Arts & Life Editor
Ketchup isn’t a condiment; it’s a way of life. Before starting a meal, some put their hands together in thanks for the food they are about to receive. I put my hands around the closest ketchup container and apply the red semi-liquid with the same religious vigor. Nothing on the plate is spared from my ketchup avalanche: meats, vegetables, breads —they’re all subject to the pure good that is ketchup.
And why is ketchup so good? Why does a meal without it seem incomplete? Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for The New Yorker, addresses this in his article “The Ketchup Conundrum”—a piece that has become a kind of manifesto for ketchup lovers everywhere. Gladwell explains there are five known fundamental tastes in the human palate—salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami (a protein, full-bodied taste). Ketchup plays on all five of these tastes with little variation, and every time a glob of ketchup hits a different area of the mouth, a new sensation of taste erupts.
The novelty of ketchup is derived from more than just the taste. The packaging, for instance, comes in a number of much-loved varieties.
There’s the cool glass bottle, a favourite at diners and restaurants looking to capitalize on that nostalgic feel. And when the ketchup isn’t coming out, just slap the bottom of that bottle like you’re at a strip club and the ketchup’s name is Destiny.
More common is the easy-squeeze bottle, a staple in the table setting process. A light pressure between your fingers can unleash a stream of ketchup precisely aimed at all the right points. One does not spread or scoops ketchup, instead applying it generously to the meal.
When it comes to people who say they don’t like ketchup, I don’t look at them with contempt or frustration, but with pity. Whether because of a traumatic childhood experience or an intense aversion to condiments, these poor individuals aren’t able to enjoy the purity and wholesomeness that is ketchup. If you’re one of these people, fear not. Your day of conversion will come, and then you’ll have a lot of catching up to do.
When I was a kid, I was a very picky eater. I didn’t like peppers, licorice, spaghetti, pizza or even birthday cake. Usually, that wasn’t a problem. Sure, sometimes I would get made fun of for being that kid who brought their own lunch to a birthday party, but that was about the extent of any mockery I had to deal with, and even that died out pretty quickly.
Since then, my tastes have matured and I’ll eat almost anything you put in front of me. That is, of course, except ketchup. Yes, you read that right—I hate, nay, I despise that disgusting red gunk everyone likes to slather on just about any food you can name. And whenever I tell people that, I suddenly find myself back at those birthday parties, bearing down all those awkward stares from my peers when I declined a piece of pizza or birthday cake.
For some strange reason, ketchup is the only food I’ve found that people will leap to defend in almost any context. Some people will even get offended, as if I’ve committed a cardinal sin against all of food-kind by dismissing this Holy Grail of condiments. Then they’ll demand—not ask, but demand—that I give ketchup another chance. They’ll say I just need to find the right pairing, as if this slime that sells for $6 a bottle is a fine wine. As someone who can’t stand the stuff, it’s baffling to me.
If I tell someone I don’t like, say, hamburgers, I might get a weird look or two, but that will be it. But tell a group of people you don’t like ketchup and suddenly it’s as if you’ve declared war on puppies, rainbows and sleep.
Well, I’ve had it. I’m declaring here and now that ketchup deserves treatment no different from any other food. Yes, I’m well aware of the fact that the vast, vast majority of people love the stuff, and that I’m probably in for some angry letters. But on behalf of my few fellow ketchup haters out there, I’m taking a stand. Some people like gross tomato glop all over their otherwise delicious food, other people don’t. Get over it.