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December 5, 2011

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

A cheeseburger cannot exist outside of a highly developed, post-agrarian society.
It requires a complex interaction between a handful of vendors—in all likelihood, a couple of dozen—and the ability to ship ingredients vast distances while keeping them fresh. The cheeseburger couldn’t have existed until nearly a century ago as, indeed, it did not. -- Waldo Jaquith - On the impracticality of a cheeseburger.

Posted by gerardvanderleun at December 5, 2011 12:06 PM. This is an entry on the sideblog of American Digest: Check it out.

Your Say

When was ground beef invented? For as I recall, cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and bread came well before. If they had ground beef if ancient Rome, then cheese burgers were possible. Albeit with olive oil instead of mayo.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at December 5, 2011 4:26 PM

Why is it necessary to use CE instead of AD as a designation of time?
Does this man not realize that in the agrarian society he yearns for people believed in God and indeed referred to the year as "In the year of our Lord". Anno Domini.

I really, really despise the revisionist history being taught to people in the last 30-40 years.

Posted by: teresa at December 5, 2011 7:04 PM

"I, Pencil" becomes "I, Cheeseburger". That's progress.

Posted by: Brett_McS at December 5, 2011 10:04 PM

Ground meat has existed for thousands of years, being primarily used either to eke out meat by making the addition of fillers and spices easier, or as the beginning of sausage (a wonderful meat storage and transport technology).

Cheese is probably even more ancient, being a staple of nomad life and yet another wonderful storage and transport technology. In this case, cheese makes milk last nearly forever, if you turn it into hard cheese.

Now, if you demand American cheese or Velveeta, yep, those are recent and demand refrigeration. But since their only real virtue is uniform meltiness, I'm not sure why you'd demand that. Real cheese might not look all purty when it melts, but it's tasty. And melty cheese on bread is yet another ancient staple in most European countries; it's peasant food for cold weather that sticks to your ribs. (Note the implied cheapness in the term "Welsh rabbit.")

Sandwich buns aren't new, either. Meat on bread has always been popular, but in Germany it's been particularly so.

So basically, a hamburger year round is an innovation; but ground meat on buns with melty cheese is pretty much a standard harvest dish in
Germany and Austria, and maybe Switzerland too. There are even plenty of Middle Eastern dishes (like kefta and gyros) which come pretty close, but prepare the meat and bread differently.

Posted by: Maureen at December 6, 2011 5:43 AM

The more I think about this, the real limiting factor is that grilling wasn't all that popular among people who had kitchens. Grilling was something you did outdoors, a shepherd or hunter or nomad thing. Indoors, you boiled or roasted or fried meat, or you baked it in a pie or a casserole, or you put it on a spit or kabob over the coals.

When ground or chopped "Hamburger meat" first came over here, it was a beef tartare. Grilling it was just one step up from raw.

Oh, and the article fixates on tomato and lettuce, while ignoring the more important onion, pickle, and ketchup and mustard. (Surely you don't really want mayo?)

Posted by: Maureen at December 6, 2011 6:20 AM

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