Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Parable of the Ketchup and the Mustard

It didn't have to turn out this way.
In the beginning, there were bottles of ketchup and bottles of mustard. Varied brands. Different formulations. But, sitting on a picnic table, side by side, ketchup and mustard.
Some folks could be counted on to reach for the ketchup; others reliably grabbed the mustard; of course, some folks grabbed both bottles.
Somewhere along the way, the mustard folks began to feel mightily superior to the folks who enjoyed ketchup. "Those ketchup eaters, they are not really human." "What kind of deviant would put ketchup on a perfectly good burger?"
Ketchup eaters really just wanted to be left alone. They weren't trying to turn mustard eaters into ketchup eaters. In fact, they were content to leave the mustard alone, "more for them, and as it turns out, since they don't eat ketchup, there's more for us."
Mustard eaters, as it turned out, were long-established, with serious connections in the corridors of power and influence. After a time, the idea that folks would consider ketchup eaters "normal" and mustard eaters "abnormal" began to goad the mustard eaters to action.
Laws were passed.
First it was simply a requirement that ketchup bottles be removed from hot dog stands, cafe sidebars, and fast food tables. "If they want their nasty tomato and sugar juice, they can go into the back alleys, and hovels. Just keep their ketchup and their ketchup eating grins out of the public eye."
But that wasn't enough.
Soon those that ate ketchup were excluded from participating in society. "You and your love for ketchup. You're filthy, disgusting."
A few years later, an outbreak of ptomaine poisoning caused hundreds, thousands of ketchup eaters to suffer debilitating illnesses, and many died. "Serves them right," the self-satisfied mustard eaters said, "it goes against nature to eat ketchup. They brought it on themselves."
Of course, on the fringes of the ketchup eating community, some wondered whether the government was responsible for poisoning the ketchup supply.
Strangely, because ketchup eaters ate ketchup but not mustard, they had a certain amount of disposable income. Ketchup eaters that formerly ate in dark corners began to talk to each other. Ketchup eaters that hid from sight began organizing and using their influence to break the silence, and to force their way from the shame and shadows imposed on them by the mustard eaters.
At first, it was little things. A hot dog vendor found his sales declining when ketchup eaters told him, "look, we buy our hot dogs just like the mustard eaters do, but you don't have ketchup on your stand and you haven't for a long time. So, if you want our business, you are going to have be tolerant of our taste for ketchup, and allow us to put our own ketchup on the hot dogs we buy while we stand here at the stand." The vendor saw the wisdom of more sales rather than less.and agreed.
Soon, the hot dog vendor saw rising sales, but he still lost those customers that ate ketchup but were not "carrying" their own. "You know, I could put ketchup back on the stand next to the mustard, if it weren't for the law that required that ketchup be kept hidden." So he, and some local ketchup eaters worked and worked for a change in the law. As it turned out, between electing new members of the city council and winning over the minds of current members, it became possible to change the law.
At that point, with that first victory, ketchup eaters became inspired.
If Mr. Bumble, the Beadle from Oliver Twist had anything to say about it, he would have observed that the victory had "created an artificial spirit" in the ketchup eaters, who were no longer content to stay in the dark corners.
Bit by bit, ketchup experienced a renaissance. It appeared in fast food restaurants. Then steak houses. Mustard eating parents began to talk about how the ketchup eaters were going to try and turn their children into ketchup eaters. It probably didn't help that some prominent ketchup eaters engaged in hyperbole about converting young mustard eaters into ketchup eaters.
Society began to experience a frothy boil of debate. But where the mustard eaters had once held sway and pushed ketchup eaters into the dark, this time the ketchup eaters had played the game the way the mustard eaters did, with money, with organization, with pressure, and with persistence.
Oddly, the ketchup eaters had no interest in turning mustard eaters into ketchup eaters. They just wanted to enjoy the ketchup for which they had always had a taste.
Of course, the battle of ketchup versus mustard will not completely resolve itself anytime soon, absent some sort of tomato rust or blight. But, in the meantime, as ketchup eaters stopped hiding in shame, a strange thing happened. Many mustard eaters discovered that they had been misled about ketchup eaters. "Weird," one was heard to say, "all my life people warned me about the ketchup eaters, how they were demented, evil and wanted to force me to eat ketchup too. But since the laws have changed, I've found that I actually KNOW several ketchup eaters and they are all decent, good people."
The End