What to make of Dan the Pizza Man? The story of the 38-year-old friend of Vice writer Justin Levy is certainly making waves, with more than 18,000 Facebook “likes” and nearly 3,000 shares. And no wonder: Dan Janssen doesn’t just love pizza, he supposedly lives on it—exclusively. It’s a diet he claims to have maintained for 25 years.
“I’m not just talking about a slice of pizza every day,” Janssen tells Vice. “I usually eat an entire 14” pizza, and I only eat cheese pizza. I never get sick of it. If I go to one pizza shop or another brand, it’s like eating a complete different meal.”
Leaving aside the question of what sort of parents would allow their child to adopt a pizza-only diet at the tender age of 13, there are plenty of other aspects of Janssen’s story to bewilder and alarm. Keeping with the bro-speak, devil-may-care general tone of Vice, Levy packages Janssen as a kind of semi-enviable yet unbelievable freak of nature, as if he were the one frat brother who could down a couple shots of Jäger and a six pack of beer, then belch out the national anthem.
“Everyone who knows Dan wonders how he’s still alive,” Levy writes. “Beyond the fact that his diet is completely horrifying, he also has diabetes and frequently gets low blood sugar. When his blood sugar dips into the danger zone, it sometimes results in his blacking out on the kitchen floor in his underwear with frozen food scattered around him. There was that one time he bought a new car and then blacked out on the drive home. He swerved off the road and totaled the vehicle, but besides from that isolated incident, his pizza diet seems to be working out for him.”
Replace “pizza diet” with “binge drinking,” and few people would argue that the whole thing “seems to be working out for him.”
As you might expect, Janssen is a set of walking culinary contradictions, starting with the fact that he’s a vegetarian who hates vegetables. He claims that no doctor, save one, has advised him to change his diet: “I've never gotten a negative reaction except from my first endocrinologist. But all the other doctors have said, ‘Your cholesterol is fine. You seem healthy. Keep doing what you're doing.’ ”
Whereas medical professionals (at least those Janssen claims to have encountered) might look at his cheesy diet and shrug, there are hints that those in the mental health field don’t see Janssen’s pizza-only regime as quite so benign. Despite having a general air of insouciance about his über-picky palate, Janssen does admit he’s seeing a therapist about his “food aversion,” in part so that he and his fiancée may some day eat at a nicer restaurant than the local pizza joint. He roots his finickiness in a couple of traumatic childhood episodes, one in which a cruel backwoods babysitter forced him to eat squirrely Brunswick stew every day, and another where his sister fed him wild mushrooms that turned out to be poisonous.
Amid the flurry of comments the story has generated at Vice thus far, ranging from enthusiastic endorsements of Janssen’s thumb-your-nose-at-convention attitude (“My hero!”) to hyperbolic vexation (“man-child. here’s hoping he doesn’t breed”), one seemingly sincere response stood out:
I had a similar struggle with my diet since I was a toddler, and at 21 I was diagnosed with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, Food Neophobia and EDNOS. I went through an eating disorder program at a hospital. Conditions like these are often referred to as Selective Eating Disorder as well. It is only beginning to gain more understanding in the medical community. The emotional experience in regards to food varies for the people who have it, but it always has great capacity for physical and psychological danger. As someone who has been treated for an eating disorder that I believe this man has, I am bothered by a few of the comments he made in the interview, though mostly I wish he or the writer of the article would assess it more successfully.
Although another commenter was quick to snark, “Any stats on how many kids in Africa have ‘Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder?’ #firstworldproblems,” it turns out ARFID is a real thing, at least according to the recently issued DSM-5. And while the hashtag is well taken, you could probably say the same thing about anorexia and bulimia—and few would argue that the relative incidence of those diseases in the first world makes them any less serious.
So that's one possible future for Janssen. On the other hand, he may very well morph into an Internet/cable sensation, touting his pizza diet everywhere. Because when it comes to American diets, there seems to be a thin line between such possible outcomes.