingredients of decent quality.” Hagendorf admits it wasn’t life-changing, but “it was much better than I thought it would be from looking at the yuppie facade.” He adds, “It’s always a pleasant surprise to have our prejudices put in check, to be reminded not to judge a person by their appearance or slice by its storefront.”

People Can Get Used To Anything… Even Bad Pizza

“People in Pennsylvania… think the pizza in Pennsylvania is good. This is not because the pizza in Pennsylvania is actually good pizza,” clarifies Hagendorf, “–it’s because the average American teen can’t survive without ready access to good pizza, and so the minds of Pennsylvanians are necessarily warped from childhood as a survival tactic.” You, and your body, can get used to anything, even something as atrocious as bad pizza.

Never Be Discouraged By One Bad Slice

When you eat more than 400 slices of pizza, you’re bound to come across a bad slice or two, especially in Midtown. But that doesn’t mean you should be discouraged forever. While Harvesting downtown with some friends, Hagendorf kept on striking out, but they kept on trucking from place to place, with the goal in mind. “And so we ate that piece of pizza, even though we knew it would be terrible. It was. Yet we survived, like we always did, and continued on through the gloom.” You’ll make it through the bad slices, or times, even if some of the might make you gag, especially if you have a clear goal to accomplish.

Sometimes A Slice Just Needs Some Love

The slice from Pronto Pizza & Beer “felt careless. The thought was too thick and tasted like oven cleaner. The sauce had no flavor, yet managed to add an unpleasant moistness to the slice.” And according to Hagendorf, “the things that were wrong with this pizza were basically products of negligence.” With a little more love and attention, that slice could’ve been wonderful. But could’ve is the crucial phrase there. Hagendorf adds, “Just because this slice might’ve been better if someone cared about it a little more doesn’t mean we didn’t have a f*cking miserable experience eating it.”

The Right Slice Makes Everything OK

When Hagendorf arrived at Pizza Suprema, he spotted a giant banner that proclaiming “Awarded ‘One of the 10 BEST PIZZAS IN N.Y.C.’” He was, of course, immediately skeptical. But one bite, and he was swept away. “The slice was everything I ever wanted… And there was that special something — that New York magic that makes a Ramones song timeless and a Screeching Weasels song boring. It is impossible to characterize in words — a mystical, modern-day witchery.” Finding that magic, perfect, right slice can make even the worst feelings dissipate and give you, “the feeling that regardless of all the external bummers of day-to-day living, things are at least momentarily going your way; the fates are smiling down on you.” In other words, “The right slice makes it all feel okay."

Pizzas Change And Pizzerias Close, But That’s Life

Hagendorf grew up in the suburbs of New York City and spent plenty of teenage afternoons commuting into Manhattan and going to see “Saturday afternoon hardcore matinees” at No Rio on the Lower East Side. He and his friends would get slices from Mama’s, “a nice neighborhood joint around the corner on Clinton Street that served an absolutely ideal street slice–tangy, not-too-sweet sauce, crisp crust, good quality cheese, all working in the delicate balance of ratios that separates a great slice from a mediocre one.”

But when Hagendorf went back to Mama’s while Slice Harvesting, he found “the facade was unrecognizable and the sign read NONNA’S now.” And, even worse, “The slice at Nonna’s was garbage.” As Hagendorf laments, “And yeah, it’s upsetting to see another one of my youthful favorite pizzerias turn into some soulless dump with a crappy slice, but that’s just part of the ephemeral nature of New York.” It's part of growing up.

Pizza Tastes Better With Friends

Ultimately, what makes a good slice of pizza memorable can as much about the people you’re with as the ratio of sauce to cheese. Hagendorf shared most of these Slice Harvesting missions with his friends, both old and new, from Phoebe Cates, who starred in Gremlins and Fast Times At Ridgemont High, and her teenage daughter to Christina, Hagendorf's girlfriend who shared his last slice with him. This memoir is as much about the pizza as the people with whom Hagendorf shared this mission, and proof that pizza, even just a simple slice, is more memorable when you share it.

Images: Dennis Wilkinson; mckln, lapiazzapizzeria, chelsea_nj, gazeronly/Flickr