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The pizza cognition theory and the sauna cognition theory

light steam graphic

New York Times food editor Sam Sifton has coined what he calls Pizza Cognition Theory which semi jokingly states:

“The first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes (and somehow appreciates on something more than a childlike, mmmgoood, thanks-mom level), becomes, for him, pizza. He will defend this interpretation to the end of his life.”

Sam Sifton, New York Times

And could it be that our first sauna experience becomes the type of sauna experience that we defend until the rest of our lives?

If your first sauna experience was a health club sauna with a “don’t throw water on the rocks sign” could this be the type of sauna experience you enjoy and defend? And if you were sold an infrared light bulb closet as a sauna, could this be what you defend?

And what if you were first exposed to sauna within a hand crafted wood burning sauna along granite outcroppings shadowed by birches and pines on an island in the Baltic Archipelago, would this be the type of sauna experience you enjoy and defend?

Pizza cognition theory

Well, the Pizza Cognition theory states that our first pizza experiences may indeed be memorable, but these experiences are certainly not superior. Imagine growing up on store bought frozen pizza, then finding your way into a family owned restaurant in Positano, Italy and then being presented a perfectly crafted margarita pizza, straight out of an artisan-ally built wood fired pizza oven. I’m quite certain that all of us would unequivocally prefer this pizza to the Tombstone of our youth.

Imagine this wood fired pizza. Premier ingredients: the dough is hand made, locally sourced San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh olive oil, mozzarella produced in small batches at the farm just down the road. Premier production: hand delivered off a wooden peel by a proud professional pizza pro wearing a white apron and proud smile.

Sauna cognition theory

The Sauna Cognition Theory follows a similar pattern. Our first sauna experiences may not be that great. Our first sauna experiences may have been while trying to break a sweat in a lame ass health club sauna. (“Don’t throw water on the rocks!”), or an outhouse style sauna with toaster oven heat. Even worse, our first “sauna” experiences may have been with something that isn’t even a sauna, like a light bulb closet or a similar containment chamber with no rocks at all.

Then again, our our first sauna experience may have been nestled amongst birches and pines along a granite outcropping on an island in the Finnish archipelago, where the heat penetrates deeply, fully. A well timed toss of water on the rocks producing a waif of löyly, followed by silence, while picking up on the lapping waves along the shoreline, as you ask yourself “when is the time to leave the hot room?”

When the idea of a nice cold lake plunge is about the best idea you’ve ever heard.”

Whether it’s the Pizza Cognition Theory or the Sauna Cognition Theory, good pizza and good sauna is some part subjective, but arguably much more objective. Those of us who love pizza love good pizza. Those of us who love sauna love good sauna.

Shitty pizza and shitty sauna is something we graduate from. And once we taste quality, we never want to go back.

What is good sauna?

Kimmo Ratio (Sauna Sherpa) answers in succinctly Finnish style (very few words).

  1. Ventilation
  2. Heat
  3. Steam (humidity).

Lassi A. Liikkanen, author of “The Secrets of Finnish Sauna Design”, discusses the Four-Leaf Clover Model of great sauna design:

  1. heat
  2. air quality
  3. interior design
  4. culture & company

And from the article “Good heat is easily felt, yet harder to understand“:

Good löyly represents the depth potential of good heat. Scientifically, good heat is produced from thermal mass: a quality sauna heater, with the right amount of sauna stones on the heater, and other lämpömassa producing elements…

There is always an opportunity to climb the authentic sauna ladder, higher rungs of good heat, better ventilation, and really good steam.

Shitty pizza and shitty sauna is something we graduate from. And once we get up there, we never go back down.

sunset lodge
Defending Brian’s sauna as “the best” thanks to the Sauna Cognition Theory.
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8 thoughts on “The pizza cognition theory and the sauna cognition theory”

  1. Glenn,
    Have you done any or is there any study on different types of water. I live in the country so what I use is just well water but it has gone thru the softener. When we are at my brother in law”s place up by Two Harbors we just use
    lake water. I have used RO water also which is real close to distilled. I was in one sauna when city water was used which had chlorine in it and that wasn’t great. I’m sure rain water would be great but so far what I gather
    has too much bird crap from roof run off.

  2. Hi Glenn, do you ever do custom diy plans for a fee if given dimensions for the space? My fiancé and I are very diyers and he has done lots of build work, in addition to pool work! We’d love to use your plans for a space with a traditional sauna, but would also love in addition a steam sauna and cold plunge, too. This would be for an outdoor area behind a yoga studio 🙂

  3. Hi Catherine,

    I have a few folks at any given time who sign up for my consultation plan, and happy to add you to that mix. I charge $200 not so much to be a good American capitalist, but because I have limited bandwidth and want to give my all to those that sign up. You can check it out here, and the consultation includes an enthusiastic swing of the bat toward a custom plan / design for you. It’s hand drawn plans, and may not be ready for a builder or architect prime time. But it’ll be very clear, and in collaboration with you.

  4. I’m right with you on all this JAG. I’ve had many a löyly splashes from Lake Superior water harvested steps away from the hot room, from the Superior shoreline just south of Two Harbors. I love it. I can feel the difference in löyly from Lake Superior. (and I don’t think it’s psychological).

    I like rain water, and collect it during heavy rains. It’s softer löyly.

    When I’m in Minneapolis, I use straight water out of the garden hose and it’s fine. My buddy lives in Edina, and his Kuuma looks like shit, all white crusted calcium deposits from Edina city water.

    So, i’m with you, man. I’d be thinking well water would be great, and curious your thoughts on that.

    I’m appreciating your consciousness. We sauna nuts who throw a lot of water have every right to be discerning in this department. I’d like to add “best water for steam” to the Sauna Research Institute list of projects, but as much as I think it interesting, I’m afraid it wouldn’t make the top ten. Like.. how would we measure it? And what are we measuring?

  5. I’ll most likely stick with my well water after its gone thru the softener. I know that if we used it straight out of the hose as hard water we would end up a lot of iron deposits. I’ve been using my sauna seven years and have no build up yet so if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I need to come up with a way to collect rain water without bird crap in it.
    I’m with you thou, the lake water seems to be the best. Amen

  6. Nice thoughts. The opposite question, it seems, may be “what’s the best cool down between rounds?” For my minneapolis backyard, from which I can’t jump in a lake, we need water in the hot months. Last summer I found an inflatable ‘tub’ that’s intended for using in a shower stall in small tub-free apartments (apparently much of japan). That works great for the hottest days, making sauna a pleasant experience even in august. This year I added a pull-chain shower connected to the hose. It works great for a quick rinse on those days that a neck deep plunge in cold water isn’t necessary.

  7. I love the water talk – those subtleties are fascinating.
    Even when the water from your hose might be technically as good as anything, throwing water collected from the last rain storm brings those good vibes with it.

  8. Rain barrels that connect to roof gutter drains frequently are equipped with a diverter valve that let’s the initial rainfall (and with it the bird poop) by-pass the rain barrel.

    I suggest you take a look at such designs for capturing your rain water for the sauna.

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