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The Impossible Cheeseburger

Posted by Josh Rothman  December 6, 2011 01:36 PM

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Super-blogger Waldo Jaquith planned to make a cheeseburger from scratch, raising his own cattle, grinding his own wheat, harvesting his own lettuce, making his own cheese, and so on. What did he discover? Because the ingredients of a classic cheeseburger all come to maturity in different seasons, making a cheeseburger yourself is, for all practical purposes, impossible.

Some ingredients, Jaquith found, could be procured through sheer perseverence: It's a pain to mine your own salt, but not impossible. Other ingredients, though, can't be created in sync by one person:

Tomatoes are in season in the late summer. Lettuce is in season in the fall. Mammals are slaughtered in early winter. The process of making such a burger would take nearly a year, and would inherently involve omitting some core cheeseburger ingredients. It would be wildly expensive—requiring a trio of cows—and demand many acres of land.

Cheeseburgers, Jaquith concludes, are uniquely modern, and could not have existed in their complete form -- lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, cheese, mustard, ketchup, burger, bun -- until the modern era. Read the whole post for the nitty gritty details, as well as a fascinating comments section!

Related: The ultimate hamburger:

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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