Ketchup Blues

DO YOU LIKE your ketchup thick or thin? Think carefully before you answer--it could be a matter of national security.

Now that the war is over (for Americans if not for everyone else), the Bush administration is finally turning its attention to vital domestic problems. The first on its agenda: The Ketchup Question. The Food and Drug Administration, according to news reports, was recently appropriated several million dollars by the federal government to conduct a nationwide survey on whether the American people are satisfied with the consistency of their ketchup.

Would Americans prefer ketchup to be thicker? If the majority say yes, the FDA's ketchup standards will be adjusted to mandate a thicker consistency for the condiment. Cries of thanks will no doubt be heard across the nation.

Absent from the great thanksgiving will be the voices of the 5.5 million American children under 12 who regularly skip meals, a figure amounting to one-eighth of the country's child population. The voices of the homeless, numbering between 350,000 and 3 million nationwide, will also be unheard.

THE PROPOSED KETCHUP reform, however, would have some important and beneficial results. The Heinz Corporation would have to change its famous "thicker ketchup" commercial, creating new jobs for needy advertising executives. Horror movies would become gorier--a little of that new ketchup goes a long way. And Harvard Dining Services's tomato sauce--which, of course, is just cheap ketchup with oregano--would become more filling and nutritious.


Paranoid friends of mine fear the government's sudden interest in ketchup has a sinister undertone. When the U.S. sets about exporting democracy and capitalism to troubled Eastern European and Third World countries, McDonald's restaurants are usually the first Western institutions established. Are we planning on choking hostile foreign leaders with our special "thicker" ketchup?

The idea has a rhetorical "drowning in the blood of the oppressed" aura about it that some might find appealing. As for me, though, I prefer to believe that the government is making a symbolic gesture to the American people--trying to show that it really does care about the quality of our lives despite all evidence to the contrary.

So thank you, Uncle Sam. It's the little things that show how much you care.