In thinking about making meals completely from scratch, Waldo Jaquith realizes that making a simple cheeseburger would have been nearly impossible before the twentieth century.
Tomatoes are in season in the late summer. Lettuce is in season in in the fall. Mammals are slaughtered in early winter. The process of making such a burger would take nearly a year, and would inherently involve omitting some core cheeseburger ingredients. It would be wildly expensive-requiring a trio of cows-and demand many acres of land. There’s just no sense in it.
A cheeseburger cannot exist outside of a highly developed, post-agrarian society. It requires a complex interaction between a handful of vendors-in all likelihood, a couple of dozen-and the ability to ship ingredients vast distances while keeping them fresh.