Globalization: Social & Geographic Perspectives

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The Hamburger Always on the Move

March 10th, 2011 · 2 Comments
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The hamburger is one of the most popular and significant American cuisines today. Whether its Dad grilling it up in the backyard or the mass produced chopped meat loaded with hormones and all kinds of chemicals you find at fast food chains, Americans love this popular icon. We like them cooked medium, rare or well done.We use all kinds of toppings to enhance the taste: lettuce, tomato, ketchup and in strange places like New Jersey they even use mustard (ewww). Add cheese to it and it becomes the quintessential American snack, the cheeseburger. America’s love for the cheeseburger can be summed up using the lyrics of a popular Jimmy Buffet song, “Cheeseburger in paradise. Heaven on earth with an onion slice.” When did this love affair for chopped meat between two pieces of bread begin in America. For the answer we must span the globe and scribe through centuries of history in order to uncover the Creolization of the hamburger.

World renowned global economist Amartya Sen argued that globalization began in the Eastern part of the world through advances in technology, trade and other cultural influences that impacted Europe. In fact that is how the hamburger made it to the Western World. During the tenth century Ghangis Khan led his nomadic army from the plains of Northern China, across the World on a global conquest. These nomadic people’s known as the Mongols spent most of their lives on horseback. It was common that they would spend days on the backs of their “ponies”. In order to sustain themselves, the Mongols would keep meat under their saddles, in which it would go through a process of being tenderized ¬†and flattened; subsequently, making it easier to consume with one hand while riding. The Mongols would introduce their unique ground meat into the Western cultures they dominated. In the late eighteenth century they invaded and conquered Moscow. The Russians would adapt to the ground meat method and add onions and raw egg to enhance flavor. The Russians called it “Beef Tartare” (Tartare was another name for the Mongols).

From Russia it is believed that this meat snack became popular in the ports of German cities during the fifteenth and sixteenth century. By trading with the Germans, the Russian ¬†introduced “Beef Tartare” to their sailors in which the Germans brought it back to their port city of Hamburg. In Hamburg it’s name changed to “steak tartare” and it was a popular meal with the urbanites or city dwellers.

During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries droves of German immigrants flocked to the United States and brought with them the methods for preparing steak tartare. It was a slab of hard minced meat mixed with breadcrumbs, onions, and salt. This method was suited for bringing food on long voyages. Soon Americans would enjoy “Hamburg Beef”, or what we now know was the origin of the Hamburger.

Their is much dispute about who actually invented the method of hamburger making in the US. Many have claimed to invent the modern hamburger, but one thing is certain that during the nineteenth century the popularity of the burger became embodied into American culture. Starting in 1921, a company called White Castle began to mass distribute the Hamburger. They sold chopped meat in between two “buns” with chopped onions and served along side steamed french fries, all for the cost of a nickel. Such an affordable price allowed many Americans to experience the Hamburger.

With the explosion of the Car culture in California after World War II came the obsession of the “drive up window” to quickly purchase burgers and fries. Two brothers opened up a chain of these drive ups in Southern California in the 1940’s. Their name would be linked with the American Hamburger and become a permanent part of the American psyche: McDonalds. Dick and Mac McDonald would sell their very successful chain to a group of investors that would make McDonalds a massive global conglomerate.McDonalds now spans the globe. In every major city around the World you can find a McDonalds each with little of the local flair. In a McDonalds in Montreal the menu is written in both English and French and along with the traditional fries they also a local variation called Putin (fries with cheese on them).

No matter what the method was of preparing chopped meat was from culture to culture, the one thing that seemed consistent throughout the Creolization process of the Hamburger, the convenience of it. As long as humans have been on this planet they seem to be constantly moving. So it would make sense that a meal, created to be consumed while on the move, moved with them.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1    jasmina786 // Mar 11, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Being a burger girl myself, this blog really gave a insightful view of how burgers came about. I always presumed it was mainly only American. Growing up in this country burgers were cooked in barbeque grills, restuarants, and diners that provided this delicious platter assisted with fries or a side dish. It is interesting to learn that it was not US that started this buger but from a saddle that was carried off by Mongols. Good read and loved how you put history in such a concise manner, neither long or shot but just right to the point!!!

  • 2    Prof. Hala // Mar 21, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Jasmina’s right, you take us on a Hamburger Odyssey across the world and through the ages! I love all the quirky and colorful historical detail. Yet you argue that despite all these important differences and changes over time, the appeal of the burger has remained the same: its convenience. That’s excellent historical (perhaps ‘historicist’) analysis — respecting the differences on the surface of social reality in different times/places, but recognizing how general causal dynamics or mechanisms may be at work.

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