Some find it funny and outrageous to commemorate such a celebration, but yes, we do celebrate the National Hamburger Month every May. America is considered the “spiritual home” of this easy to cook, delicious and amazingly affordable dish, and remembers to celebrate the event annually. During this month, restaurants make available special burgers with healthy options, special touches, added flavors and price deals especially for the occasion.
We all know, of course, that all this is just a way for restaurants and burger bars to generate extra publicity, but there’s no need to complain – this well-loved foodstuff needs to be celebrated anyway. Although the origin of this festivity is not so clear and we can’t seem to trace its proclamation or the inaugural year, the commemoration has taken its hold in the restaurant industry over the years.
At one point in these yearly celebrations, although the exact date could not be traced, the National Hamburger Month found its official sponsor in White Castle Restaurants, said to be America’s very first hamburger chain. White Castle opened in Wichita, Kansas in 1916, and became known for cooking hamburgers swiftly and sumptuously, earning the title as the first fast food chain in America. Through meticulous and vigilant marketing campaigns, the company was able to change the consumer’s perception of hamburger as a greasy, often unhygienic working class food that is more associated not with classy chefs in restaurant uniforms, but with street vendors and carnivals at that time. Over the years, the hamburger was perceived to be cleaner and classier, worthy to be one of America’s best-loved foods. Now, the business is based in Columbus, Ohio and operates and manages more than 400 White Castl
e chains in 11 states.
To give extra meaning to our celebration, let’s outline a little bit of our dear old humble hamburger’s history. This ground meat patty actually came from a different culture – the raw shredded meat, recognized by many as steak tartar, was first known in Hamburg, Germany in the 1600s. While it is gaining fame in Hamburg, restaurants in New York City also began to present the Hamburg steak to their German diners. It slowly developed into the common meat patty that we know today, and became a popular convenience food in America in the early 1900s. It doesn’t take much effort to stuff the Hamburg steak in a bun without the use of plate or utensils, and Americans needed food that was faster and easier to eat when they are up and about and hardly have the time to spare for sit down meals. Burger bars in the likes of the White Castle came into being and made burgers more accessible to the American public.
The mid-1900s saw a hamburger that is greatly associated with McDonald’s, the world’s largest and most recognized fast food chain. McDonald’s started out by selling hamburgers and milkshakes, and slowly increased their range of food items over the years. The chain now operates 32,000 restaurants across the globe, with more than 13,800 of them located in the United States. Talk about hamburger and people can’t help thinking of McDonald’s—this, despite the emergence of over a thousand more burger bars in the country. Along with McDonald’s fame came controversies labeling them as the “archetypal” junk food restaurant for serving food that are high in fat, salt or sugar. Hamburgers were soon deemed to be unhealthy, especially for children. But such reputation did not hurt the popularity of hamburgers at all. McDonald’s challenged the claims by presenting the ingredients they use to the public.
The 21st century gave way to the rise of the “better burger” trend, mostly served in relatively new fast-casual restaurants like Five Guys, Chipotle, and Panera Bread. These dining places are known to serve food with healthier ingredients, and are showing great promise in terms of brand and numbers. With them around, along with McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, and all the other restaurants and burger bars who has chefs in their restaurant uniforms cooking up ways to make hamburgers more enticing to diners, we can safely say that we shall be celebrating a thousand more National Hamburger Months year after year.