Ketchup, mustard, and a change of taste

August 26, 2021 5:03 PM

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A hot dog with mustard and ketchup, courtesy of Peter Secan on Unsplash.

A hot dog with mustard and ketchup, courtesy of Peter Secan on Unsplash.

Hot dogs are kind of boring. Without anything extra like relish or onions, it’s just meat in a bun, almost like a hamburger except it’s a sausage that is put into a slit of a bun. Even though we didn’t have hot dogs often at school lunch, I’d rather starve than eat these. They were awful. That is what ketchup is for, to mask a horrid piece of meat in something too overpowering. At least that is my opinion.

Our school doesn’t call the cafeteria “the cafeteria,” rather we call it “the dining hall.” At the dining hall, my friends and I had a table at the very right, next to the windows where we could see the open field of grass outside the building. While there were only 8 seats at one of the circle tables, there were at least 9 to 10 people there every day at lunch, or even more. My memory fails me here. Lunch was loud but also peaceful. It was a time for people to socialize and eat, a break in our schedule that was way too short. A lot of us had the meals given to us at lunch. When it was a hamburger, a hot dog, or just plain old chicken, I got some extra ketchup knowing that one person would forget to get ketchup. It was just normal to do: give the burger extra flavor since we didn’t get anything else with the meal besides fruit and expired milk. Through all the noise, this was just my normal. Normality that changed a year later.

Salads can be considered a wildcard in food. They can be very light and tasty or just plain old nasty. You can put in chicken, cheese, whatever you want. Salad is like your environment. You can choose what to put in it and what to take out: tomatoes, croutons and even lobster. I love when my mom makes lobster salad, but either way lobster is something beautiful and different for every person.

The next school year, I sat at a different table, this time next to the cold food line that offered salads, yogurt, and cheese sticks. I sat with different friends yet the familiar feeling was the same. Some people were doing homework, socializing, or just relaxing. At this point, I didn’t care so much about lunch. I always came late to lunch. To the left of our merch store in the dining hall was a cart with salads. There was always a nice lunch guy reserving a salad for me. But to be honest, salad is depressing, at least the ones the school provided were just not appealing. The chicken was always cold, sometimes the cheese was in large chunks that ruined the salad, and there would be no dressing at all. The salad they gave us was never enough for me, so I always had something else. I stopped getting ketchup. There were just better things that were not ketchup. 

At this point, it was hard to understand my mentality and from my memory, my enjoyment was at its limit. My schedule was simply to wake up, go to school, work out, go back home, do homework, and play video games. It was this loop that altered my whole mood. And while ketchup may seem to be the most random thing, my life had no flavor and I was masking it as the norm, just like how ketchup masks bland food. Maybe I just became more conscious of myself or the normal. I started not to interact with my friends, stopped doing the things I enjoyed doing. Whatever the case, no matter if I was climbing or falling, my interest in ketchup crumbled to dust.

A hamburger is a meat patty between two buns. A burger is similar to a salad: you can choose what to put on it, be it bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, whatever, and you can choose a sauce. Mayo, ketchup, and mustard, it’s the whole party. You can put whatever in it, but the difference is that you can see what is in a burger and it makes you full after eating. 

A few weeks ago, I went to Canobie Lake with two of my cousins and their friend. I was the youngest out of all of them. We had only gone on a few rides before we got a bit hungry. On the Star Blaster, the dropper ride, the attraction’s speakers squealed, blaring into everyone’s ears. We were at the front of the line when that happened, and I am confident that we could’ve died if we went on that ride earlier. As you can imagine, there is a lot of downtime waiting for the rides. Your mind tends to drift away without anything to distract you. Sure, you can use your phone, but to fully enjoy this day, I had put my phone away in the locker that we’d paid for. You can only think about long-term things, life itself in these moments.

We were eating at the Be-Bop Diner, and we each had a typically overpriced cheeseburger. I took off the top bun and splattered some mustard on the cheese as I thought to myself how much has changed. A change in lifestyle, a change of people, and most importantly a change in taste, from mustard to ketchup. I placed my top bun back onto the burger and bit into it. The burger itself tasted cheap, 100% overpriced and burnt, but it was okay. The mustard punched a strong and pungent taste that doesn’t hide. It was pretty basic. There was no lettuce, no tomato, just a cheeseburger. But such a simple change can make every meal iconic, like a change in condiments. I smiled a bit as the breeze blew against my back.

Such a simple change can mean so much, yet the whole world is changing around us. The choice to change may be one of the most beautiful things that life holds.

Mustard over ketchup, though. Seriously.

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