Not-possible-before-the-20th-century writing usually opens my eyes – especially when the product in question is widely available for around $1 – and this is no exception:
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.
The parallel to “I, Pencil,” The Toaster Project, etc. is unmistakable.
In the case of food, I’ve often called molecular gastronomy the practice of post-ethnic cuisine. Perhaps I should begin carving a niche in my taxonomy for post-industrial dishes, where the modern lettuce-and-tomato-topped interpretation of the ground beef sandwich would take residence with other ethnically-bound but supply-chain-dependent dishes (e.g. the McRib). Maybe Next could take it up as a theme.
Also: I realize this means that Wimpy of Popeye (while looking and sounding quite one-percent) manages to blend two distinctly 20th-century tastes – burgers and credit – in his signature epigram.
Somewhat related: I have dinner plans at Shake Shack tonight.