I have this theory.  I once heard that the problem with foam peanuts was that birds would eat them and then starve to death.  Cause?  The foam peanuts would sit in the bird’s stomach, not disintegrating, not being digested, just crowding the cavity space, until eventually she couldn’t fit enough food in her stomach to keep her alive, and she would starve to death.*

I think the same thing happens with refrigerators.

Roommate fridges—filled by women with varying condiment and cooking preferences—are slowly overtaken by rows and rows of timeless spreads, until they can’t hold enough food to keep their women alive.

The desire to keep perfectly good containers of condiments that you need some of sometime but not a lot of and not often—I understand this.  Black bean sauce.  Plum chutney.  Horseradish.  I get it.  You bought the smallest size.  You did your best.  WHAT DRIVES ME CRAZY, though, is when people—average, life-size, otherwise fully sane human beings—are totally out of touch with their senses of consumption, and they overbuy, overbuy, overbuy until the fridge has more than one bottle of any given item.  Specifically—and here lies my biggest beef—until the fridge is filled with bottles (!) of ketchup.**

No one needs as much ketchup as they think they do.  People just don’t eat a lot of ketchup.  Maybe there are individuals out there downing the stuff (feel free to comment below), but in my experience with hosting (and, as one of nine kids and with an inexplicable but longstanding desire to feed lots of people, I have spent much time trying to improve my sense of food), less ketchup is sufficient.  Averaged over a given eating population, ketchup consumption is small.  Less is definitely more.

My theory about ketchup consumption came to a head at my law school graduation party.  My family and I hosted a burger-and-sweet-potato-fries party at my house for just about everyone I knew.  I expected maybe 120.  I charged the family with helping me to prepare.  I divvied up the grocery list, assigning each person to buy the things we needed.  But I was worried that whoever had the condiment assignment would not believe my assessment of the ketchup situation, so I left it off of everyone’s list.  I just didn’t want to risk any, any chance of having giant, extra bottles of ketchup crowding up my fridge, so I decided I would buy the ketchup.  And I’d buy one bottle.  A small one.  I felt in my bones that this would be enough.

Party day comes and food is flying in and out of the kitchen.  Being with the family is great.  We’re chopping food, slicing sweet potatoes, making raspberry lemonade.  And then I saw them—TWO GIANT BOTTLES OF KETCHUP waiting to be delivered to the patio tables.

“Who—who bought this ketchup?” I asked, bewildered, dazed.  I looked around.  “Where did this ketchup come from?!” I asked again.  My sister called from the kitchen.  “Oh, I bought it,” she said.  “I noticed it wasn’t on anyone’s list, and I was doing the sauces, so I thought I’d buy some.”  She was so happy, so cheerful, so wanting to help.  I almost wanted to cry.

I tried to convince my sisters that we didn’t need that much ketchup, but they were disbelieving.  So we decided to make a little no-stakes bet: I bet that they wouldn’t get through even my small bottle of ketchup.  The sisters bet that, in addition to the small one, we’d need to tap into at least one of the giant ones.  So we put out the small one and hid the two giant ones under the wings of the tablecloth, to be pulled out in case we had a ketchup emergency.

The party rocked.  It rocked so hard that I forgot about the ketchup.  My dad’s chicken was unbelievable.  Anika made this garlic mayo that still makes my mouth water.  Oh my goodness.  Our garden was beautiful, the palm trees rustled in the northern California wind, and a friend showed up with a giant container of fresh strawberries.  Oh man.  It was such a good day.  Such good food.  Such a great party.

And when it was done, I saw it.  The ketchup bottle.  The first one, the small one.  And only half empty.

And still tucked underneath the table were the two giant bottles, unopened and unwanted.

Oh man, world.  OH MAN.  I told you so.****

* Now foam peanuts are made with sugar.  Or potato starch.  Something biodegradable, I hear.  And the incidence of bird diabetes is soaring.

**Ketchup starts off with a few disadvantages—it has a persistently vinegary smell and doesn’t taste good cold. So, already, I don’t like it. But it’s a French fry classic, it transforms hot dogs and burgers, and I once heard that there’s no one way you can prepare a tomato that removes its nutritional value. This is why ketchup can count towards your daily five.*** So I accept that a fridge should have it.

*** Okay, I just did some googling about this and can’t find any evidence of it.  But I did find this jocularly written answer to a question about classifying ketchup as a vegetable.  Informative, entertaining, and a really good insight into the regulatory world that is becoming incrementally familiar to me as a new resident in DC.  Oh, politics.  What a card!

**** The girls I now live with in DC, I also lived with in the summer of ’07.  I told them this ketchup story sometime before I moved back in, and in summer ’08, I got this text:

Look how many ketchup bottles we have?

[See picture above.]


Thank goodness they purged before I arrived.  We haven’t bought ketchup since.