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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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.