Burger Banter: The linguistics of different burgers
Updated: May 21
Like many New Yorkers, I enjoy burgers and am happy (and reasonably well prepared) to argue the merits of different burgers. My favorite burger over the last decade has been the Bistro Burger at Corner Bistro, washed down with a McSorleys Dark beer.
However, every time I left Corner Bistro I would promise myself a longer, harder run up the West Side Highway to make up for the calorific, cholesterol excess. And so, to see a hashtag saying ‘health is wealth’ used for a burger picture found me excited about eating my burger and not running.
Looking at Instagram data related to the Impossible burger, we found that this phrase and semantically related ones appear most frequently in conversations about the Impossible burgers. My last 18 burgers have all been Impossible (even as I miss the semi dive bar feel of Corner Bistro).
A new era of Patty Talk?
People, today, are talking about burgers differently.
Words traditionally part of the topical lexical set of fast-food burgers would include: cheese, bacon, mayo… you know, foods not typically associated with healthy living. However, with the rise of meat-substitute burger products, a divergence within this lexical set has emerged. The word “pure” — which, in the context of food discourse has denotations of being unprocessed and closest to source — is one of the new entrants.
We extracted Instagram captions from 1000 of the most recent Instagram posts on Impossible Burgers and regular burgers each, and created word clouds of the most used phrases and keywords by users in their captions.
Extraction of Instagram caption content showed that in posts on regular burgers, phrases with more indulgent connotations of objectification, addiction, and loss of control such as “burger porn”, “burgerholic” and “burger mania” appear very frequently.
On the flip side, captions of posts on Impossible Burgers had very few mentions of ‘foodporn’, ‘foodie’ or words signalling passionate overeating. We observed that discourse around the meat-free product was a discourse of cleanliness. When people talk about the Impossible Burger, phrases related to healthy-eating like “find purest”, “purest food”, and “vegan healthy food” were used way more often. So more pure and less porn (as one of my office xennials pointed out).
Alt-branding for the alt-burger
Additionally, if we were to examine the branding of Impossible Foods, we see how their website positions their meat-alternative as “Food for thought” — at once cleverly punning on the idiom but also subtly making the point that their product was one that required thinking and innovation.
Visually, the Instagram feed of the Impossible burger comes across as cleanly colourful. Food pictures show the objects carefully angled. Burgers, where they’re sliced or held, are done impeccably such that we don’t get the impression of grease and messiness.
Impossible Foods carefully avoids associating its food with late-night comfort food runs. Lighting-wise, food shots are set against bright, solid-colour backdrops of green, yellow or blue, or if not, well-lit daytime shots showing a sunny day in the backdrop.
My Impossible burger streak now makes me feel even better about myself. I have this insufferable halo as I jog up the Hudson.
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