I was visiting people in Chicago over the holiday season. As you may well know, Chicago has a rich tradition of eating hot dogs, and I saw “no ketchup” signs at each and every one of the several hot dog stands I visited with family and friends. I’ve since learned that Chicago famously hates ketchup on hot dogs. This hatred isn’t limited to urban midwesterners. In fact, it seems like everyone who bothers to have an opinion on the combination of ketchup and hot dogs comes down strongly on the side of hating ketchup. I have also noticed how these catsup crusaders all fit what you might call a distinctly hipster mold. I hate to be mean about it, but ninety-nine percent of the time, when I hear from somebody, either in the first person or through some remote means, about the evils of ketchup, I think to myself, “now there’s a person who owns a Chemex coffee maker and has an ironic Harambe tattoo on his or her ankle.” I can reach only one conclusion: hipsters hate America’s favorite condiment. Tell me, why is it not cool to put ketchup on hot dogs?
‘Tis true. The average hipster looks at ketchup on a hot dog the way your car mechanic looks at you when you say it’s been “only” 13,000 miles since you checked your oil. It isn’t just the ketchup/hot dog combo that draws the ire of various hipster bloggers, servers, and know-it-alls; ketchup takes heat left and right from the hipper set.
Many hipsters pin their ketchup (catsup?) hatred on the condiment’s overpowering sweetness, which buries subtle flavors in much the same way GG Allin buried his adoring fans in a warm admixture of blood and urine. A delicately spiced hot dog, some hipsters claim, is no match for the super concentrated flavor of industrial ketchup. Similarly, how can one hope to taste the delicate interior of a twice-fried potato beneath a thick layer of tangy, sugary ketchup?
For hipsters, this critique runs far beyond mere taste. Indeed, it cuts to the soul. As a metaphor, the overpowering nature of ketchup as a condiment serves to paint whatever it touches in a gooey coat of mainstream-colored food paint.
Hot dog? Tastes like ketchup now.
Grilled cheese sandwich? You can make that taste like ketchup too!
Slice of pizza? Nope. Sorry. Only ketchup.
Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote about how ketchup spans “the sensory spectrum” by effectively tasting like a little bit of everything human’s enjoy. It is a food calculated to titillate every taste bud, to scratch every itch, and to keep you coming back for more. This is its strength, but, for hipsters, who prize individuality over just about everything, it is also its weakness. In some sense, pouring ketchup onto food tells the world the overzealous ketchup pourer is the kind of person who wears grey sweatpants every day by choice; the kind of person who prizes his print of Dogs Playing Poker as the height of artistic cleverness; the kind of person who listens to elevator music, and maybe a little Kenny G. when he’s feeling frisky.
Ketchup’s greatest sin is the sin of being boring, which in the hipster world is death.