Writing

For & Against: Gourmet Burgers

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This was a comedy debate article that was published in Farrago Edition Six on 1 September 2015. Farrago has been the student magazine of the University of Melbourne since 1925.

For: Adrian Yeung

While other types of food have been the focus of much creativity and innovation, as evidenced by the invention of Vegemite chocolate and human breastmilk ice cream, for too long the burger has been neglected and maligned. No more is it solely the food of truck drivers and clubrats in search of some post-drinks satiation; the burger scene has undergone tremendous modernisation in recent years and is now thriving (or, dare I say, burgerning), being enjoyed by all peoples: old and young, fit and fat, foodie and non-foodie.

As a food that has long been associated with unhealthiness, it is encouraging to see the emphasis that is being placed on freshness and environmentalism. The development of the gourmet burger is testament to humankind’s incredible innovation, transforming a greasy fatty patty into a wholesome work of art (almost) too good to eat, made from ethical, organic and environmentally friendly ingredients. Marvel, for instance, at the artistic brilliance of displaying burgers on wooden chopping boards, evoking feelings of authentic rusticity. Admire the creativity of the burgerwrights who replace disgusting processed cheese with delightful specialty French cheeses, who have created ingredients like candied bacon, caramelised onion and truffle aioli, things that those of previous generations never thought of combining. This wondrous fusion of foodstuffs and cuisines is something to be celebrated, but sadly even in the 21st century this is not always the case.

“I’m not a fan of this ‘fusion food’ nonsense,” Joseph Moore (a usually reasonable man you will soon encounter on the other side of this page) once said to me at lunch, while reaching across the table to help himself to some of my Mexican pizza. This kind of close-minded outlook against the melting pot of ethnic cuisines that has become the hallmark of contemporary times is nothing more than wistful gastronomic protectionism espoused by a small minority of culinary Luddites, perhaps not unlike the rhetoric one may hear at a Reclaim Australia rally. Even McDonald’s, home of the revolting preservatives-ridden chemical concoction known as the Big Mac, has recognised that their menu has become a bit dull, unchanged throughout the aeons — their recent move towards customisation shows that they’re embracing the revolution, and you can now choose what ingredients you’d like in your burger. The future is bright – the deliverance of the gourmet burgers means that we are now liberated from the same-tasting, unimaginative McBurgers of yesteryear.

Against: Joseph Moore

You know that when Mickey Dee’s has jumped aboard a trend, it’s probably gotten a bit silly. Complete with the little flag that sticks from a skewer out of your toasted gourmet bun, cheese from all the départements of France, chips in a basket and a faux-rustic chopping board, heaped with an assortment of condiments from a hodgepodge of mismatched cuisines, even McDonald’s, the last stronghold of the simple and unpretentious burger, has fallen to the fetishising urge.

Burgers, with their tomato relish, beef brisket and pulled pork, have now gone the way of the theatre, art galleries, restaurants, and even the humble, self-effacing ale. A once unfussy, authentic version of a now mass product is sought and celebrated, and if not found then it is created. A once earthy and democratic form of entertainment is made experimental, overpriced, artfully sparse, and pseudo-religious in the reverence with which it is treated. A simple beverage is made a site for the display of cultural refinement and taste. And now, that greasiest and nastiest, yet artlessly delightful of all fast food items has gone down the same road of butchery via gourmet makeover.

Notice I haven’t yet used the dreaded ‘h’ word, most commonly used in regards to gourmet burgers, craft beer and pulled pork. I shan’t, not only because hipster-bashing is an overused cliché used to pad out lightweight digital media, but because the hipsters aren’t really to blame. There is a familiar pattern at work here. A spontaneous everyday item, like the good old-fashioned diner or milk-bar burger, is first commodified, mass-produced and mass-distributed: see Mickey Dee’s. Then, as Apple constantly does with electronics, something new is required to make burgers sell. Thus the burger is made with an aura of oaken tradition and to remarket it to a new generation, is turned into a veritable culinary idol for the chef who lacks the skill for a proper meal or the subtlety not to throw in all his ingredients between two slices of artisan sourdough.

Things have gotten silly. The ratings and comparison of the urban burger scene that litters the good food sections of our papers are a sign that it’s getting out of hand. What would the raucous, radical youths of the generations of Coleridge and Wordsworth, Keats and Byron, Wilde and Beardsley, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Lennon and Dylan, Gallagher and Cobain have to say about a 21st century youth culture that gets its kicks off glorified, overfilled sandwiches? Millennials should jump off the bandwagon of the feted fast-food treat before it consigns itself to a life of beige culture and brie-cheeseburgers.

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