Accepted abstract - Creative Tastebuds Symposium 2020

Burger-ness and power

Abstract for opinion paper

By Farrell, B., & Fischer, M., PhD, University of Kent, England.

The hamburger is a symbol, an icon, of the complications of food, something once hailed as a solution to suburban living and then became a symbol of globalisation, of western expansion, and now has its revival as a gourmet food. Louise O. Fresco, 2015.

The aim of the opinion paper is to explore how the internet could be a place of transformation to more sustainable eating habits. Group eating preferences, culturally (re)learned from daily sensory interaction, determine what is safe, tasty, appropriate and ethical to eat. The use of mirror neurons of the brain, which activate imitative behaviour, is part of performative interaction that relies on sensorial memory of taste and responses to taste. Online experience incorporates mirror neurons to inform and process information and magnify cultural food preferences. Could a contribution to eating less meat be through challenging the media dominance of meat burgers with cultural and sensory online interaction of eating a non-meat burger?

Craving

Grass and cow, wheat and beef. Human endeavour has transformed these into dominant food sources to satisfy our taste buds and boost physicality. The chemical Maillard reaction of browning food through cooking turns some foods into sweetened, crispy versions of themselves with a greater complexity of tastes. Bread and meat are perfect candidates and as a meat-eating diner comments there is an “indescribable sensation” of eating meat, “you can’t compare it to anything, because it’s not the same as anything” (Explained, Netflix, 2019). Similarly, as described by bread historian Stephen L. Kuper in his sensory and emotional analysis, eating bread stimulates multi-nodal references of memory, security, diverse textures and complex flavour notes (Kaplan, S., L., 2006). A beef burger in a bread bun achieves edible sublimity.

The burger economy

As Fresco highlights in the quote above the burger in a bun is perfectly packaged quick and cheap food for people on the go. The popularity of ground beef fried in centimeter thick disc-shapes, surrounded by a seemingly individualised range of garnishes (lettuce, gerkin, tomato, tomato ketchup, fried onion or coleslaw) and then nestled inside a crisp yet billowy bread bap is phenomenal. Figures of consumption from stalwart burger consuming countries like Australia, America, Britain and France now see burger craving trends from China, Iran and North Korea.[1] Marketeers, fast food chains and increasingly high-end restaurants do not have to work hard at connecting the consuming viewer to their sensory acumen and burger-tastic memories, because the image of the beef burger in a bun is a constant daily experience.

The true costs

Patrick Holden, founding director of the British charity Sustain[2] advocates the adoption of “true cost accounting” (Holden, 2013). He accepts that “agriculture is part of a vast system of human and natural relationships” (Harris, M., 1989, 16), deeply entrenched in human history. Yet the agribusiness model of producing high yield is harmful to human, other species and the planet (Steinfeld, H., 2006). Beef and wheat production are the greatest offenders in unsustainable food production, “1kg of beef requires nearly 70 times more land to produce more than 1kg of vegetables, and a thousand times more water” (Dring, R., 2014). There are also cultural and health costs to eating beef burgers. The negative costs of eating this high fat, low fibre and simple carbohydrate food result in obesity and the homogenisation of cultural food cuisines (Brown, P., and Konner, M., 1987). It is time for change. 

Cultured meat

What does change look like? Is it eating synthetic meat? Or plant-based eating increasingly becoming the norm? Or a combination of the two?

The Impossible Burger: water, protein powders, glues, factory flavourings, flavour enhancers, synthetic vitamins – all signifiers of low-grade, ultra-processed food – and a novel ingredient that has no proven track record of safety. Blythman, J., (2017).

As investigative journalist Blythman describes the urged race to find a substitute meat that bleeds and has the Heme (the naturally occurring iron rich molecule found in protein haemoglobin in an animal’s blood or myoglobin in the muscle) taste of meat is producing a highly processed product. In terms of health and culture, would synthetic meat simply maintain concerns of cuisine homogeneity, ensure white wheat bread as a dominant grain and ultimately not tackle obesity epidemics (Hurt, R.T., et al 2010)?

Stabilising transformations

Founder of the Slow Food Movement Carlo Petrini believes that, "in this false global economy, the people have always been told they are marginal and irrelevant” (Hickman, L., 2009). So he set up the Slow Food Movement in the 1980’s to augment change from the bottom up from “Food Citizens” who buy food that is “good, clean and fair” (Petrini, C., 2005). Similarly, Holden advocates the “…incredibly empowering thing to do as a citizen; (is) to use your money to support a more sustainable food future” (Holden, P., 2019). Daily use of the internet to activate, communicate and develop the power of the on-line food citizen is impressive and awaiting to reach its potential of transformation to a more sustainable food future.

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[1] Figures taken from a variety of on-line marketing and tourism reports as shown in bibliography.

[2] Sustain the British charity for sustainable food and farming www.sustainweb.org