The opportunity to unintentionally destroy someone’s life rarely presents itself, unless you’re Satan. A few months ago, we fell into a giant internet K-hole that was that chance—or someone’s fantasy—when we ran a story on VICE about Dan Janssen, a man who will be forever known as “pizza man,” the guy who has survived on a unique diet of pizza for the last 25 years. How he hasn’t managed to die up to this point is sort of confounding. Doctors have even given him a (fairly) clean bill of health.
The web is a powerful drug, the kind that blew up Dan’s inbox and burned out his phone when his overnight Internet celebrity status created a massive deluge of international news and radio station interview requests. Sorry, Dan. South Korean TV stations are calling him an “American food hero.” Pizza stalkers claiming to share the same diet bubbled to the surface, hounding us via Twitter and our inboxes like rabid zombie mobs of Beliebers.
We recently caught up with Dan to see if he needs to send us therapy bills, but mostly to find out about his life in the aftermath since the article was published. Luckily, he hasn’t turned Howard Hughes on us. He even allowed us to create a documentary about his unending love for pizza. Apparently, he still hates vegetables.
MUNCHIES: Has your life has changed at all since the article ran?
Dan Janssen: After the article first hit, I thought a few thousand people would see it. The day after, my phone started getting calls at all hours. I got requests for interviews with morning news (like the Today Show) and radio shows. I turned them all down except for maybe one or two, but it didn’t stop until a couple weeks ago. Korean TV stations wanted to interview me because they say I’m a hero in South Korea because I prove the Western conspiracy that grain is bad for you is wrong, I don’t understand.
That is truly odd. How has it impacted your daily life?
I wouldn’t say that it’s impacted me more than just as a constant attention—my emails filled up, my business website was getting about 10,000 hits a day. It was a bit overwhelming.
So do you regret talking to us?
Well, I don’t know. No. I mean it makes for an interesting life. I have to see where it goes. If I can make something come out of this that’s positive for me, then I don’t think I’d regret it at all. If there’s a check at the end of the rainbow, then I don’t regret it. But if it’s just a whole bunch of people getting rich and I’m left behind with this weird story, then yeah, I will probably regret it.
Fair enough. Why do you think people are so interested in your diet?
I think we have a society that tells us that we have to eat healthy and live a certain way. But then I came around on the Internet as this relatively unhealthy guy who’s sort of fit, looks OK, and I’m saying things like, “No, you can eat horribly and not worry about it.” I think I offer hope to some people who might have the same inclinations as me, and I’m also a lightning rod of anger against foodies.
We actually had a guy harassing us on Twitter who claimed to share the same diet as you and wanted us to connect you two. Have you had any other stalkers?
Dozens, and dozens, and dozens. In fact, I was contacted by Picky Adult Eaters of America and they wanted me to become a spokesperson for them. I got a lot of personal emails. It kinda freaked me out. But the ones that I did read were from people saying, “I have the exact same diet as you,” “Can we meet?” to “Do you want to start a pizza restaurant with me?” There was one email where a guy said, “I admire you taking a stand for bad eating and I’ve lived that way too and I’m paying for it now, but keep doing what you’re doing!” I thought that was a little ominous.
That sounds creepy. Have you branched out to any other foods, like vegetables?
No. With the help of my fiancé, I’m drinking a healthy smoothie every morning that has stuff like flaxseed and protein and bananas in it. I haven’t really expanded into many vegetables or things like that. I want to eventually, but I’m too busy.
You’re too busy for vegetables? Did you at least enjoy filming the documentary with us?
It was a lot of fun. I got to go around to pizza shops in Baltimore and places like the Domino’s where I used to work. That’s another thing—once the article hit, I had pizza shops all over the country asking me to come in for free pizza. And people sending me free t-shirts and things. I’m not the kind of guy who likes—well, I’m a Leo so I do like a certain amount of attention—but I also feel awkward having a camera follow me around. It was a good experience. I haven’t really thought about it since it happened.
Who do you think is making the best pizza in America right now?
I’m a pizza connoisseur, but I am not a pizza snob. I’ll eat bad pizza and love it, and I’ll eat really good pizza and love it. I also really like John’s of Bleecker in New York City. Their pizza is a nice, simple tomato pie that’s coal-fired. I said Pontillo’s in the article and I still stand by that. I also like Vennari’s in Maryland.
But what exactly do you consider the perfect slice?
It’s something that I’ve found very rarely—there are only one or two places that have done it like this—where the bottom is crispy. You have a hand-tossed crust and a crispy bottom, but there’s almost a bubbly sort of interior crust. The middle is doughy—actually extra doughy. I like a straight up tangy tomato sauce that’s light on the seasonings with real mozzarella. Keep it simple.
Crispy bottoms. Noted.
I mean, it’s rare! We sort of have a pizza culture in America. I haven’t met one person in my life that doesn’t like pizza, but a lot of it is terrible. It’s strange that something so simple to make—tomato sauce, dough, and cheese—can be such a challenge for some people.
Will you ever give vegetables a chance?
[Laughs] When I first went on my first date with my fiancé, we went to a pizza place because she heard that I like pizza. I would’ve gone anywhere to go on a date with her, but she said pizza, so I was like, good, that works for me. I wanted to seem open, so I said, “What kind of toppings do you want?” and she said, “Mushrooms, of course,” so we ordered one with mushrooms on it. I ate the entire thing, and it was fine. I’m not totally opposed to vegetables; I’ll eat them here and there. But why would I eat a carrot when I could eat a pizza? A carrot’s just crunchy orange water and there’s really nothing to it.
I beg to differ, but enjoy your pizza.