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God save the Queen: Ketchup does not belong on hot dogs

| Monday, April 19, 2021

I’ve been wrong about a lot of things during my 18 years on this planet. 

Looking at a microwave does not give you cancer. Jim Boylen did not lead the Chicago Bulls to an NBA title. Gum does not sit in your stomach for seven years if you swallow it. COVID-19 did not result in just an extra week of spring break. 

I could go on, but instead I’m going to tell you one thing I’m right about: ketchup does not belong on hot dogs. You can argue with me all you want or harass me on Twitter, but just know that I don’t care what you have to say because I know I’m right.

If you ask a Chicagoan who passionately attacks the horrific condiment — chances are it’s a guy who has a gut that droops over his belt and sounds like a train whistle when pronouncing vowels — why ketchup does not belong on a hot dog, they may give you an answer mentioning how the sweetness of the condiment doesn’t complement the frank or talk about some guy named Jimmy and his Red Hots.

These answers are wrong and the person telling you it knows that’s not why they don’t put ketchup on a wiener. There is only one reason why putting ketchup on a hot dog is the most egregious sin one can commit. 

You don’t put ketchup on a hot dog because you don’t put ketchup on a hot dog.

And, yes, I know I’m not actually from Chicago. You’re not insulting me when you point that fact out. Being from the suburbs provides me with all the benefits of the city being just a train ride away without constantly dealing with the nightmarish traffic and endless white noise of a city. Snobby, I know.

But after I order off a menu with changeable letters and sit at a table covered in a red and white plaid tablecloth with a napkin dispenser that shreds the razor-thin napkins as you pull them out, it means something when my number is called and I go and grab my cafeteria-style tray with a glorious Chicago-style hot dog on it — not a hot dog with some horrid red paste on it. 

Dragged through the garden to be topped with mustard, chopped white onion, neon green relish, a dill pickle, tomato wedges, sport peppers and, the granddaddy of all toppings, celery salt, the Chicago dog is one of the greatest institutions known to man.

Chicago dogs belong in the same conversation as Notre Dame football, the British monarchy, the Nick Castellanos copypasta, the Grateful Dead, the ending to The Sopranos and the Illinois governorship-to-jail pipeline as traditions that no matter how much they falter are too storied to ever fade out of history.

Putting ketchup on a hot dog is an attack on tradition. It’s like marrying into the British royal family and then leaving it to step out of the limelight — a seemingly understandable thing to do. But then after you leave, you decide to do an interview with Oprah on broadcast television and sign deals with Netflix and Spotify. Checks out.

Many of you might be so repulsed by the sight of a hot dog that putting ketchup on it isn’t even a concern. Those of you who put ketchup on your hot dogs probably think I’m a lunatic who’s willing to stay up into the wee hours of the night writing about hot dogs. So why does it matter that people put ketchup on their hot dogs?

Because life is more fun when you stand for something. It’s easy to become a reactionary and try to tear down everything you see. There’s a time and a place for fixing things and there are a lot of issues that need fixing. Go save the world, that’s great.

But it’s important to have principles. Defending things, even arbitrarily, adds meaning to my life. Whether it’s about something actually important or if it’s defending the notion that Jimmy Buffett is one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time, withstanding those who want to bring you down is a valuable, defining and thrilling experience.

Standing behind an opinion tests the boundaries of how comfortable you are in your own skin and more often than not results in you feeling like a moron. But, never fear, feeling like a moron is a crucial, humbling experience that motivates one to craft an argument so compelling that a scalding hot take will show no mercy and destroy all that stands in its way. It’s the best way to grow.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t change their minds when they’re wrong about something. There are wrong and evil stances that have no place in our society. 

For example, some people think it’s OK to put ketchup on a hot dog.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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