Here’s proof that big things can come in small packages THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER (1994)by Elisabeth Rozin is not  very BIG book…but don’t be fooled into thinking there isn’t much substance to such a little book.

Ms. Rozin, you may recall, is the author of BLUE CORN AND CHOCOLATE (1992) and ETHNIC CUISINE THE FLAVOR PRINCIPLE COOKBOOK (1983), THE UNIVERSAL KITCHEN and CROSSROADS COOKING (1999) and possibly a few others I haven’t tracked down yet.

Say the publishers of THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER, “Here is a witty look at the powerful appeal of that ubiquitous American classic and universal food phenomenon, the cheeseburger platter.

Elisabeth Rozin traces the historical, cultural, and culinary roots of each element (not just the burger itself!) but burger, cheese, bun, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, fries and of course – Coca Cola – in search of the significance of its tantalizing allure.  After all, this unique combination of red meat, fat, sugar and salt violates all t his is nutritionally and politically correct in the 1990s (not to mention the 2000 to 2012) –yet, we can’t resist it!

THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER is an entertaining exploration of why this particular mix of textures, tastes, and smells evokes our carnivorous cravings and touches such a deep chord in our collective food consciousness.

What I have found particularly amazing in THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER is the wealth of food history it contains. If you are familiar with (and enjoyed) in-depth tomes such as





Or, perhaps, SIX THOUSAND YEARS OF BREAD (H.E. JACOB) then I am sure you will want to add THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER to your collection. This is not a cookbook! Rather, it is an enchanting, well-written food history lesson, which, taken separately, leads us through the pages of history from bread in ancient Egypt to the curious evolution of tomatoes in the middle ages. Most of us have, for instance, heard the story of tomatoes being rejected by Europe and thought to be poisonous. But did you ever wonder why?  And, did you know that such wasn’t the case in southern Europe and the Mediterranean where tomatoes were accepted quickly, grown as a common garden crop and adopted into Mediterranean cusine.

Tomatoes, we learn, were introduced to Europe after the discovery and conquest of Mexico in 1529 by Cortes. But, whereas Southern Europe and the Mediterranean adopted tomatoes and cooked them in a variety of sauces, the rest of Europe largely rejected tomatoes, often considering them poisonous, possibly because the tomato is a member of a family of plants which includes deadly nightshade.  Conversely, though, the same areas of Europe that rejected tomatoes accepted potatoes which are also a member of the nightshade family!!

Ms. Rozin explains that she thinks tomatoes were unacceptable because of their color, that their redness (like meat) and vegetable meatiness may have been offensive to meat and dairy focused cuisines of Northern and Central Europe. She says that some highly orthodox Jewish sects in Poland initially rejected the tomato because of its “bloodiness”, its red meaty qualities.

I hope I have whetted your appetite to learn more – there is much to be learned from THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER and, as an added bonus for those of you interested in bibliographies, THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER has quite an extensive one.

I found THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER on starting at six cents for a pre-owned copy, and $7.27 for a new copy. I have never seen this particular book in  hardcover edition—what Amazon has to offer is soft-cover, as is my copy. A number of other vendors (such as Barnes and Noble) have copies but I couldn’t find one at all on

Good reading!

Review by Sandra Lee Smith






  1. As always, you’re a wealth of information, Sandra. My health prevents me from eating burgers these days — I used to enjoy them as much as anyone else — but your description is so compelling that I probably will order this book nonetheless.

    In fact, the bibliography your provide of books on food historiography is so worthwhile that I probably will order most of them.

    Thank you!

  2. Judy – a while bacfk – I have to search my files to find the exact title of the post – I did a lengthy list of my food history books; often get inquiries from peoiple asking how do I know this or that? and where am I getting my information? And virtually everything I write about comes from my own collection. thanks for writing. Can you have turkey or chicken burgers? I shouldnt eat the bread – tried just the bottom half of a bun for a while – just doesnt have the right effect. The snack bar at my bowling alley makes the BEST hamburgers – I swoon when I smell them cooking on the grill. thanks for writing! – Sandy

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