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Vegging Out

[whitespace] Federal officials: Let them eat salsa

By Mad Dog

THE UNITED STATES government has just made it easier for us to eat a balanced diet. How did they do this? Not by requiring brewers to add 14 essential vitamins and minerals to beer. And not by passing a law that says no one can get up from the table unless they finish all their Brussels sprouts. No, they simply declared that from now on, salsa is a vegetable.

By promoting salsa from a lowly condiment to its new position, the Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service (motto: "Eat all you want, we'll grow more") made it so the nation's schools can now buy salsa and be reimbursed for it. Before this they were free to serve it but had to either make it themselves or pay for it out of their own pocket, and we all know everything tastes better when it's free.

How they did this was simple: they reclassified salsa as a vegetable salad. Right. And Godzilla's the new Gone with the Wind. If this is the beginning of a trend and they expand this Kondiments for Kids program, it won't be long until the youth of America will be lunching on a healthy, hearty, and filling all-vegetarian meal consisting of salsa, mustard, pickles, and soy sauce. And why stop there? Let's call Cheetos dairy, potato chips a vegetable, pretzels a grain, and fruit roll-ups a fruit serving.

The ketchup industry must be fuming. It wasn't bad enough that they lost first place in the condiment race a couple of years back, with people buying salsa to the tune of $700 million a year, but now salsa has succeeded where they couldn't.

You might remember when the Reagan administration tried to turn ketchup into a vegetable. Even with all of Heinz's 57 varieties of lobbyist behind them they couldn't muster the backing they needed. It might be political. It could be sociological. Chances are it's just the difference between Reagan and Clinton. Well, other than the fact that Clinton doesn't need Viagra.

It's a good thing they didn't succeed. I can envision children everywhere eyeing that big plop of ketchup alongside their Fish Stick Hash. Then they'd eat it and be so full they wouldn't be able to touch the Lime Jell-O with Crunchy Gym Sweepings they got for dessert.

Now they'll get salsa instead, which is supposed to be a major improvement. But is salsa really better for you than ketchup? Or is it just trendy right now? Personally, I think its popularity stems from the fact that there's only one way to spell salsa and that makes everyone feel better about themselves when they write a shopping list, and we all know we need our Minimum Daily Requirement of Self-Esteem as set by the President's Council on Misty Crystal Empowerment and Feeling Good about Ourselves.

Russians apparently don't have this problem. Well, they may have the self-esteem problem but not the ketchup one. That's because they don't like the stuff. Recently, when three Russian sailors stopped in San Francisco on the final leg of a three-year trip, they bought a six-pack of ketchup to take with them. According to the captain, they did it for all the right American reasons.

"I don't like ketchup," he said, in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. "None of us likes ketchup. But the ketchup was very cheap."

If there's one thing you learn after three years in a 40-foot boat it's how to be a smart shopper. They say they'll probably throw the ketchup overboard on the way to Hawaii, along with a four-pound jar of gourmet jelly beans. That's a double slap in the face for Ronald Reagan. Someone needs to tell these guys the Cold War is over.

I THINK the real reason behind this salsa reclassification is that the United States is jealous of the European Union. The Europeans are busy signing up new members, preparing to issue new money, and creating new food rules. We, on the other hand, have no new members, our new paper money looks as if it came from a Monopoly set, and the best we can do is imitate them by making up our own food rules.

A couple of years ago--and I swear I'm not making this up--the European Union decided that, for the sake of trade, carrots are fruit, escargots (which the French consider to be not only snails but edible) are fish, quail are no longer poultry, curved cucumbers and bent bananas are illegal, and restaurants serving cheese and celery sandwiches must have separate boards to carve the cheese and celery.

This is serious stuff. Here in the United States these laws would be considered unnecessary and downright frivolous, especially the one about cheese and celery sandwiches. That's not because we think it's OK to cut those blasphemous ingredients on the same board, but rather that no one in this country could walk into any self-respecting restaurant and order a cheese and celery sandwich without having the waitress say, "Hey Bud, where do you think you are? The European Union?"

But now we've taken the international lead again, returning ourselves to World Power status by being the first country to make salsa a legally reimbursable vegetable. That's something you couldn't buy with all the Eurodollars in the world.

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From the October 1-7, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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