Catsup is not only a vegetable but also the most important detergent in the United States.
It all came back to me at the Blue Moon Diner in Charlottesville where breakfast comes with mountains of fried potatoes. The diners for the most part were men about 20, dressed for outdoor work, and it was joy to see (as Chaucer put it) them putting away the potatoes, which had previously acquired a grand patina of butter, etc., on the steel grill.
The fellow on my right, who I thought was a trifle pale and needed more cornmeal and buttermilk than he was getting, poured half a cup of catsup on the potatoes and mopped up the excess with several pieces of toast. His plate was clean when he left. He thinks continually of the children of China.
Instantly I felt remorse for any beastly things I may have said about our fine Department of Agriculture when the proposal went forth a while back that catsup is like a vegetable and could be so treated in the computation of school lunches. Some of us sneered.
That is never right.
The thing is, catsup may not be a vegetable at the Pickled Toad or other grand restaurants of this capital, but it is very much a vegetable in most of America and among most of her citizens. I myself do not use catsup except on scrambled eggs, and then only moderately. But catsup, apart from any sugar or chemicals that may be in it, is undeniably of tomatesque origin, and if half a cup or so is consumed it must surely rank as a vegetable or even a fruit compote.
And I thought, for the first time in years, of the interesting custom of the cook in New Guinea who made coffee for the platoon in a big garbage can (used only for coffee, not for other garbage). As time wore on, the inside of the can acquired a thick lining of rancid oil from the coffee beans. The cook waited until the 15th complaint was lodged, then stewed a whole garbage can full of tomatoes. He said there was nothing like tomatoes for cutting the grease that had accumulated in his vast coffee maker, and he was right.
At first he tried to make us eat the tomatoes, but when we hollered there was something especially foul about them (not knowing at first that he was using them to clean out the garbage can) and refused to eat them, he took it in stride. He just threw them out.
At the time, it seemed rather an extravagant way to clean the coffee grease out of the big can, but he operated on the theory that if we knew a better way we were quite welcome to tend to it ourselves. At which point we saw the prudence of saying nothing further.
Now, back to the potatoes at the diner, you clearly need plenty of calories for hard outdoor work, and few things are better than fried potatoes at a truly great diner. All the same, I suppose a stomach is much like a garbage can and after a spell becomes coated with grease. You cannot, of course, stew canned tomatoes in your stomach, but you can pour enough catsup down the hatch to do the job. And this, I believe, is what the gentlemen on both sides of me were doing at breakfast in the Blue Moon.
It worked in New Guinea and it works in Charlottesville and it will work here.
And in the future, I suppose it will pay us to keep a civil tongue when the government next speaks of catsup. For there are more things in catsup than are dreamed of in effete philosophies.