Food Terrorism: The War On Ketchup

During the recent Senate hearings to confirm Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, opponents of the prospective Justice stumbled on what they believed to be the single most damning piece of evidence against him: He puts ketchup on his pasta.

This information was inadvertently leaked by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), in an attempt to portray Kavanaugh as a regular guy. It was immediately seized upon by the elite food media, who regarded it as the last straw in a string of ideological offenses. Forget about personal beliefs and political opinions, they said: eating habits are the true indicator of a person’s character.

Foodies have been railing against the consumption of ketchup for quite some time, portraying it as the ultimate sin of the unsophisticated. The late Anthony Bourdain rarely missed an opportunity to criticize the practice. During his interview with Barack Obama in Hanoi, he asked the then-president if it was ever acceptable to put ketchup on a hot dog. Obama says that the practice is only forgivable up to the age of eight.

Think hope is audacious? Try the audacity of self-appointed food snobs who feel justified in lecturing to others, looking down on them as they tell them how to live. Yes, they were joking, sort of, but they really weren’t. Behind the smiles, winks and nods was the absolute belief that they, and only they, are the true arbiters of taste.

Historically, ketchup was not always the object of scorn and revulsion. According to most accounts, it was popular in 17th century China as a reduced sauce of fish and vinegar. The British encountered it in Asia during their Colonial period, and it eventually migrated from the U.K. to America. Early versions used mushrooms rather than tomatoes as the base ingredient. Regardless of era or custom, ketchup recipes focused on umami as a counterpoint to main dishes that were sometimes unimaginative or bland. Most estimates are that tomato ketchup is found in 97% of American homes.

Here’s a news flash for the self-proclaimed arbiters of taste: Like almost everyone else, I’m fond of ketchup, and intend to keep using it whenever and wherever I please. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Justice Kavanaugh doesn’t emerge as the swing vote on a 5-4 decision to mandate the use of ketchup on spaghetti.


Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He has written several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. His first novel, Friend of the Devil, is available on; his second novel, a political thriller set during the invasion of Iraq, is due out in Spring 2019.

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