When in the course of journalistic events it becomes necessary for a reporter to set aside the bands of impartiality, a decent respect to the opinion of his readers requires that he should declare the causes that impels him to do so.
Most of those words should be attributed to Thomas Jefferson.
As a reporter, I have become accustomed to being surrounded by controversy. It might be gravel pits, pot holes, zoning disputes, tax increases, pay raises for elected officials, teen pregnancy, an ATV trail through a residential neighborhood, a raucous presidential election, or even what local burger joint serves the best burger.
To act with integrity, I must remove myself from the field of battle and remain neutral. I carefully edit my own writing to make sure no unconscious bias leaks into my reporting.
Conscious bias is antithetical to the mission of journalism. The journalistic ethic of giving voice to the voiceless does not require sophistry.
With all this said, I must now break the code of silence and take a stand on a most important principle.
The other day in the Transcript Bulletin’s newsroom, as orders were being taken for hamburgers to be picked up from a local establishment, someone, whom I will not identify, ordered a hamburger — with ketchup and mustard.
I gasped a very audible and intentional gasp. All eyes turned to me.
It was as if none of them knew the rule: Ketchup is for hamburgers. Mustard is for hot dogs.
That’s how my father explained it to me many years ago at a concession stand under a stadium at a high school sports field.
We ordered hot dogs. I reached for the ketchup. My father calmly and kindly taught me the rule.
Let me make this perfectly clear: I fully endorse and support the ketchup/mustard maxim. Putting the wrong condiment on an entree not only is a taste catastrophe, it is part of a cascading decay of culinary culture.
Evidence of the ketchup/mustard rule’s universality is obvious. Walk into any store and pick up a bottle of hot-dog relish, and what do you get? Relish with mustard.
Likewise, hamburger relish is relish with ketchup.
I’ve pointed this out to my family many times to no avail; they continue the juvenile practice of putting ketchup on everything.
But I do have an ally in my argument in support of my father’s axiom.
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council’s rules of hot-dog etiquette state that ketchup should not be used as a hot-dog topping for anyone over 18 years of age.
If ketchup isn’t suitable after the age of 18, isn’t it easier to teach our youth to avoid ketchup on hot dogs altogether and avoid the need to break a bad habit as children transition into adulthood?
Sugary ketchup is addicting. But wait you say, “Doesn’t McDonald’s put mustard on their hamburger?”
Yes, they do. The McDonald’s website lists the contents of a hamburger to be: a bun, meat patty, shredded lettuce, chopped onion, sliced dill pickle, mustard and ketchup.
But, as my college ethics professor said, “You can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’”
The mega-corporate burger, designed for maximum efficiency in production and to yield the greatest profit, should not dictate the bar of our culinary standards.
McDonald’s authorities have not confirmed it, but a Google search reports regional differences in McDonald’s burger toppings, with some entire states omitting mustard.
Mustard is also curiously absent from the ingredients for McDonald’s “special sauce.”
Then there is Burger King, which made “have it your way” the standard for modern fast-burger establishments.
The Burger King website does not include mustard as an option when selecting toppings for its iconic Whopper.
I thought this standard — ketchup on hamburgers and mustard on hamburgers — was a ubiquitous non-partisan culinary rule of order.
However, in my research for this column I discovered that in 2009 President Obama requested Dijon mustard for his hamburger at an Arlington, Virginia burger place.
Right wing media pundits clobbered Obama’s choice of mustard.
If you’re going to put mustard on a hamburger, please not Dijon. That’s like dipping your potato chips in imported Beluga caviar.
When we eat hamburgers at home, I do not put mustard on the table. When eating hot dogs, I do not include ketchup in the condiments.
My children, now over 18 years old, find my insistence on allegiance to my father’s rule to be deplorable. They unabashedly defy all sense of culinary order and defiantly retrieve their desired topping from the refrigerator.
I seem to have been unsuccessful in transmitting proper fast-food etiquette to the rising generation. I am not alone in my failure, however. The NHSC reports the use of ketchup on hot dogs is on the rise.
I accepted my father’s rule. I did not question why, but I accepted his teaching as statement of fact: The sky is blue, gravity causes things to fall, water is wet, grass is green, don’t touch a hot burner on the stove, and ketchup is for hamburgers, mustard is for hot dogs. It all makes sense.
That’s the way the world is, or was.
While the world may not stop revolving because the rising generation puts ketchup on their hot dogs, it will be interesting to see where they take the world with their hot dogs in hand.