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THE SENATE inquiry into the reasons why pizza had been legislatively classified as a vegetable had been flawed from the beginning. In this part of the country, everyone knew that corruption was synonymous with government — as Shakespeare wrote centuries before, “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” When Alfonso “The Moth” Esposito III — known equally for his frequent fashion faux pas’s (super deep V-neck shirts, Disney character ties, square-toed dress shoes, unibrow) as he was for being the 29 year old president and CEO of tomato paste giant Grupo Bimbo Foods — was revealed as one of the five people appointed to the government commission tasked with unearthing the suspected murky deals that had led to the distrustfully leveraged ruling, many immediately suspected a dough-coloured whitewash.
In truth, among The Moth’s conglomerate of food manufacturing firms was a company that acted as the chief supplier of pasta sauce pizza bases to school tuck shops along the entire East Coast. It was therefore rightly seen that Esposito had much to gain by the FDA’s reclassification and anointing of pizza as a nutritionally sound food staple considered suitable for serving on school premises to the nation’s growing children.
Grupo Bimbo was long suspected to have had links with the La Cosa Nostra chapter of the Sicilian Mafia. It was certainly no stranger to allegations of misconduct and using bribes and kickbacks to help secure government and private sector supply contracts and favours. In the 1930s the company had reinvented bread as a variation on the marshmallow and named it “Submarino” (later to become known as “Twinkies”), effectively sidestepping government agency food laws at the time, which prevented nutritional tampering with provisions deemed primary food products.
More recently the shady corporation had come under the glare of official scrutiny when its popular “diet pizza” was found to contain toppings that included ear wax and bellybutton lint. It had also been held to account by no less than NASA (National Advertising Standards Association) for a misleading promotion of its $12.95 gluten free pizza (gluten being a protein composite found in barley, rye, wheat and all their hybrids). The company had been forced to clarify that the gluten component of the pizza was included at no extra cost and that it was the other ingredients that constituted the advertised price.
The head of this roily food manufacture and supply empire may not have looked like he came from central casting, but with his engorged sense of entitlement and what sections of the press had dubbed his “Machiavellian narcissism”, in many other ways he was the perfect poster boy for the selfie/hashtag generation. With pale skin through which you could see the blue of his veins and his watery, unblinking stare, The Moth had a distinctly alien look and a definite air of intrigue about him.
Inevitably, with Esposito’s appointment, the commission, only formed after a court overruled several previous efforts by council leaders to spike it, was itself the subject of questioning. By that November, both the flawed original legislation and the commission itself had fallen with the last of the autumn leaves. Police launched Operation Crispy Crust, carrying out 67 search warrants, ending in 15 arrests. The result was a noticeable (though some suggested temporary) disruption and downsizing of Grupo Bimbo’s supply chain and a loosening of its stranglehold monopoly on the pasta sauce and tomato paste industries.
Somehow managing to escape prosecution on charges of graft and corruption himself, Esposito succeeded in airing one of the more memorable quotes in the wash-up to the inquiry into the inquiry when he was heard to remark “Corrupt politicians make the other 10 percent look bad.” The Supreme Court is still to hear appeals brought forth by Grupo Bimbo’s legal team, but it is widely considered they are unlikely to change their minds. As one senator commented: “The happy ending has been delivered and the improper legislation is now a dead animal lying on the bitumen — what I understand in some circles is referred to as ‘road pizza’.”