Review: The Hamburger by Josh Ozersky

Josh Ozersky, according to wikipedia, is “an American food writer and historian.”  That’s a bit sparse.  Ozersky was with New York Magazine when they kicked off their food blog Grub Street for which he received a James Beard Award in 2008.  Grub Street started out as a terrific food blog but today they isolate their “reporting” to six liberal strong holds – New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston – the rest of the country be damned.  Of late their content is less about great food and more about being part of the Obama re-election machine.

The Hamburger by Josh OzerskyToday Ozersky writes for Time.  Additionally he has published three books,  Meat Me In Manhattan: A Carnivore’s Guide to New York, Archie Bunker’s America: TV in an Era of Change, 1968-1978 and the subject of this review, his 2008 historical text, The Hamburger: A History (all are available at amazon).  He is also is the driving force behind ozersky.tv.

The Hamburger: A History is exactly what the name implies.  It is not a cookbook nor a culinary adventure.  It is a history book.  And for the folks in Seymour, WI, New Haven, CT and St. Louis, MO it will not start off well.  Ozersky makes the case that the hamburger was not invented at any of these locations who have so adamantly proclaimed themselves the birthplace of the quintessential American food.

No, according to the James Beard winner the first real hamburger was made by Walter Anderson in 1916 at a Wichita burger stand called White Castle.  What is it that Ozersky claims as the final touch in the burger’s evolution that leads to his conclusion?  Anderson was the first to put his patty on a bun.  The other “inventors of the hamburger” put theirs on standard sandwich bread.

That proclamation is really the end of any discussion of the hamburger as food. From there Ozersky takes the reader on a fair and accurate review of the fast food industry.  The author does a great job of celebrating the successes of men like Billy Ingram of White Castle, Ray Kroc of McDonald’s and Dave Thomas of Wendy’s while also giving due diligence to their more nefarious innovations.

Well, fair and accurate except for the last five or ten pages.  Ozersky does use the final stanzas of the book to rail on big business, capitalism and America in general.  The last chapter is so out of character from the rest of the book that it seemed like reading a different topic from a different author.

I wouldn’t let the mild America-bashing in the closing pages dissuade you from learning the history of the burger slinging industry.  Ozersky gives poignant micro-bios of some of the innovators of industry who’s ingenuity fueled the US’ post war boom.

I’m giving away a copy of The Hamburger by Josh Ozersky.  Last day to sign-up is 11-04-11.  To enter click HERE.

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Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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