Tuesday, December 6, 2011

No one can make a cheeseburger

Last year I linked to Matt Ridley's wonderful TED lecture in which he argues that no one person knows how to build a computer mouse from scratch. Extracting petroleum from the ground, turning it into plastic, building a circuit board, refining the metal for it, etc.... these are highly specialized tasks. Ridley estimated that it takes perhaps a million people to actually build a mouse. He took this as a positive sign; we are all profoundly interconnected, allowing us to create things that none of us could create on our own.

Via Brad DeLong, Waldo Jaquith makes a similar argument about the cheeseburger, which he attempted to create from scratch:
Further reflection revealed that it’s quite impractical—nearly impossible—to make a cheeseburger from scratch. 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. There’s just no sense in it. 
A cheeseburger cannot exist outside of a highly developed, post-agrarian society. It requires a complex interaction between a handful of vendors—in all likelihood, a couple of dozen—and the ability to ship ingredients vast distances while keeping them fresh. The cheeseburger couldn’t have existed until nearly a century ago as, indeed, it did not…
This is something to celebrate. Perhaps with a cheeseburger.


marc said...

It takes a village to make a cheeseburger. (anthropology isn't my thing, but wasn't figuring this out the reason homo sapiens won and the neanderthals lost?)

Seth said...

Why did the homo sapiens win? Because we understood the value of working together to solve problems? Or because we cooked the neanderthals, smothered them with dairy products, and ate them? Either way, I'm sleeping well tonight.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

A bacon cheeseburger in the spring on a Tuesday for lunch has the virtue of being contrary to a maximal number of religions. It isn't kosher. It violates Islamic dietary law and can come during Ramadan day time fasting. Many Christian observers of Lent find it inappropriate to eat red meat at that time. It involves the death of a sacred cow of the Hindus. It is meat forbidden to some of the more observant members of some Eastern religions (Buddhist monks say a daily prayer to forgive them for the death of the insects whom they have inadvertantly killed during the day). Secular puritans denounce its high levels of saturated fat and low nutritional content.

Yet, it remains a popular lunch item in our society that is widely advertised in public settings without retaliation or even complaints of religious insensitivity even during these especially sacred times.

Geoff G said...

You can have my cheeseburger when you pry it from my cold, dead, greasy hands. On the other hand, a bacon cheeseburger is an abomination.