Back in the 1970’s, I was a student at the California Institute of Technology. Many, many things about that institution were extraordinary, but the dorm food service was not.

One of the lunch options was always “pizza.” At least, there were these round food units consisting of a crusty light-brown base, a red paste smeared over it, and a weave of yellow strips on top.

So, yeah, it looked quite a bit like a pizza. The problem is that the taste and mouth feel were off. Way off. It became the subject of jokes, and almost nobody would touch it. Everyone expected pizza, and whatever else this food unit might have been, it definitely wasn’t pizza.

Here’s the thing, though. I thought it tasted pretty good. Not pizza, no, but a passable foodstuff in its own right. Much better, in fact, than much of the other fare. Also in its favor was the fact that, since it was so universally reviled, it was usually available. The salad bar (often the only other real option for my vegetarian self) quickly became picked down to the dandelion shoots and brown lettuce leaves but the “pizza” was always in stock.

Since then, I have come to recognize that there are often goods and services (or even people) that are quite adequate in their own right, but are ignored or reviled because they don’t meet expectations or defy our categorizations. I find “Caltech pizza” in surprising places.