I want to take a moment to talk about Pulp Fiction.
Hey, wait, come back! I swear there’s a point to this, and I only want to address a single iconic moment of the film — a high point in Samuel L. Jackson’s performance, if not his career. Remember when he shows up to kill some dudes in their squalid apartment but, before getting down to business, inquires after the fast food they’re eating for breakfast? Upon learning that it’s cheeseburgers from a (fictional) chain called Big Kahuna Burger, he picks one up and takes a bite, declaring it “a tasty burger” with great satisfaction.
The scene is tense for a first-time viewer, who realizes it is likely to end in violence, though not exactly how. Yet one detail is hilariously, incongruously non-suspenseful.
We already know the burger is good.
Can you picture a version of this sequence where Jackson is like, “Wow, that’s a sub-par burger”? One where he spits out his mouthful in disgust? Of course not. Because every hamburger is fine, if not somewhat better than fine.
I am struggling to remember a single bad burger I’ve ever had. Even a cheap frozen patty burned to hell in a pan and served plain on white bread would hit the spot right now, honestly. The whole point of a burger is that you can’t really screw it up. It is a burger, and that is enough.
It should be enough, anyway. But for some burger-eaters, it is clearly not. I can’t log on without reading extremely nuanced burger opinions from these folks — which burgers are overrated, which are slept on, which are better or worse than specific others — as if all speedily prepared, cheap hamburgers are not essentially the same. I find it exhausting.
In the first place, it’s annoying to act as if any of these takes is purely objective when each is a matter of regional tribalism, nostalgia and branding. Saying a given franchise burger is “best” sheds light on your upbringing, current state of residence and the deep-seated, practically subconscious whims and loyalties that drive your consumerism — while saying nothing about the burger. Secondly, eat whatever burger you want! Get the one they have at Del Taco for some reason! I don’t goddamn care!
BuzzFeed cybersecurity reporter Kevin Collier, a grill maestro responsible for some of the most delicious hamburgers I’ve eaten in the past few years, agrees that the burger discourse is asinine these days. “There are very clear things you can do to a burger at home (use fresh ground chuck, salt and pepper rub the outsides, keep it medium rare) to make it taste better,” he says. “But staking your identity on pretending there’s some categorical difference between any of the regional upscale fast-food burgers this country has to offer is deeply sad. They’re just burgers.” Ranking In-N-Out vs. Five Guys is a fruitless exercise. It’s like ranking Star Wars movies. They’re all Star Wars. (Except for the one that upset the nerds.)
That’s why I’m asking everyone, here and now, to quit these ridiculous beefs and end the posturing. The best burger is, by and large, the most convenient burger at hand. Or, as my colleague Andrew Fiouzi puts it, “the closest one to me at 3 a.m. when I’ve forgotten about the burger I already had for dinner.”
I’m not saying there aren’t awesome burgers out there — burgers that everyone should try. I’m not saying you can’t fall back on preference when you come across two burger joints on the same street corner. I simply wish you would stop acting like it’s you’re choosing among different vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon. Like you have an extra-sophisticated burger palate and are able to distinguish between individual slices of American cheese. Insanity.
The burger wasn’t made to be grist for your food culture wars. It was meant to bind us together, to flatten this nation into continental suburban sprawl where you’re never more than a mile away from a basic meat sandwich that gets the job done. The same ingredients, same assembly, same flavors, same nutritional value and health risks, everywhere and always.
In its egalitarian omnipresence, the burger exists far above the notions of hierarchy and prescriptivist tastes. Hate a given burger restaurant all you want, but its very presence and survival — its spread throughout the territory — means it is the holy grail of burgers to other burger-lovers, many of whom would not even think to argue the point. They’re too busy enjoying a tasty burger. They are happy and free.
Be like them. Embrace the burger for burger’s sake. Because when you get down to it, every burger is fine. Except for any burger that comes on a brioche bun. Fuck that shit.