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Fear and Loathing ... and Ketchup

By Will Cantrell


I awake to BREAKING NEWS. The TV news anchor announces that “…they’re changing the recipe for ketchup. It’s set to happen gradually over the summer. ”

“Wha….! Nah…no way,” I say in disbelief. But before I allow fear and panic to take over, I dismiss the whole thing to the fact that I just woke up. I was still in that semi – conscious, altered state that lies between REM sleep and my full acquisition of “walking around sense”. It’s a brief but ‘crazy’ time each morning just after I awake when my brain tends to have a mind of its own. Anything can happen. Apparitions of long dead relatives, monsters, ghosts and goats are not uncommon. A couple of months ago, I was abducted, albeit briefly, by aliens. On another occasion, I was visited by Elvis.

A full half an hour after I’d heard the announcement about ketchup out of the corner of my ear, I am showered, shaved and fully awake. I see the story again. “…the ketchup company with a seventy percent market share is about to change its recipe, reducing the condiment’s salt content by fifteen percent. The company is doing it for health reasons”, the report says. The company is also changing the proportions of the spices which make up the recipe’s secret ingredients,” says the morning anchor. She’s reporting from on one of those new High Definition TV studio sets and even though the camera shows her nice looking legs in full view, it doesn’t do anything to cushion the blow. My latent sleepiness had not been a factor, after all. I’d heard the report correctly. Drat!

Now desperate, I think about the Ronald Reagan adage: “Trust but verify” and I surf over to another channel. Sadly, I hear the same story, same facts. “Can they do this”, I ask to no one in particular. “I mean …can they really change the recipe for ketchup? Can they legally do this? I start to look around for my copy of the U.S. Constitution. The founders surely must have anticipated something like this. Thomas Jefferson---or one of ‘em--- would have been ‘on the ball’ and placed some kind of prohibition against changing stuff that didn’t need to be changed in the Constitution. And heck, even if the founding fathers, themselves hadn’t thought of it, then most assuredly their wives, the founding mothers, had done so. Maybe Dolly Madison had whispered the idea into James Madison’s ear …. Then, I recall that sorry business with New Coke a few years back and figure that the prohibition of changing time honored stuff was probably not in the Constitution after all. Jeez. Nice going, Thomas Jefferson.”

I remember that this whole annoying business of unwanted and unneeded change started in 1960. This was the year that they took the big tail fins off new cars that made cars look like rocket ships, at least in the eyes of seven year old boys. It was also the same year that the Corvair came out. (If you’ve been lucky enough never to have seen a Chevy Corvair, think “sardine can.”) Suddenly, instead of riding to the second grade over at St. Kennedy’s Catholic School and pretending to be Buck Rogers in a rocket ship, I was now riding around in a tin can and pretending not to be‘Mister Rogers’. (At the time, I wrote a letter of protest to the car companies about the removal of the tail fins. In the first of a long line of life disappointments, I got no answer, leaving me to conclude that nobody much cares what a seven year old thinks about anything except for possibly a six year old.)

In 1973, Major League Baseball decided to add the designated hitter to the game. “For what”, I asked at the time? But alas, my protestations fell on deaf ears. I am sure that Abner Doubleday is still turning over in his grave.

In 1985, the people that make Coca-Cola took it upon themselves to change the wildly successful formula that had been handed down by God and Asa Candler. You’d have thought though that maybe the people smart enough to invent Coke in the first place would have enough sense not to monkey around with success. (If they’d really wanted to do something imaginative, they’d have added Jamaican rum to the formula and really increased gotten people’s interest!)

I don’t know what gets into people that they just won’t leave well enough alone.

No doubt I have consumed a remarkable amount of ketchup over the years. I was introduced to the condiment when I was about five years of age. It was not an acquired taste, but rather instant and long lasting love. I’ve put it on burgers, hot dogs, brats, steaks, and even scrambled eggs. I‘ve often used it as a masking agent to disguise the fact that tofu has no flavor or to disguise what chitlin’s really are. Mostly though, I’ve used ketchup to drown French Fries and to disguise that they’re…well, “French”. (We’ve even had a non-food relationship that includes the time, as a nine year old prankster, I scared the” bejesus” out of my mother by faking a head wound complete replete with fake blood. It was a master-stroke worthy of a 1950’s B-movie.)

The idea of changing the ketchup formula lacks imagination if you ask me. It is a diabolical and tricky business with an uncertain outcome. If they---i.e. the Ketchup Company, as I have always called them---- were just hell bent on monkey-ing around with something, there are a bunch of other things that they could have done. Say maybe put the ketchup inside the French fries. Maybe re-package and put ketchup inside a tube like toothpaste. Maybe they could’ve put the French Fries inside the ketchup bottle. Or maybe mix the mustard and the ketchup together.

Sadly, as a consumer with a sophisticated and nuanced palate when it comes to ketchup, the only thing that I know to do is to go out and buy a case of the old stuff before they stock the shelves with the so called new and improved version. Maybe I’ll get a couple of cases, maybe even three and stockpile it. I’ll give a few bottles of vintage ketchup to my closest friends for Christmas.

While I’m at it maybe I’ll buy a whole crate of potatoes before somebody decides to change them too. Make a bunch of French Fries and drown them in the ‘vintage ketchup blend’. Wash it all down with some of the old or, er….or rather ‘Classic’ Coke. Gonna make the potato fries in the shape of the big tail fins… just like they had on the 1959 Cadillac.

© Copyright Will Cantrell

* * * * *

For the record, Will Cantrell is a freelance writer and humorist. He writes, he says, “...not about life as we know it, but rather about life as how we suspect that it really is”. Legend has it that at an early age he wandered South, got lost and like most males was loathe to ask for directions. A last sighting, he was still wandering around Atlanta, Georgia, lost and saying that he was trying to “...write his way home.” Of course, there are a lot of eyewitnesses who suspect that “...Cantrell ain't wrapped too tight” but hope that he keeps writing about his experiences as he finds his way back to the main highway.




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