Ketchup Catch-Up

At the Communion rail in our pre-COVID, in-person church days, my wife and I would sometimes laugh at the size of the hunk of bread they’d tear off the loaf. The pieces were so big I’d often be chewing all the way back to my seat (and think I should’ve asked for seconds). On the other hand, today’s “drive-in church” Communion amounts to hermetically-sealed plastic capsules handed gingerly through the car window. Peel back the plastic to reveal the tasteless wafer and half-swallow of grape juice inside. No, it’s not breakfast by any definition, but at least we’re still achieving the higher purpose.

Communion and ketchup are strange bedfellows but I’m about to explain why they belong in the same sentence.  If you’ve followed the headlines lately, you know – just below the latest details of the Myanmar conflict – we’re all worried about whether there’ll be enough ketchup packets for our next take-out meal.  That’s right, the world is currently lacking in – not ketchup – but ketchup packets.  If we don’t address the situation soon, buildings will burn and looting will run rampant.  Even worse, we might have to top everything with mustard instead.

It’s the pandemic to blame, of course.  As soon as traditional sit-down restaurants shifted to pick-up and delivery, their demand for packeted condiments jumped up to the level of Wendy’s and McDonald’s.  In fact, Wendy’s and McDonald’s removed ketchup packets from their front counters, not because customers were taking too many, but because other restaurants were raiding their supplies.  Yep, it’s gotten that kind of desperate out there in burger land.

Heinz, the undisputed king of ketchup, recently committed to increasing packet production by 25% to fend off potential mayhem in the streets.  125% of Heinz’s typical annual production amounts to, well… let’s just say there’d be enough to place a packet in the hand of every man, woman, and child on the planet.  Dang.  That’s a whole lot of processed tomato spread.

Speaking of processed tomato spread, here’s my favorite ingredient in ketchup: mustard (powder).  It’s true.  Go check the ingredients list on the bottle I know you have in your refrigerator.

Will there be enough to go around?

But I digress.  Let’s get back to the global packet shortage.  Call me highbrow but I’m having a hard time caring, because honestly I can’t remember the last time I used a ketchup packet.  The restaurants of my choosing always bring the bottle to the table when you ask for it.  Furthermore – burgers aside – I don’t have a lot of use for ketchup.  Not on my fries, not on my meatloaf, neither eggs nor hash browns.  And while we’re at it can we all agree: mustard only on a bratwurst or a hot dog?  It should be a cardinal rule.

But I digress… again.  FOCUS!

If I don my eco-friendly hat for a moment (and don’t I look sharp?), the last thing I want to hear about is Heinz upping ketchup packet production to 12 billion a year.  That sounds like enough plastic to Ziploc a small country many times over.  But I get it.  In these times of please-pass-the-virus (or better yet, don’t), we demand individually wrapped one-and-done solutions.  Like ketchup packets.  Like Communion elements.

Handy host

Good things come in small packages, so the saying goes.  Yeah, well, they come in big packages too.  Like ketchup from a bottle instead of a plastic packet.  Like Communion from a loaf of freshly baked bread instead of hole-punched from a sheet of Styrofoam. And seriously, who uses just one ketchup packet?  Picture a baby burger you can balance between your finger and thumb and maybe it’s enough.  Anything larger and you’re grabbing packets by the handful.

Let’s wrap this topic on a personal note.  If ketchup packets disappear, my granddaughters won’t understand a really good bedtime story, the kind where they’ll giggle every time they talk about it.  You know the story, the one where my buddies and I pocket ketchup packets from our school lunch trays, take ’em out to the playground asphalt, and stomp on ’em to give some unsuspecting kid a tomato facewash?  Oh please, drop the mock horror.  You know you were out there on the playground too, doing the very same thing.

Some content sourced from the 4/8/2021 CNN.com article, “America is facing a ketchup packet shortage”.

15 thoughts on “Ketchup Catch-Up

  1. Agreed – ketchup is ketchup, yet the stats say there’s one bottle of Heinz purchased for every one bottle purchased of any other brand. Now that I think about it, I grew up on Hunt’s canned tomato products yet Heinz ketchup. Can’t explain it.

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  2. I heard on the news today that the ketchup packets were going for as much as $5.00/packet (which I find hard to believe). I don’t eat ketchup on anything now. I have not had fast food in a decade, but for years was a ketchup-with-fries kinda gal if having fast food in the car when running errands. I never liked taking it home to eat as the food was cold by then. Then I got a Pacer with cream-colored cloth seats … well I was not going to have ketchup drips on the seat. My next car had burgundy velour seats, so I stopped sprinkling salt on them as salt invariably ended up on the seat and was messy. The next logical step was to give up French fries. 🙂

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    1. A Pacer! Oh my, Linda – that was my dream car as a kid but I never followed through with the purchase (neither the Gremlin). I always wanted an orange one and seem to recall they only came in bright colors. I think you’re on to something about our approach to food as we grow older. I’ve stopped with the ketchup, salt, and just about every other topping (except pepper). As long as the food itself is made with quality ingredients, why complicate it with additional seasonings/flavors?

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      1. It was a fun car fondly (or not so fondly on hot days) called “The Fishbowl” back in its heyday. I remember the Gremlin as well. I don’t use any condiments at all. Growing up in Canada, malt vinegar was a must for fish and chips. When we moved here, we couldn’t find it and each trip to Toronto to visit my grandmother had us bringing back the items we missed.

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  3. More Ketchup packages. Covid masks and gloves. Much of which ends up in the garbage, I imagine. Makes the plastic straw ban look like ‘small peanuts’ in comparison…

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  4. This is news to me, but then a bottle of ketchup would last me 5 years. I can’t remember the last time I used a packet of the stuff. I love my fries, but I’m a salt-only guy.

    I recall reading that McDonald’s uses a proprietary ketchup recipe that is sweeter than normal. Anyway this is one Covid shortage I can just lean back, put my feet up and just watch.

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  5. Your comment made me get up and check. A bottle of ketchup lasts (is good for) just over a year. Tomatoes + preservatives. Like you, my bottle of ketchup probably expires before I finish it.

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