The 1981 Ketchup as a Vegetable debacle has rendered ketchup an indelible fixture in our political as well as our culinary culture. In the Reagan administration’s attempt to slash $1.5 billion from children’s nutrition funding, school lunch program requirements were worded (whether deliberately or not) so as to conceivably allow for designating ketchup as a vegetable, allowing the USDA to eliminate one of the two vegetables required to meet minimum food and nutrition standards, and thus shrink costs considerably. While the proposal included other changes that involved similar, dramatic category shifting, these received only minor attention compared to the idea of the salt and sucrose–laden condiment ketchup as an equivalent to a bona fide vegetable. Ketchup came to symbolize the malevolence of the economic policy of the Ronald Reagan presidency even as it underscored the deep government indifference to children in lower-income and minority populations.
Ketchup as a Vegetable: Condiments and the Politics of School Lunch in Reagan’s America
Amy Bentley is Professor of Food Studies at New York University and author of the award-winning Inventing Baby Food: Taste, Health, and the Industrialization of the American Diet (University of California Press, 2014). Current projects include the Food and COVID-19 NYC Digital Archive, https://wp.nyu.edu/foodandcovid19/.
Amy Bentley; Ketchup as a Vegetable: Condiments and the Politics of School Lunch in Reagan’s America. Gastronomica 1 February 2021; 21 (1): 17–26. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2021.21.1.17
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