As American as apple pie. So the saying goes. But really what’s more American than the hamburger?
In that meat patty lie redolent images of cattle herded over epic Mid-Western landscapes by sun-scarred cowboys. The cheese as flat and enduring as the emerald Wisconsin pastures it was milked from. And if you put the bun right up close, well you can almost hear the murmuring of wheat swaying in the Wyoming wind. In fact, why not just unscrew a Coke right now, put on some Springsteen, and let’s hit Route 66 in an ol’ open-top Chevy, for this post is pure 100% Americana.
Some folk say the burger’s a little like America itself: fast ‘n free-spirited, big ‘n brash, refreshingly unfussy, yet all a swaggerin’ like John Wayne in True Grit. It’s ubiquitous and it’s egalitarian: from the subways of New York to the shores of California, the burger is relished alike from Walmart stacker to Wall Street trader, from bag-lady to baseball hero.
If American culture’s conquering the globe, burgers are the culinary cavalry. Them ‘golden arches’ stretch far ‘n wide, but it ain’t just an American multi-national carrying the meme: burgers sizzle away atop many a London pop-up stove, small-hold indie pioneers tapping into the American dream.
Now, amongst London’s saturated (fat) landscape, a burger joint needs to stand out. And Dip & Flip sure has a couple of outstanding USP’s. For the first, you have to ask yourself what goes best in a burger. What would be the absolute best foil for all that juicy pink-tinged charred meat? Yes siree.. even MORE meat.
Pairing beef with erm beef may seem a little excessive, uncouth, irrelevant.. (even when framed as ‘beef done two ways’.) However it’s a statement of intent, it’s a burger that’s playing a hard-ball game of one-up-manship. We’re going to top the burger with roast beef steeped in gravy.. Just. ‘Coz. We. Can. But whadyaknow. It totally works.
Like a mountaineer, you begin by eyeing it up, working out how best to tackle its lofty peaks and crevasses. After some careful calculation, you dive in, not knowing whether you’ve chosen the safe route.
Before long, with a tsunami of cheese oozing down your cheek, slabs of beef slipping lopsided off the bun, and a slippery pickle that’s halfway up your face, it’s a freakin’ disaster zone. It’s a Code Red. A Houston-we-have-a-problem. And you smile. For you now know there was no right path that could’ve prevented this burg-ocalypse. It was inevitable from the start. Choice was but an illusion. And you know what, I don’t friggin’ care. For this is one awesome burger.
As you trudge further in, the burger is now surrounding your face like a 360° IMAX cinema. At this point, you’re not quite sure who is eating whom, but who cares when it tastes this good. And then, just when you think what more can this burger do, you then notice the second USP: a bath of gravy, dark and enticing.
You know you’re somehow meant to dip the burger into the gravy, a la francais. Ha ha ha.. Even a notable team of Harvard researchers have demonstrated this would defy the veritable laws of material science. Nevertheless, like a steadfast climate-change denier, and in the good name of the god of food-bloggers, I attempt The Dunk..
Cue drum roll. My hands all a tremor, my fingers wrapped around the beast like it’s a caged animal, I tentatively bring the burger to the gravy’s edge. It watch it slip into the murky-brown liquid like a fat contented hippopotamus. I pull back. Noooooo! Too late. Half the burger’s now dissolved into the amorphous gloop, whilst bits of jettisoned pickle float aloft like flotsam from a shipwreck.
This is totally the alpha male of burgers. It’s there high-fiving and fist-pumping right in front of you. It’s a behemoth. A monster. A product of excess. It’s a middle-finger up at the competition, at the refined elite, at the culinary establishment. And in that way – and apologies to Dip & Flip here – this is no less than the Donald Trump of the burger world. (And not just ‘coz both sport a lurid splash of orange across their facades.)
Okay, so it’s a little trite to reduce the most serious event in modern American history to a meat sandwich. But then if anyone’s gonna project such narrative onto a plate of food, well I might as well give it a go.
It’s hard to know which is worse. The fact that Trump will become the President of the most influential country in the world. Or that people voted for Trump in the first place. Some may’ve been hoodwinked by his poor-me anti-establishment rhetoric, and his promise of a return to the great American industrial past: a job and self-respect. And if you’re unemployed and living in a fragmented deprived community, well you can understand the appeal of that.
But this is campaign talk from an all-time wheeler-dealer. Trump’s a man with no experience of poverty, a man with no experience of philanthropy, a man who’s so not one of them. For Trump is a gargantua of self aggrandisement, self publicity, self enrichment and opportunism; hardly a natural torchbearer for the poor and downtrodden.
But most alarming is the frank racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and so-bad-it-can’t-be-true lampooning of people with disabilities. Okay, so deprivation can fuel grievance, which can fuel scapegoatism, which can fuel racism. But that’s an (oversimplified) explanation, not a justification.
Trump played to the crowd, tapping into and inciting these dark malicious misplaced anxieties and urges. Even if this is all just rampant opportunism, and his promise of walls and deportations are just bluster, then what does that say about a man who would be President? Will be President? And if he genuinely believes in these things, well that’s even worse.
It’s easy to rage and rail against what’s happened. It’s easy to fan the flames of fear. But perhaps the best way is to go the extra mile in how we live our own lives, in reaching out to our neighbours, whatever community and background they’re from, and in calling out whenever we see injustices and prejudices around us.
Besides, whatever narrative can be claimed to understand the Trump victory, it wasn’t long ago that another narrative swept America’s first black President to power. A narrative of hope, of tolerance, of unity, of empowerment. And despite everything since, it still lives in America’s consciousness.
The media may prefer single soundbite narratives over the murk of the complex: in this way, narratives swing on a small twist of fate, whether it be a fortuitous refereeing error or the vagaries of an electoral system. And although the spotlight is now on a narrative of aggrievement, more hopeful narratives do abound. And it’s everyone’s job to breathe life into them.
So if I am gonna project narrative onto a burger, well here’s the thing. The burger, this classic most glorious slice of Americana, like most of today’s America, owes its very existence to immigrants. The era may be different, but the story is the same.
These 19th Century wanderers passed through the port of Hamburg, bringing with them meat patties smoked and salted for the journey. In fact, the narrative of the burger is all about America’s very essence as a country built by immigrants, its very fabric a coming together of peoples of all kinds. (And of the indigenous Native Americans? Well that’s another topic for another day..) So all this talk of building walls and blocking Muslims is not just unethical, it’s also deeply un-American.
So for this Thanksgiving, I raise my burger aloft, cheese oozing from its very pores, gravy dripping from its brow. For this is an icon founded in the sweat and blood of immigrants, in freedom and tolerance. Let’s toast immigrants everywhere – their courage and stories, let’s hope for their safety, and try do our small bit to keep this world of ours peaceful and kind, founded on love and not fear.
If you liked this post, you may be interested in my other piece reflecting on diversity and communities: ‘It’s Not Just Kricket‘.
Dip & Flip