Why the Hamburger is Who You Are

 We all desperately want to know the answer to this single, all important question: “What is the meaning of my life?”

Imagine how you’d feel when you discovered the answer to this question. 

Imagine how much more productive your life would become. 

Imagine the joy and confidence you’d display in the stride of your everyday step.

Yes, you, just like everyone else, wants to know the meaning of your life.

But there is no easy way for this answer to reveal itself to you.

No questionnaire exists that you can simply fill out, add your answers together, and find the meaning of your life.  

School may teach you “i before e except after c,” the associative, communicative, and distributive laws of mathematics, and the history of the world as we know it (Part I), but it doesn’t teach you how to unearth the meaning of your life.

You know it’s there – you can feel it in your gut – but it’s shrouded in an intangible cloud of mystery.

Doesn’t that sound like the origin of the hamburger?

Who sold the first hamburger?

Fletcher Davis, of Athens, Texas at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair?

Louis Lassen from his New Haven-based Lunch Wagon in 1900?

Charles “Hamburger Charlie” Nagreen at the Seymour, Wisconsin County Fair in 1885?

Brothers Charles and Frank Menches of Akron, Ohio at the Erie County (New York) Fair in 1885?

Just like the meaning of your own life, there is no piece of paper that records who, what, where, or when the first hamburger was sold.

But, you know, you can get a pretty good idea of the answer. To both questions.

A little bit of easy research eliminates the impossible.

Searching old newspapers reveals roadside vendors flipping burgers on the streets of San Francisco and Chicago in the early 1890s.

So, while Fletcher Davis in 1904 and Louis Lassen in 1900 may have sold hamburgers, they didn’t sell the first one.

That same newspaper search also exposes the truth of Charlie Nagreen. If his own account of his first hamburger sale is true, the earliest he could have earned the “Hamburger” nickname was 1891.

Similarly, in the search for the meaning of your life, eliminate the impossible.

If you find writing an awful burden, the meaning of your life probably doesn’t involve writing.

If you prefer to avoid all things involving politics, the meaning of your life likely won’t be found in the realm of government, debate, and certain professions.

And, obviously, if you don’t like anchovies, not only will you never order them on your pizza, but the meaning of your life has nothing to do with them.

Your quest for answers goes beyond merely eliminating the impossible. If you’re really interested, you must put your nose to the grindstone and sniff out clues like a forensic detective.

In the case of Charles and Frank Menches, their hamburger story left plenty of breadcrumbs, not the least of which was Frank’s age at the time of the event. This pointed us to 1885.

From the physical landmarks, to the weather, to the lack of availability of pork sausage, all these seemingly trivial matters provide a mountain of convincing circumstantial evidence.

Frank said they got a prime location next to the brand-new grandstand. The new grandstand was finally completed in time for the 1885 Erie County Fair.

Frank said the weather was unusually warm. September 18th, the last day of the 1885 Erie County Fair, saw temperatures 20 degrees warmer than the first day.

Frank said the hot weather prevented the butcher from slaughtering a pig for only a small portion of meat. In fact, the swine epidemic of 1885 wiped out 2/3rds of Western New York pigs, which might have been the real reason why the butcher didn’t want to waste the meat.

As you seek the meaning of your life, what clues has your own past left behind that could offer you insight?

Is there a specific task at work that regularly delights you? Maybe that’s the direction to pursue the meaning of your life.

Are there certain community activities, organizations, or events that you look forward to? It could be that they are pointing you toward the meaning of your life.

Do you fondly recall particularly pleasant memories spending time with your children? Perhaps the meaning of your life is to nudge them so they are at least just a bit better off than you.

Remember, this is your journey. It’s a solo flight. Just like there’s no log of culinary history to guide you to who sold the first hamburger, you have no Sherpas to help direct you to some mountain guru who will tell you the meaning of your life.

Your boss won’t tell you the meaning of your life. Your boss just wants you to work hard.

Your community leaders can’t tell you the meaning of your life. They’re too busy working hard to improve everyone’s lives, not just yours.

And your kids, well, your kids are looking to you to tell them the meaning of their lives, not the other way around.

The best part of all this, though, is that you don’t need their help.

You know the most about you.

You know your desires.

You know your needs.

You know what you want to be.

You know what you want to do.

Now think about how this relates to the life of the hamburger.

The hamburger didn’t need any other food’s help to become history’s second greatest invention.

The hamburger didn’t need any other food’s help to become the world’s biggest business.

The hamburger did it all by itself. (And perhaps helped give its offspring, the French fry, a better life).

“So, yes, the hamburger is who YOU are…

But, the pizza… the pizza is what your business is.”