Actually Ronald Reagan didn’t say ketchup was a vegetable. And it wasn’t Reagan that didn’t say ketchup was a vegetable, anyway. It was his Department of Agriculture that didn’t say it. The ketchup bit was a sarcastic comment in I believe a Newsweek op ed that then did the 1981 analog equivalent of going viral, that is, it made it into a Johnny Carson monologue. So let’s give the Reagan Administration credit where credit is due. It never said ketchup was a vegetable. It said relish was a vegetable.
Well, it said pickle relish was a vegetable. Some line in their recommended school nutrition guidelines about a small hamburger with pickle relish being a nutritious school lunch. That little spoon full of ground up pickles being called a vegetable instantaneously became emblematic of the Reagan Administration’s approach to education and children. Or would have, except that Johnny Carson didn’t say relish. He said ketchup, which requires a little exegesis. Pickles, of course, are funny, but ground up into relish they aren’t funny at all. And even though tomatoes in themselves aren’t funny (well, unthrown tomatoes aren’t funny), ketchup is funny, through some ill understood compound of funny consonants developed in a secret laboratory somewhere in the Catskills. Hence Johnny Carson went with ketchup. He did a good Ronald Reagan impression, too, so saying ketchup in a Reagan voice must have locked it in with the tens of millions of Americans who watched his monologue every night. The fact that the condiment that turned magically into a vegetable through bureaucratic alchemy was actually pickle relish faded into the footnotes. Ketchup instantly became a Republican vegetable, pickles remained something that Democrats ate with their deli sandwich, and pickle relish, though the actual Republican vegetable, remains uncommitted, as no one called it pickle relish. They still don’t. You can put it in your hot dog without feeling the least bit political.
The Reagan Administration’s proposed USDA school nutrition guidelines that turned those ground up pickles into a vegetable were quickly withdrawn and resubmitted with no mention of pickle relish whatsoever. But that’s all irrelevant anyway, because we’d all have sworn up and down that Reagan said ketchup was a vegetable and ketchup is funnier. Nobody makes pickle relish jokes. It’s just something you put on a hot dog, like mustard, which isn’t particularly funny either. Condiment humor is a limited shtick.
If only we misremembered Reagan saying catsup is a vegetable. Catsup is really funny, funnier even then ketchup. Tomato sauce isn’t funny. Tomahto sauce is funny, though, except on kippers. That’s just disgusting.
Anyway, that’s how politics works.