The Work of Meat in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

From a Weekly Standard review of Josh Ozersky's new history of the American hamburger:

As a 1932 brochure puts it:

When you sit in a White Castle, remember that you are one of several thousands; you are sitting on the same kind of stool; you are being served on the same kind of counter; the coffee you drink is made in accordance with a certain formula; the hamburger you eat is prepared in exactly the same way over a gas flame of the same intensity; the cups you drink from are identical with thousands of cups that thousands of other people are using at the same moment; the same standard of cleanliness protects your food.

As the author notes, "Ingram understood before anyone else that he was building, not just a hamburger chain, but an identity, what today would be called a brand."

Over time, other burger businesses would arise. In 1937, a Glendale, California, restaurateur named Bob Wian created the first double-decker hamburger, which proved a tremendous success. He called it the Big Boy (the nickname of a portly six-year-old who worked for him for free food) and the restaurant itself would eventually adopt the moniker. But in order for Big Boys to proliferate around the country, Wian had to embrace the franchising system. (White Castle's Ingram did not, as Ozersky explains, because "he felt [it] would cheapen the White Castle brand; only the 'operators' under his iron control could be counted upon to uphold the standards of the System.")

But neither Ingram nor Wian would be as successful as Ray Kroc. In 1954, the paper cup and blender salesman visited a San Bernardino hamburger joint and was so impressed by the operation and the loyalty of its customers that he offered to go into partnership with (and later buy out) the owners, brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald.

Whole thing here.

My favorite White Castle ad was a poster that used to grace the inside of the franchises sometime back in the 1980s: A pile of the stuff emblazoned with the nutritionally nihilistic legend "Burgers for Breakfast? Why not?" Indeed. For many years, I could think of no compelling counter-argument.

Via Arts & Letters Daily.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Argh. Reading that Walter Benjamin essay gave me a massive headache. Seeing that headline brought back bad memories.

  • ||

    "Burgers for Breakfast? Why not?"

    Everyone knows that Taco Bell is the hangover breakfast of champions. Some Burrito Supremes, Mountain Dew, and an iron stomach and you are all set to get drunk again.

  • ||

    The franchise and the virus work on the same principle: what thrives in one place will thrive in another. You just have to find a sufficiently virulent business plan, condense it into a three-ring binder - its DNA - xerox it, and embed it on the fertile lining of a well-traveled highway, preferably one with a left-turn lane. Then the growth will expand until it runs up against its property lines.

    In olden times, you'd wander down to Mom's Café for a bite and a cup of joe, and you would feel right at home. It worked just fine if you didn't leave your hometown. But if you went to the next town over, everyone would look up and stare at you when you came in the door, and the blue plate special would be something you didn't recognize. If you did enough traveling, you'd never feel at home anywhere.

    But when a businessman from New Jersey goes to Dubuque, he knows he can walk into a McDonald's and no one will stare at him. He can order without having to look at the menu, and the food will always taste the same. McDonald's is Home, condensed into a three-ring binder and xeroxed. "No Suprises" is the motto of the franchise ghetto, its Good Housekeeping seal, subliminally blazoned on every sign and logo that make up the curves and grids of light that outline the basin.

    The people of America, who live in the world's most surprising and terrible country, take comfort in that motto.



    - Snow Crash Neal Stephenson

  • Naga Sadow||

    My only exposure to White Castle has been watching Harold and Kumar movies as Episiarch's comment is correct.

  • ||

    People always amaze me (er, I mean disappoint). I travel with co-workers overseas, and they want to eat somewhere easy, LIKE MCDONALDS!!! Your chance to try something new, see something different, taste something novel, and you want the same stuff you eat at home EVERY day. Geeez.

  • Dagny T.||

    Some Burrito Supremes, Mountain Dew, and an iron stomach and you are all set to get drunk again.

    No, no, no. The correct formula is greasy chow mein and tea at your friendly neighborhood sketchy all-night Chinatown dive.

    And wherever you are, don't order the Skip's Scramble.

  • T||

    No, no, no. The correct formula is greasy chow mein and tea at your friendly neighborhood sketchy all-night Chinatown dive.

    Bah! Tacos and cheeseburgers from Jack-in-the-Box. Caffeinated sugar water of choice to wash it all down. Nothing like doing that knowing you'll have to run it off in a few more hours.

  • ||

    The correct formula is greasy chow mein and tea at your friendly neighborhood sketchy all-night Chinatown dive

    Feh. Maybe that's the Canadian way, but if you're hardcore it's Taco Bell or, at the very least, the local greasy spoon's steak (very rare) and eggs.

  • kinnath||

    People always amaze me (er, I mean disappoint). I travel with co-workers overseas, and they want to eat somewhere easy, LIKE MCDONALDS!!!

    Spend two or three weeks out of country enjoying the local cuisine and eventually it starts to wear on you. You step off the plane coming home and the first you do is find McD's in the concourse, not because it tastes good, but because it's part of home.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Dagny T.,

    We aren't all friendly with the Triads.

  • Dagny T.||

    if you're hardcore it's Taco Bell

    Chinese is a much safer bet in Vancouver than even the most Americanized form of Mexican. But I have been meaning to switch up the post-party food venue. Our sketchy Chinatown place has had some scary brawls in recent weeks.

  • Franklin Harris||

    You're all wrong. The appropriate hangover remedy is Waffle House or Krystal.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Franklin Harris,

    Waffle House is regional unfortunately as is Krystal. I discovered this years ago. Also, me and waffle house have had disagreements in the past so I have mainly stuck with taco bell.

  • Guy Montag||

    I just discovered, this weekend, that Orlando has Krystal! Was heavenly, yummy, awsome and I did not even have a hangover yet.

    I know what's for dinner every day until I return to the barren lands of the DC Beltway.

  • Guy Montag||

    P.S., there is a Waffle House right next to my hotel here!

  • ||

    Waffle Houses are like hookers. A few good ones exist here and there, but most are just busted out old whores who think "hygiene" is the name of that tall black tranny who works the corner of 5th and Vine.

  • Guy Montag||

    SF,

    Yea, that is the one I was talking about in my last comment.

  • ||

    ...not because it tastes good, but because it's part of home.

    My brother was stationed in Germany. Every time he came home on leave, he asked me to take him to Taco Bell.

    Part of home indeed.

    I live in Florida and grew up with Krystal's. My college years in Indiana, however, have left me constantly wistful of White Castles. Others may not agree, but White Castle's is ever so much better than Krystals.

  • ||

    Waffle House, IHOP, whatever. Taco Bell has Fire Sauce, so it wins for hardcore. I suppose Dagny's Chinese option could also be hardcore if you ordered the Kung Pao Chicken extra spicy. But waffles? Please.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Nick, after including the quote that explained in excruciating detail that White Castle did not allow franchises, why did you refer to your favorite "poster that used to grace the inside of the franchises"? Did you omit a crucial detail from the corporate history of White Castle, or do you just not know what the fuck you are talking about?

    I have to say that, as a former White Tower grillman, I'm hurt that no one has had a fond word to say about our fabulous burgers, fries, and shakes. Yes we did rip off White Castle! So what! BFD! Barbara Streisand was a huge fan, though she never came to my shop. (True story.) But what I really remember is that this was so long ago, our "special" was (wait for it) the "Big Whitey"! Sink your teeth into that!

  • gmatts||

    A franchise called "Five Guys" has started to creep into my area. They have the best burgers and fries I've ever had. They have about 20 diff't toppings to choose from, all free of charge. The fries are cooked in peanut oil, which gives them a unique taste and it also means that there are boxes of peanuts all over the store that you can eat while you wait for your food. Their hot dogs are okay too, just not as good as Jimmy Buff's.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Guy Montag,

    Good to see you. Where ya been? Have you been hiding out in a bunker interviewing female welders and awaiting the apocalypse?

  • Franklin Harris||

    A franchise called "Five Guys" has started to creep into my area. They have the best burgers and fries I've ever had.



    They just started opening locations in Alabama within the past year. They're excellent. Their hours, however, are not conducive to after-binge food consumption. Nor is their location near where the state troopers patrol.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Epi, you FOOL! No one eats waffles at waffle house. You eat greasy omelets stacked with meat. Or steak sandwhiches so greasy, you would think they dipped them in grease before serving you.

  • Guy Montag||

    Epi,

    Both Krystal and Waffle House have REAL Tabasco in every store.

    gmatts,

    Five Guys is great too. You can actually order a hotdog there with a close approximation to Chicago style dogs (wrong peppers, and the dog is grilled, but everything else is on target). Only saw one of them go under. The one near the Wal-Mart on VA I-81 around exit 273ish?

    The Krystal in Salem, VA went under too.

  • MCA||

    White Castle fries only come in one size.

  • Guy Montag||

    Good to see you. Where ya been? Have you been hiding out in a bunker interviewing female welders and awaiting the apocalypse?

    You have no idea how close you are . . .

  • Franklin Harris||

    Or steak sandwhiches so greasy, you would think they dipped them in grease before serving you.



    If they're serving it the way I ordered, they damn well better have!

  • Tym||

    Checkers ain't bad.

  • Guy Montag||

    Nick,

    Thanks for the still from my favorite burger commercial!

  • Naga Sadow||

    Guy,

    Which parts? Bunker? Apocalypse? Female welders?

  • Guy Montag||

    Naga,

    Sorry, I can not reveal that much detail.

  • kinnath||

    I travelled to Moscow on a regular basis in the middle 90's. McDs was just breaking into the market. So I got to eat at the world's largest McDs (at that time) in Pushkin square. And low and behold, it tasted just like a McDs in the the good-old U.S.A.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Franklin Harris,

    Same here. Personally, I like my late night meals to be so unhealthy I almost have a coronary with every bite.

    Guy,

    Seriously. Now I'm curious. Weapons testing? New sports equipment? Both?

    "You ever try a pink golf ball, Wally? Why, the wind shear alone on a pink golf ball can take the head off a 90-pound midget at over 300 yards."

  • robc||

    Burritos as big as your head.

    When a restaurant has "open until after the bars close" printed on all their stuff, you know the target demographic.

  • Guy Montag||

    Naga,

    Is this a new interrogation technique?

  • robc||

    SugarFree,

    The key to the Waffle House is to never eat at one in a city. You must be just off the interstate between major cities.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Well you could have just said "been busy at work". I don't work for the government so a "classified" excuse doesn't work on me.

  • ||

    robc,

    Those are the best ones. The fancy call girls, if you will.

    We have a fine greasy spoon near campus, Tally-Ho (or Da Ho.) The bum population had almost taken it over until the smoking ban took effect. Single worst men's bathroom in town since the indie rock club downtown closed in the late 90s.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Waffle Houses are like hookers. A few good ones exist here and there, but most are just busted out old whores who think "hygiene" is the name of that tall black tranny who works the corner of 5th and Vine.

    No doubt. I've not eaten at many, but that one in Phoenix is just effin' ghastly.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Some Burrito Supremes, Mountain Dew, and an iron stomach and you are all set to get drunk again.

    One single word.

    Menudo.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    As a man who has often been referred to as Wimpy, I know a little about hamburgers.

    I was going somewhere with that but now I'm going to pick up The House Blond at the bus stop. Sorry. ;-)

  • ||

    Taco Bell? No offense, esteemed friend, but wow, what a pussy breakfast. Ditto for Waffle House, Chinese, or anything else that isn't White Castle.

    Take it from someone who actually lives in a city where White Castles are present and who has actually eaten White Castle food and who actually knows what he is talking about: there is nothing better than those greasy belly-bombers and black coffee for an after-drinkage meal.

    You can kid yourself and say "X" is better, but you'd be living a lie -- a horrible, disgusting lie that will cost you the affections of everyone you ever loved.

  • Franklin Harris||

    Taco Bell? No offense, esteemed friend, but wow, what a pussy breakfast. Ditto for Waffle House, Chinese, or anything else that isn't White Castle.



    Krystal is practically the same thing as White Castle, only slightly less greasy.

  • rap||

    McD's in London, early '80s. Had the instant swill the Brits call coffee. Gah.

  • Franklin Harris||

    McD's in London, early '80s. Had the instant swill the Brits call coffee. Gah.



    All food in the UK sucked then. It took two decades of immigration to get people into that country who knew how to cook.

  • Guy Montag||

    MCA,

    White Castle fries only come in one size.

    Another reason that Krystal rules. They have 3 sizes.

    However, my experience today has shaken my faith. The somewhat cute gal at the counter acted as if she knew what Tabasco was when I ordered, but was clueless when it was time to put it in the bag (was an eat-in order) and she discovered that they were out.

    Was quite slow too.

    Beware of Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando, FL.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement