During lunch today at Central Square’s Veggie Galaxy — all wonderful, from the hot chocolate, Kendall Square burger and fries to the Melt sandwich (spicy tofu and vegetable salad), potato salad and coconut-based ice cream — W Ketchup was mentioned.
Somehow I missed this, but in 2004 at the height of President George W. Bush’s campaign for re-election, a New York banker and other right-wing friends created and began selling the stuff as an alternative to Heinz ketchup, which bore the name of a family once married into by the wife of Bush’s Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Democrat U.S. Sen. John Kerry. And it’s still on sale via a website that explains all you’d care to know about the conservative condiment, or at least a looking-glass version of it where the very reason it exists is talked around like a black sheep nephew in jail again after being caught huffing glue while wearing only a thong and a swastika armband after failing to rob a minimart with a paintball gun and barely literate note.
Since mentioning the actual W is taboo, some media said the “W” stood for “Washington,” Washington County, N.Y., or “George Washington,” but the “About W Ketchup” section of the website tells a different story. Ignoring the actual context of the product’s origins, the history instead shows a picture of Ronald Reagan and says:
W Ketchup was launched on June 14, 2004, nine days after President Ronald Reagan died at age 93. We thank President Reagan for his selfless service to this nation.
The implication here is that W Ketchup was inspired by Reagan’s passing and somehow readied for sale as a tribute after a frenzied eight-day miracle of entrepreneurialism, named possibly after the deceased leader’s totally unmentioned middle name (Wilson) for some equally unmentioned reason. If you buy that, there’s another suggestive stretch in that section, that “Unlike other brands of ketchup, W Ketchup does not donate any money to politicians or political groups” and that this is somehow an enlightened and applaudable position. That lasts only if you don’t read see the headlines of the company’s press releases, which lack the same sense of bipartisan restraint: “W Ketchup Calls on Congress to Impeach Obama” and “W Ketchup Demands the Senate Reject the Nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court,” for instance. The most recent, from Dec. 13, doubles down on the Kerry issue, though, coming off like a parody of conservative thinking:
Teresa Heinz married failed presidential candidate and disgraced senator John Kerry. Kerry is distantly related to the wealthy Forbes family, and was educated at an elite boarding school in Switzerland, where he learned French.
The press release has an odd headline as well — “W Ketchup reaffirms Commitment to American Cuisine” — but it all begins to connect when readers get to the paragraphs complaining that “Heinz is releasing a new ketchup made with balsamic vinegar instead of the traditional white vinegar”:
The company claims the new concoction is more “sophisticated” and recommends it be used on the “Haute Dog,” “Hamburgeur” or “French Frites.”
W Ketchup Chairman Bill Zachary reacted: “We doubt French spellings will convince Senator Kerry to share in the cuisine of his fellow Americans, or that he would dress his plate with so plebian [sic] a sauce as ketchup, whatever ingredients the laboratory at Heinz develops. We at W Ketchup will continue to offer traditional ketchup for those that relish in American food [sic].”
It’s true, in December Heinz began selling a limited-edition test flavor of ketchup made with balsamic vinegar, apparently to broaden the range of flavors like mustard makers have.
Not much else here is true, though. The myth-debunking snopes.com notes that “Teresa Heinz Kerry does not ‘own the Heinz Corporation’ — she has no involvement whatsoever with the management or operations of the H.J. Heinz Co., nor does she own anything close to a controlling interest of the company’s stock. According to Heinz itself, the Heinz family trust which Mrs. Kerry inherited sold most of its shares of Heinz stock back in 1995 and currently holds less than a 4% interest in the company.” (Media friendly to W Ketchup got this backward, saying “A spokesperson for Mrs. Kerry has said only about 4 per cent of her stock consists of H. J. Heinz shares. W Ketchup countered this by saying that 4 per cent of her portfolio is ‘a ton of money.’”)
So W Ketchup still doesn’t like Kerry; Kerry is married to someone who was once married to someone with the same last name as a company that makes ketchup but who has no say in what the company does; that company made a product with a funny ad that gives fancy French names for traditional food; Kerry speaks French; therefore do not buy Heinz Ketchup, but buy W Ketchup instead; because Ronald Reagan is a conservative icon.
And if you’re wondering why a Cambridge website includes this post — in what may be the only media reference to the product since 2004 — why, the logic is just as simple: W Ketchup exists; it competes with other ketchup brands, one of which is served with the French fries at Veggie Galaxy, 450 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square (unless Veggie Galaxy makes its own); the French fries are really good, with or without ketchup, and so are all the other menu items we tried.