Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: An Assessment of Fast Food Hamburgers in the Southeastern United States by Joseph R. Worthen

4 Jul


In my nearly quarter-century of existing as an American, specifically a Midwesterner (and Hoosier if you wanna get technical), I have eaten maybe, possibly five McDonald’s hamburgers.  Maybe. (What an un-American thing to confess on our nation’s birthday, I know.)  And no more than ten fast food burgers period.  Even this is probably an overestimation, as I have no recollection of eating a fast food burger in the past decade–in fact, I have exactly two somewhat hazy memories of eating them ever.  Red meat makes me nervous, and breaded chicken is my downfall.

This is one of several reasons that, when reading the first of four installments of Joseph R. Worthen’s “An Assessment of Fast Food Hamburgers in the Southeastern United States” in Hobart, I could not help grinning like an idiot all over my insides and outsides.  Now, thanks to Worthen, I can be intimately familiar with the all-American experience of consuming a fast food hamburger without spending the requisite money or feeling like a pile of vomit.  (At one time I could beat just about anyone at the gallon challenge but alas, now I’m a gastrointestinal wuss.)

Worthen’s observations are deadpan and hilariously, pitifully honest; nothing and no one, not even himself, is spared the “scientific” lens of his scrutiny:

I unwrapped my tiny hamburger. It smelled like McDonald’s, a warm salty smell, like the breath of a healthy German Shepherd. The bun was smooth, immaculate, and pliant. It held my caress like memory foam. The burger consisted of a thin strip of meat, mustard and ketchup, two tangy pickles and some chopped up shit that was probably onions (speculation). I took my first bite. I didn’t taste hamburger or meat. I tasted the wonderful flavor of salt. I experienced a sudden clarity. The McCafe was not a restaurant at all but a shrine where people of all races and creeds could go to worship sodium and check their email.

Despite these facts, my mood was extremely good. Respectable, attractive people surrounded me. They all looked so sharp and professional that I even started to consider my own career choices. I found the inner fortitude to consider night classes in computers, medicine, or business. My work ethic surged. I believed in McDonald’s. I believed in myself. I experienced pride, ambition and the bittersweet arrival of a partial erection.

Worthen’s documenting of his own oft-conflicting physical and psychological reactions to his experience are tragicomic and totally familiar, providing the–I’m so sorry for this–meat of his “assessments.” The “celebrated Worthen Burger Index (or WBI)” by which every burger is judged provides further interest, especially in Wildcard Points, in which any number of factors (partial erections, for one) can contribute or subtract from the burger’s overall numerical value.  Also, the worded interpretations of said scores are a treat–seven out of fifteen earns a “VERY NARROWLY BELOW AVERAGE” title.

The first installment weighed the merits of burgers from McDonald’s and Sonic; Hardees, Wendy’s, Burger King, Cook Out and Five Guys will be scored in the next three installments. I can’t wait to see how the next five fare, and will stick to chicken fingers in the meantime.

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