Hands off my patty, Canada!

By Gene Miller, May 2012

Even with burger joints popping up on every corner, you still can’t find medium-rare in the nanny state.

I can hardly wait for the 2012 US presidential election in November, when millions of American voters throughout that great land will march to the polls to repudiate Obama’s socialist, regulation-crazy, freedom-hating, say-no-to-enterprise, big government vision and put Mitt Romney in the White House, so we can starve the Washington beast and have a second Morning in America.

Sometimes it seems like Obama just lifted the entire Canadian social fingerprint on a piece of scotch tape and impressed it at the bottom of his perverted, revisionist Bill of Lefts. You know, all of our gratuitous Canadian “safety net” stuff like regulated banks and state-administered universal health care. Ugh! And don’t go telling me how things are going to change here in Canada. Harper is basically a regulator. You have only to look at his pleasure-denying accountant’s face to realize that this guy is not going to restore personal freedom, unless it means the freedom to behave yourself. 

We have been and forever will be this country: “Slow down to 25 km in school zones.” “Wait your turn at four-way stops.” “Queue.” “Say please and thank you.” “Turn off the lights when you leave the room.” “Left-hand lane for passing only.” “No smoking in restaurants or pubs.” “Yield to traffic in roundabout.” “No mortgage unless you qualify.” “No idling. Engines off.” “Health regulations require that your hamburger be overcooked and flavourless.”

You call that the freedom agenda? 

Do you think it’s an accident that the two most important letters in the word freedom are m and e? That’s because the word stands for freedom of the individual, not some shuffling street-corner collective of pipeline-protesting eco-freaks, fellow-travelling university academics and hand-wringy, squishy-on-crime social workers who want everybody to “heal,” and are “seeking consensus.” If Jesus were alive now, he’d be the righteous Terminator. I get that straight from bible study class at my church.

Of course, the one that really galls is the requirement that your burger be cooked to the flavour and texture of shoe leather.

Like, you could never have predicted that there’s an organization with the acronym CFIA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, right? They can’t say enough about ‘food-borne illness.’ In an eponymous online notice, they comment:

“Public health experts estimate that there are as many as 13 million cases of food-borne illness in Canada every year. Most cases of food-borne illness can be prevented by using safe food handling practices and using a food thermometer to check that your food is cooked to a safe internal temperature!”

While leaving you with the sense that you have about one-in-three odds of contracting food-borne illness, CFIA isn’t honest with you about the math: when you divide 13 million not just by the Canadian population, but also days of the year, hours of the day, and provinces and territories, turns out that 1.9 people in BC may get food poisoning at any given hour; and if you compare the provincial population to the island’s population, that number goes down to 0.3, or a third of a person. An arm and a leg, say.

“Why should you use a food thermometer?” the brochure asks. “The answer is simple: for your safety and the safety of those you prepare food for.” 

CFIA: the overanxious, handkerchief-twisting smother-mother. You know what you can do with that thermometer!

“Research has shown that the inside colour of a hamburger and its juices are not reliable indicators of how well the burger is cooked. Check the internal temperature of your hamburger patty and all food made with ground beef, even spaghetti sauce. If it is 71°C (160°F), it’s safe to eat. Remember…it’s not done until it’s 71°C (160°F)!”

Remember…if of rare burger you’re afraidian, then you’re a Canadian!

“Buy an instant-read digital food thermometer. When you think the burger is almost done, take it away from the heat using a clean utensil and surface and take the temperature according to the manufacturer’s instructions, typically by inserting the food thermometer into the thickest part. If the burgers aren’t done, cook them longer and check the temperature again.”

Sure, cook the goddamned things for six more hours! Just to be safe, really safe. And remember your mittens and scarf when you go out. Doesn’t all of this make freedom-loving rebel you want to micturate in the water supply?

On a blogsite, an American whose handle is “Braindrain” writes: “I was just in Banff, Canada and tried to order a rare burger at a place that actually grinds the beef on site. No dice! I was told by the waitress that Canadian law prevents restaurants from serving a burger anything less-cooked than well-done. That’s ridiculous! I’ve eaten rare burgers in the States for years and have never gotten sick. I’ll take the risk.”

Canadian pantywaist “Squeeler” (how apt) responds: “Sure, you’ll take the risk...until you get sick. Then you’ll sue the restaurant for breaking the by-law.” (This guy would turn in his mother for littering!)

“Zorn” responds: “There is a nanny-state mentality up there that drives me up a wall. If you get sick, you get sick—just put a disclaimer on the menu that says you assume all risks. It’s beyond me...why the government has to stick its fat nose in your personal diet decisions.” Opening a new front, he adds, “You have to remember Canada is a country where, by law, Mountain Dew cannot contain caffeine!”

I was tempted to jump in with the news that here in Canada, even the fat content of our fat nose is regulated, but not wanting to stir up trouble, I just wrote “Please and sorry.”

It won’t surprise you that this story has local relevance. I’ve been on a quest for years for a cooked-in-Victoria medium-rare burger, only to get the “regulations require” response from my server. Like Braindrain, I’ve eaten countless rare and medium-rare burgers in the States and am none the worse for the experience (apart from my tendency to speed up in school zones), but I have become so will-less and beaten down by the nanny-burger that now when I order a hamburger in the States and the server says “How do you want that?” I say “Uh, on a plate, if that’s not too much trouble.”

As each Victoria Shrine of the Holy Burger opened—Pink Bicycle on Blanshard; Big Wheel Burgers in Cook Street Village; Bin 4 Burger Lounge on the corner of Yates and Vancouver; Fatburger on the east side of Douglas, facing Chapters Books—my medium-rare freedom-flame leapt higher for a moment...only to be extinguished by “Sorry, we have to cook our burgers until the meat is tough enough to stop bullets.”

Fond as I am of these places (Bin 4 Burger Lounge is outstanding, by the way), I still found myself a north-of-the-border guy with south-of-the-border preferences.

One evening, mere weeks ago, I and a buddy wandered into the fabulous, cozy Brasserie l’Ecole on Government Street north of Fisgard. There was a burger option practically waving its proletarian arms on the high-end menu: “Brasserie Burger, bacon, Gruyere cheese, arugula.”

When the waiter came for our order, forgiving the arugula, I went into my usual routine: “When you order a burger in the States, they say ‘how would you like that?’ I know it’s stupid to ask, but is there any chance you could do that medium-rare? Should I leave now by the service door? Please and sorry?”

Our waiter said: “Coming right up!” I fell out of my seat. He explained that the restaurant grinds steak only when you order your burger. Fifteen minutes later I was eating a burger so ambrosial, so medium-rare, so delish, that my salty tears of joy misted the pommes frites.

Wait until the word spreads in the US that you can get a medium-rare burger in Victoria. I predict 100 percent hotel occupancy rates year-round. I’ll be the guy outside Brasserie l’Ecole hawking “71 is overdone” t-shirts. But, not a word of this to the nanny-state, okay? “Braindrain” forever. 

Gene Miller, founder of Open Space Cultural Centre, Monday Magazine and the Gaining Ground Conferences, is currently writing Massive Collaboration: Stories That Divide Us, Stories That Bind Us and The Hundred-Mile Economy: Preparing For Local Life.