18.Nov.2010 burger as modernism

the humble hamburger is actually the culinary emblem of modernism.  it’s really a mash up of styles: bread, which has been around since the dawn of organized human civilization; processed meat, which is the result of an invention of the 19th century (the meat grinder); fixins, which is read in line with the 18th century baroque and the Earl of Sandwich (“let us now pile one food atop another so that we can gainfully eat while we bask in the entertainment due our leisurely class“).

think about it.  the processed hamburger allows for cuts of meat that otherwise would have gone to waste or soup stock, “trimmings”, etc., to be recycled in this patty, and when grilled, turns out a crusty caramelized crust and juicy interior (due to high fat content relative to steaks and also the air trapped in the nooks of the processed meat).  it’s capitalism in a nutshell, nothing gone to waste, every physical flow is turned into a point along the food-coma spectrum, while the production process of hamburger (i.e. factory farms, modern food line assembly processing and refining, complete with next-generation antibiotics that leave us vulnerable to staph infections) is directly in line with the wettest fantasies of Frederick Taylor.

anything could be in that patty, and often, anything is.  but the idea that we can take processed food, shape it into a circle, serve it, and people will be inclined to bite into it is a transcendent moment of our age.  the hamburger, layers upon layers removed from the cow from which it derives, is rendered as das ding an sich (the thing in itself), an abstraction and lexical referent independent of any other in the culinary signifying chain.  the hamburger is perfection, and satisfies our most primordial need for umami (i.e. savoriness).  The idea that this woman could open a million-dollar restaurant based on the success of a gourmet hamburger in new york makes me question my most basic assumptions about food and economy.  the future of food is not molecular gastronomy.  i would argue modern molecular gastronomy started in the 1800s, and it started with the gastronomical mix tape we call hamburger.

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