The Problem with Free Pizza

In the mid-1990s, OreIda — the company best known from frozen french fries and tater tots — introduced a new product to its arsenal: bagel bites pizza snacks. For a couple of bucks, you could buy a box of nine mini-half bagels covered in frozen sauce, frozen cheese cubes, and if it tickled your fancy, frozen pepperoni cubes, too. Stick them in a microwave for a minute or two and you’d get something that, if you squinted, approximated the experience of eating a small pizza, if the entire dough and crust were made of bagel. The selling point wasn’t the price — it was the convenience and, in some strange way, the bagel. The ad for the product — you can watch it here — told parents that they could “feel good about giving them pizza whenever they want” because, as the jingle went, “when pizza’s on a bagel, you can eat pizza any time.”

The logic is dubious. But if you were a kid in the 1990s, you didn’t care — the argument was a winner to you. For many 90s kids, the calories and the relative lack of nutrition notwithstanding, the idea of being able to eat pizza all the time seems like a dream. 

But Jean Van Landeghem was not a child of the 1990s. And he’s afraid of pizza — for good reason.

In the summer of 2020, Van Landeghem was a 65-year-old living in Turnhout, a small town in Belgium not too far from Antwerp. (Here’s a map.) Like many people at the time, he was probably doing his best to avoid other people — COVID-19 was spreading with no vaccination yet available. Many of us relied on takeout and delivery to get our meals; presumably, Van Landeghem was no different. Well, with one major exception. Van Landeghem didn’t have to order his meals. They just kind of showed up at his door, just like they had been for the nine years prior.

But Van Landeghem wasn’t the beneficiary of a social program or charitable effort. He was the victim of a very long, and very strange prank. 

One day in 2011 or 2012, someone came to Van Landeghem’s door with a pizza in hand. That’s not unusual — people order pizzas all the time — but in this case, it seemed to be a mistake. Van Landeghem simply sent the delivery person back on their way, telling the driver that there had been a mistake. But then it happened again, and again, and again. As Food and Wine Magazine reported, “For a while, he said he thought the whole thing was a mix-up: the result of a pizza lover repeatedly getting his own address wrong. Eventually, however, Van Landeghem realized the intention had to be malicious.”

The pizzas and other food deliveries — Van Landeghem also notes that kebabs and pitas are also ordered to his home — were almost certainly the works of a prankster. It’s an age-old gag, but in this case, extreme. Van Landeghem recounted one day in January of 2019 when ten different delivery people showed up with a total of 14 pizzas in tow. The total bill for the pies approached the equivalent of $500. 

Van Landeghem never has to pick up the tab, of course; he told The Brussels Times, “I have always refused the deliveries, so I have never paid for anything.” In almost all cases cases, the food simply gets thrown away, with no one eating the pizza and the restaurant eating the cost. But Van Landeghem is also a victim here, despite not having to pony up any cash. As he explained to the Brussels Times, the experience has been awful:  “I cannot sleep anymore. I start shaking every time I hear a scooter on the street. I dread that someone will come to drop off hot pizzas yet another time.” 

Van Landeghem has called the cops to ask for help, but as of the summer of 2020, the identity of the prankster was unknown. There was hope of finding the culprit, though, because Van Landeghem wasn’t the only victim of the pizza-ordering bandit: a friend of his, living about 20 miles away, was also receiving unwanted pizzas, and probably not so coincidentally. Police, for good reason, believed the prankster was an acquaintance of both victims and were investigating appropriately. While the results of that investigation have gone unreported, the prankster should hope they never get caught; Van Landeghem may take justice into his own hands. As Vice News reported, Van Landeghem vowed “When I find out whoever has been bothering me for the past nine years, it will not be their best day.”

Bonus fact: Delivering pizzas can be dangerous — delivery people are sent to a stranger’s house with food and enough cash to make change if need be, and that can be risky. It can also lead to innovation. In 1969, a former Marine named Richard Davis owned a pizza shop in Detroit and was on the wrong end of a robbery during one of his deliveries. Six weeks later, as the Washington Post reported, he received the same pizza order — “two large pepperoni and ham” — to a nearby address, so Davis took precautions: “When Davis arrived at their address in a dark alley, he held a little something extra beneath the pizza boxes in his left hand: a loaded .22-caliber revolver.” Unfortunately, the other guys were also armed, and a shootout ensued, and Davis ended up injured, pizzaless, and unpaid. He didn’t go back into the pizza business — instead, he went into the body armor world. Per the Post, he invented “concealable bulletproof vests made of Dupont Kevlar” shot himself in the chest 190 times (!) to demonstrate its effectiveness, and turned his creation into a business doing more than $20 million in annual sales. (That’s a lot of pizza!)

From the Archives: November Fool’s: An early version of the “order something unwanted to your friend’s house” prank.