Phil Kadner is a veteran, award-winning columnist working for the Chicago Sun-Times and a man of great conviction. He used his latest column to drop a truth bomb: “A hamburger does not have cheese.”
You see, Kadner’s column is pegged to a recent class-action lawsuit against McDonald’s filed by two Florida customers who allege that the fast-food giant forces customers to pay for cheese on its Quarter Pounder, even if they don’t want it, because the sandwich costs the same with or without cheese. When the lawsuit was filed — for $5 million — some people on social media poked fun at its frivolity. But Kadner says he applauds the complainants’ “courage,” and he used his column to launch into a screed about his lifelong battle against cheese on hamburgers.
“People who want cheese on their hamburgers should be forced to say, ‘I want a cheeseburger.’ I should not be required to say, ‘I want a hamburger, no cheese,’ or even answer a question such as, ‘Do you want cheese on your hamburger?’ ” Kadner wrote. “If I wanted cheese I would have ordered a cheeseburger which is what you call a hamburger with cheese on it.”
The rest of the column is filled with anecdotes about the indignities Kadner has suffered when he visits restaurants that charge the same price for a cheeseburger and a hamburger, and how he is forced to argue about his bill when he orders his cheeseburger without cheese.
“Through the years I have been charged for cheese I did not order on fish sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, salads. I could be a millionaire if I got all my money back for cheese I never received,” he wrote.
Kadner’s column has been making the rounds on Twitter for a couple of reasons:
1. There are a lot of people who agree with him, either because they don’t like or can’t eat cheese, or they’re pedantic about the English language.
2. Because the column is a delightfully cranky rant about something pretty small, in the grand scheme of things.
To people who fall in the latter camp, Kadner is another excuse to rehash that “Simpsons” “Old Man Yells at Cloud” meme. There’s even an eye-rolling reference at the youths of today, when Kadner scolds fast-food workers for texting.
Kadner’s rant triggered servers, though. They know customers like him. They dread customers like him.
“For at least 40 years I have been doing battle with fast food clerks and restaurant waitresses,” the columnist recalled with pride, sharing an anecdote about how Kadner once rendered a fast-food cashier speechless with a rant about “if she would give me money for a diamond ring she did not request, and I planned never to give her. I slowly explained that I ordered a hamburger and was now being told I had to pay for cheese that I was not getting,” he wrote.
The cashier, who probably works for minimum wage, doesn’t set the prices. And if people insisted on not paying for every single personal subtraction they made for a dish — every time they ordered a martini with no olives, or a seafood platter with no clams, or told a server to hold the pickles — restaurant pricing would descend into madness.
But to people who fall in the former camp, Kadner is a hamburger crusader. There are anti-cheeseburger activists, and they are legion. They do not want their meat tainted with cheddar or Gouda. And they are fed up with having to pay the same as the cheese-eaters among us.
And “cheeseburger creep” — a term that I just made up — is real. At fast food restaurants like In-N-Out Burger, you’re likely to see hamburgers and cheeseburgers with separate prices, but go to a fancy restaurant for a truly good burger, and you’re likely to find cheese on it. The top 10 on Thrillist’s list of the best burgers in America are all cheeseburgers, and many come from places where a hamburger isn’t listed for a separate price. At upscale restaurants, the chef may have designed the burger’s flavor profile to be eaten with cheese, and built the inclusion of cheese into the pricing model — and at those kinds of restaurants, you’re not likely to see separate pricing for certain ingredients anyway, because that would make a chef into a short-order cook.
But it’s still irksome to people with dietary restrictions. And people who, perhaps like Kadner, think there’s a right way and a wrong way to make a hamburger. And the wrong way is to add cheese.
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