Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Story of a Burger

This here burger is not an expensive, gourmet, meal. It is not reserved for the rich, fancy, or social elite. This is pan-seared meat, seasoned with salt and pepper and bonded with one of my hen's eggs. It's on a quickly made sweet bun, and dressed with lettuce and regular ol' ketchup. It's a cheeseburger. But what is neat about this burger is it's life story. If you give me a minute I can share it's entire dossier.

The quarter-pound of meat comes from Mack Brook Farm, a local Angus producer here in Washington County. I bought the pound at Gardenworks, a local farmyard grocer and berry operation. It cost eight dollars, and was the most expensive part of the meal. I don't raise cows (though my heart does flirt with the idea of miniature highlanders...) and so I bought the pound.

The bread was made from cheap flour bought at Stanndard Farm Stand. They didn't used to carry flour in little pound-to-three-pound sacks but now they do because I asked them to. They obliged and the whole sack of three pounds cost me around two dollars. It is not organic. It is not fancy. It's just white flour. I made the dough with well water, a pinch of salt, some yeast from a packet and baked the five buns in a buttered skillet. Before setting them in the oven I brushed them with some local honey and butter melted together in a pan. They are, literally, honey buns.

The lettuce was planted in my garden, raised up and harvested last night. It was crisp and lovely. It was free. Well, not really. I bought a six pack of started lettuce back in early May for two bucks and this shady stuff hasn't bolted yet. It's probably five cents worth of lettuce? Perhaps two or three cents?

The slice of cheese came from the deli at Stanndard Farm. It was $2.60 cents for half a pound. I'm sure it is not local or organic, but it is from Amish country since the folks at Stannard ship up all their deli meats, jams, sodas, and such from the Lancaster area for the stand. I am not too hung up on the cheese, or the flour, because I was able to buy it from a local farm stand who has children to raise, put through college, and happens to run a shop a literal horse-cart ride away from Cold Antler.

This here burger is pretty darn local. At least it is an east-coast burger. But that isn't as important to me as the price. This burger cost me about $2.73. Most of that came from the price of the meat. The rest was divided by the price of the lettuce, flour, egg, cheese, honey, and squirt from a bottle of Heinz. That is not a bad price for a meal so rich, tasty, and filling.

What this burger did take - was time. It took time to plant the heads of lettuce. It took about fifteen minutes to mix, knead, and brush the rolls. It took five minutes to cook the meat. By historical standards this is still fast food—peasant food really, just a bit of meat and bread—but by modern standards this was not at all fast food. I did not pull up to a drive thru, I knew the cows by zip code and reputation, baked the buns,  it cost more than 99 cents, etc.

The question I pose is this: is this burger worth the time and effort to most people?  I ask this because I know some of you will like this story of a burger and get you excited to post your own Burger Stories on Facebook and Reddit. Others will balk at this and think I am preaching, being elitist, or unrealistic. What I'm more interested in is WHY people feel one way or the other? Does it come down to money? Time? Access to such food? Would this burger cost double in NY City to make in your apartment? Would it cost triple at your local cafe?  All of a sudden the story of a burger becomes the social commentary of a burger, the politics of a burger, or the guild of the burger. I added that last one because if you think I eat totally local and homemade all the time, I don't. Last night I did but some nights I am so tired and beat I don't eat at all, or I just run into town for something quick.

My intention was just to share the story of one meal and see where it goes. But also to share it tasted really good. Like, ridiculously good. And I'm curious to know if Burger Stories are something you enjoy, roll your eyes over, or would just rather have the recipe for the bun and patties?


39 Comments:

Blogger Cat H said...

My mouth is watering. That is the only comment I have.

July 20, 2014 at 2:57 PM  
Blogger ebwhite said...

That burger sounds wonderful -- At times I just forgo the meat and use the bun for a tomato, cheese and lettuce burger. So yes, I would like the bun recipe.

July 20, 2014 at 3:05 PM  
OpenID alissasandersonphoto said...

I love the story. I'd also love the bun recipe :-)

July 20, 2014 at 3:10 PM  
Blogger aralyn said...

I love hearing the entire burger tale! Recipes would be fantastic, too. Not all people are going to have the same interests. Some people love rolling their eyes over any and everything they don't deem worthy. Please share whatever makes your heart sing and try to ignore those who aren't interested. You are still educating them. Children sometimes (usually) need to hear the same directions over and over before the lesson sinks in. Similarly, someday the non-believing eye-rollers may realize how important healthy, local food sources are.
~Jenn W

July 20, 2014 at 3:18 PM  
Blogger Ken Newman said...

I watched my hamburger have a happy life up on the high field that overlooks my property from our neighbors farm where he was raised. In life my hamburgers' name was Dudley and I think fondly of him at every meal where he is present. My bun ( because it's so close and the bakery is so damn good ) came from yesterdays farmers market in town. If I had any ripe tomatoes ( but I don't yet ) the slice would come from the garden as did the lettuce and onion. (no ketchup for me-thank you ). The cheese is from the same farm as Dudley, a quarter mile up the road. Jenna this is how people should live...good food...from our back yard, neighbors and friends. It's the food system that will eventually ( I hope ) be the norm. The worm has turned ( and I'm not talking about the one in my corn ). Still I'm grateful for our towns massive supermarket (whenever I need an empty box).

July 20, 2014 at 3:34 PM  
Blogger Becca said...

I definitely think it's worth the time and the money. I spent upwards of $10 on a burger and a grilled cheese with some fries and drinks at a non-fast-food burger joint that I'm mostly sure doesn't source anything locally, even though the joint is locally owned and operated (to my knowledge). So, under $3 for a burger that is sourced within at least a small region is well worth it to my mind.

To my knowledge, the burger you made would cost probably triple what you paid for it at a café or what have you pretty much anywhere else. Because they have overhead to consider, would be my guess. What you paid was closer to the true cost of the meal than what a 99c burger at a fast food place will ever be.

...wow, I rambled. sorry. lol

July 20, 2014 at 3:39 PM  
Blogger barbsbirds13 said...

bun recipe would be most appreciated. good story, Jenna.

July 20, 2014 at 4:03 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I wish there was a recipe. I made the usual bread dough, after the first rising I balled it into five balls, compacted out all the air from the rise, and set them in a start pattern in the cast iron skilled which was rubbed with butter. Then I let them rise another half hour and brushed a combination of melted butter and honey over them - baked at 380 for about 20 minutes (golden brown).

July 20, 2014 at 5:26 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Becca you really think triple?!

July 20, 2014 at 5:26 PM  
Blogger crb said...

Triple? Um, yeah, here in PHX such a meal (even without sides) could easily exceed $10. I love this piece -- and yes, recipes would be loverly, for both patty and bun!

July 20, 2014 at 6:20 PM  
Blogger Becca said...

I do. Especially if it's free range grass fed beef and organic veggies and such. It wouldn't surprise me to see a burger costing $10+ with those ingredients.

July 20, 2014 at 6:55 PM  
Blogger ella said...

Jenna, shalom! I enjoyed your burger story. It is always interesting to know what you are up to and up against in your daily activities. The burger looks delicious! I buy my beef from a local farm ~ about 45 min from my home. The animals are grass-fed and the meat is excellent. I am blessed to also have access to grass-fed lamb/mutton raised by a long-time friend. Your achievements help motivate me to make time for planting the greens (kale is one of my favorites, too) and just doing whatever needs to be done without being concerned if it will be perfect or not.

Thanks for thoughts/sharing. In my world, I find that most people do not take time to buy local, bake bread, eat healthier, etc. because they have yet to know all the benefits of doing so, even if it is just the satisfaction that you have planted and watched that lettuce grow in your own backyard and you know it has nothing in it to harm you. Some of my co-workers are coming around though. It is a slow process. Keeping you in prayer.

July 20, 2014 at 7:18 PM  
Blogger Gmarq dotnet said...

I have been baking and cooking home cooked meals scince i could walk fro thr most part, i love making and creating different things in the kitchen from homemade burgers to marshmellows, yes marshmellows, nothing like it lol, when i can i goto local markets to get the freshest meat and vegiies. with a good spice rack and fresh ingredients anythng is possiable. nothing like a fresh cooked meal.

July 20, 2014 at 7:51 PM  
Blogger Nancy po said...

I love my summer meals like that= a fritatta w/fresh organic garden veggies, eggs from my hens, homemade rolls- all for dinner :) And maybe a dessert with our own blackberries!

July 20, 2014 at 8:28 PM  
OpenID gnarlyfarms said...

love it. we don't get burgers locally but we've had meals of local pork chops from our friend rebecca and we raise our own rabbits and frequently have some of the best meals from our own roast rabbit, yard green stir-fries and some brew that comes from within a 2 mile radius of our place. those are definitely the most satisfying of meals.

July 20, 2014 at 9:26 PM  
OpenID celiaeboracum said...

I love hearing the story of a meal, and telling my own food stories! Especially when I have company, we try to make sure at least some of the meal has a tale to tell. Tonight we ate a turkey we got from some friends, as part of a swap for some of our ducks. For sides we had potatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions, and green beans all fresh from our garden (or my father-in-law's nearby), garnished with our own herbs. The only piece of the meal that wasn't local or homegrown was the sprinkle of cheese on the potatoes. Then after dinner I made bread and butter pickles from our own cucumbers and onions!

July 20, 2014 at 10:00 PM  
Blogger Glyndalyn said...

If one's priority is healthy food, the time and money is worth it.

July 20, 2014 at 10:56 PM  
Blogger Glyndalyn said...

If one's priority is healthy food, the time and money is worth it.

July 20, 2014 at 10:56 PM  
Blogger Glyndalyn said...

If one's priority is healthy food, the time and money is worth it.

July 20, 2014 at 10:56 PM  
Blogger Kyler and Sylvia said...

That burger looks really good...

$8.00/lb for hamburger!!?!?!? Wow, Jenna, I know some farmers in our local area that would give their left ARM for that price.

When we bough our half cow last fall, the price was in the neighbourhood of $4.00lb. for a half side… we paid $2.10/lb for the animal on the hoof. And this was a 4H, hay-fed, grain finished steer (one of the more expensive ones at the auction too…).

Supply and demand, I suppose. Great story. Fitting with the letter addressed to Angry Vegetarian.

July 21, 2014 at 12:05 AM  
Blogger Su Ba said...

Your story hits home with my own adventure to go back to the simpler homestead life. I figure 90% of our food (hubby & me) now comes from local sources -- homegrown, grown local, foraged, or hunted. That means basic, "real" foods. Not commercial, fast food, instant heat-n-eat. No preservatives, coloring agents, or any of the hundreds of assorted chemicals or other unnatural treatments. Eating local foods for us means costing less cash but adding a significant amount of time and labor allotted to food. Growing or raising it in the first place. Harvesting, then preparing it for kitchen use. Cooking and storing. A lot more time and work than simply popping a frozen entree into the microwave. But you know something, I highly prefer eating our local foods now. It tastes better, we feel healthier, and there's something nice about being much closer connected to the land.

Enjoy that burger, Jenna! We like nice grass fed local beef too. It's pricy, but we handle that by just eating smaller portions. Hah, it's probably better for us to eat less meat anyway.

...Su Ba, www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com

July 21, 2014 at 1:37 AM  
OpenID sistercaveman said...

I enjoyed your story. Personally, I think telling stories about food is an important way of connecting to traditions. Part of the reason that I've always cooked the majority of my meals from scratch revolves around spending a lot of time in my grandmother's kitchen as a child. We didn't eat local or organic, but it helped me to connect with food on more than just an 'energies in' kind of level.

My relationship to the humble burger has changed with time. When I was a kid, burgers were a major treat since we often couldn't afford beef. When I moved to Australia, I started adopted the habit of adding beetroot to my burgers. Now that my partner and I have gone paleo, we don't eat grain-based buns anymore- so we use portobello mushrooms instead.

As to whether it's worth the time, I say yes. Setting aside the health benefits of eating fresh food (organic, if financially possible or locally available), I think making things with your own two hands helps to make you accountable. It makes you value the produce. With your hands working through the mince, you can't avoid the fact that it's the result of the death of a living, breathing being. I have no objection to quick meals or treats- as someone who works in a 'high stress' field, there are times when I'm so physically and emotionally exhausted that I need a break. That said, I think that consistently buying pre-packaged products (burgers, salads etc) divorces us from any sort of meaningful relationship with our food. That, in turn, reduces our level of care about what goes into it, or how it was produced.

July 21, 2014 at 4:17 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

To answer your question as it is written, no, to "most people," it is not worth the time and money. Because you forget the time in the background--the time it took you to learn to bake; to clear the turf and start that garden; to invest in the local contacts and learn where you can buy local beef; to go to more than one place to buy your food...

For me, who has done all that background time investment(minus the baking), yes, I would be right next to you celebrating a local burger. "Most people" are so used to convenience that they'd have to change their entire value system. It's gonna be a long, slow change, but I believe it's possible.

July 21, 2014 at 8:15 AM  
Blogger Patsy said...

More burger stories and all the other ones too!! Well, I would like the recipes also if you have the time.

July 21, 2014 at 9:13 AM  
Blogger Deltaville Jamie said...

I love food stories and usually blog my own now and then to share success or failure- whichever it may be. I'm not surprised it was delicious, it looked delicious! My goal is to start moving away from the grocery store and trying to get what I need from my own garden and/or the farmer's market. I like knowing exactly what my food has in it!

July 21, 2014 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger barbsbirds13 said...

For anyone who sees $8./# for beef, ground or stewing, is high - I pay $9./# or more. This is for local grass fed. Amazing how good it tastes!

July 21, 2014 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Katlyn said...

Sounds wonderful! I'm vegetarian, probably more flexitarian at this point, but I would consider eating a local burger like that. Also I wouldn't say no to the bun recipe!

July 21, 2014 at 11:19 AM  
Blogger live pura vida said...

This post reminds me of Mark Bittman's NY Times column from this past week about the hidden costs of our food. His sample was a burger, too, but with ingredients that are often trucked all over the country. I think your post is way better written! (shhh, don't tell). Looks into our food like this are definitely worth taking, and you prove that even though some individual ingredients can be more expensive, when you portion them out, you can still have a reasonably priced meal that doesn't have to be trucked across the country or be pulled from a warehouse where it's occupying a shelf for who knows how long.

July 21, 2014 at 11:23 AM  
OpenID debaccuardi said...

Often my in-laws are also at our dinner table as they live next door. We often have these conversations over our meals. They start with "how many people do you think are eating this _____ on the mountain tonight?"
A few days ago it was grilled Salmon that my father in_law caught matched with veggies from the garden and cheese from a local producer. I find a meal you can trace back to all of it's origins so much more satisfying. I like that these meals become the dinner conversation. But we all made a conscious choice to live this way; to slow our lives down. In some ways it costs more, but in other ways we save so much money. The cost doesn't matter to me--this is a fulfilling life and I wouldn't change it for the world.

July 21, 2014 at 12:25 PM  
Blogger daisy g said...

The Road Less Traveled...by a burger. I enjoy hearing the thought, time and preparation that went into this meal.
Don't eat meat myself, but I understand the intention of the meal. We should all try to eat as consciously. Kudos, Jenna.

July 21, 2014 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger J. Pario said...

You are so right--food is closely connected to what we value.

Time or money?

Plus there's the whole connection between food and faith, community, family, tradition, etc.

I enjoy gardening and don't like cooking. But I have noticed that I enjoy cooking more when the food comes from my own garden.

July 21, 2014 at 1:56 PM  
Blogger Tammy Smith said...

Easily $12 w fries at the local brewery for local beef ( they have price ponts : local conventional & bison) But, haven't been there in a long time. Burgers at home are a 1/2 venison 1/2 friend's beef. I would love a good bun recipe.

July 21, 2014 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger sandalfoot said...

Something Ken Newman said struck a cord. Where do we go between local produce and that supermarket? It is comforting that the question even exists. Thank you.

July 21, 2014 at 11:38 PM  
Blogger aart said...

I like to think of where all my food comes from when I prepare it. It's appalling when you drive down into the details of everything we use and where it comes from.

My 'burger' yesterday was a homemade bun, 2 egg scramble and a thick slice of tomato.

I make a loaf and a tray of buns every time I make bread, love the buns for sandwiches. The whole wheat half of the flour used is locally grown.

Eggs from the backyard flock.

Local hothouse tomato from farmers market in town here.

July 22, 2014 at 7:24 AM  
Blogger Tanya T said...

Great burger story :). Every time we have company at the farm for a day I make a meal, or a cake, or some bread, or a pizza and while it does take some extra effort - it's so worth it. My company appreciates it and at the end of the day I take stock and realize how that little more extra effort made a meal for 7 that cost $13.00. I'm also loving the option of having my own fresh veggies as sides or complements to a dish now. Farm life is good.

July 22, 2014 at 10:06 AM  
Blogger Tuesday said...

I found your blog through Michaele at Sprout 'n' Wings farm. I have spent the better part of a pot of coffee reading and reading and reading.
My husband I just closed on our little slice of the world, and this post really resonated with me. One of our goals is sustainable sustenance.
thank you for making my morning!

July 23, 2014 at 8:01 AM  
Blogger Speaktrue said...

I like the burger story. I buy beef as part of a local cow pool. the farmer, butcher and cow are all local. I call it happy beef burger. the herbs and lettuce come from my garden. It taste great and it feels good to eat it!! we are fortunate to live in a place that has a thriving local food movement in Florida

July 23, 2014 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger blind irish pirate said...

Coming from the angle that knowing where your food comes from means you are conscious on WHAT it takes to get there. I'm becoming incredibly sensitive to all of the shit that's on the shelves at the stores. So, so much corn and soybean by product to create shelves of chips and cookies and pastas and all I can think is "Are there really this many people is This Small City to eat all of this stuff?"

Food shouldn't be that which we base our lives on, but I guess when you grow it, or you invest in a local who will, there is an appreciation for that.

I don't know if this makes any sense. I'm just ... stricken by what people just blindly grab off the shelves without thinking about the impact that it has on the environment, the economy, their health and the health of others. I guess that makes me a snob, but it's not like I shame anyone for it. Hell, I just ate a box of oreos this past week. I'm guilty. But I feel like a queen when I'm eating my own food.

July 26, 2014 at 3:15 PM  
OpenID cissa said...

At LEAST triple. Probably more like 4-5 times, in a restaurant.

Remember a for-profit needs to pay for all aspects; like the time to grow the lettuce, the space to grow the lettuce, the time and oven costs for the buns, etc.

This is why home cooking is very cost-effective for personal cooking... and why it's very expensive to try to purchase. I don't count the cost of my time when I add up what a meal costs, but if I were a pro, I'd have to!

It's also why I mostly cook and seldom eat out!

July 30, 2014 at 6:12 PM  

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