Ketchup

Ketchup

Creative non-fiction

There is a common misconception that a tomato is a vegetable, it is a fruit.

This misunderstanding is because of the American justice system, and the 1887 tribunal of the Tomato versus the United States supreme court . The Tomato was stripped of its biological identity and reissued the identity of a vegetable, on the grounds that ‘although fruits of a vine, tomatoes are usually served at dinner’. To a botanist the tomato is a fruit: an entity that develops from the fertilised ovary of a flower. To the federal government, it can be resubscribed, regardless of reality, to fit whatever tax category they seek to gain from. The tomato is a staple of the American life, accounting for 22% of its vegetable consumption. The average American consumes around 65.9 pounds of tomatoes per year, three quarters of which are through manufactured tomatoes, with ketchup making up of 15% this .

The American dream is rooted in the American declaration of independence (1777), which declares that no matter who you are, it will protect the opportunity for anyone seeking to improve their lives. This dream for America's founding fathers was for anyone to pursue their own ideal of happiness, which was not to be seen as an act of selfishness, but a necessity in creating a prosperous society. The American dream is the 'charm of anticipated success ', yet it neglects to define exactly what happiness looks like, and how success can be measured. This positivism has been resubscribed into a product of political ideology, that mis-sells reality with a corporate promise that life will eventually get better .

A large red sun bulged overhead, its rich crimson juices spilling across the sky. Heaving down into the horizon, it spat out its yellow seeds into the burrowing nap of night. A red Cadillac Edrillo steaming across the nostalgic route I've only dreamed of. San Francisco’s dirt still moistened my nostrils. The Tenderloin sniffles: roving female dealers, the mid-day crack wrappers, door wells bedded with rags and limbs. My mind was spliced with the stills of the poverty I had experienced, and the reels of old Hollywood movies I have watched. The Hollywood sign sauntered across the coach window. I gazed at its white silhouette, searching, willing, for the dream.

The American pursuit of happiness is driven by greed, yet is never attainable, because someone, somewhere, always has more. An economic model that has its own agenda, which does not care for the trail of mounting debts, mental illnesses and criminality that floats in its wake. The-harder-you-work-the-more-you-can buy-the-more-happy-you-are. The dream, masks the bitter taste of reality. The political dressing that is poured over the inequality of its system and sweetens the stale situation you are in. The condiment of corporate Capitalism: keep liquifying morality, keep pouring it on stuff, keep feeding your wellbeing.

The Salinas Valley is one of the most productive agriculture areas in California. A long strip of fertile rich soil, cushioned by mountain ranges, and a stone’s throw from Silicon Valley. Not much has changed in the American 'Salad Bowl', since John Steinbeck wrote of it in his 1939 novel Grapes of Wrath. Nearly eighty years later, it is still a revolving door for immigrant farmers, who are still exploited in the same cycle of high rents, low wages and long hours. The American dream is that your situation in life will eventually get better, and that progress is inevitable, if you obey the rules and work hard. The irony of Salinas Valley is that despite the labourer’s working around the clock to produce America's vegetables, they can only afford highly processed, fast food. The area has become gripped by a health crisis, which according to to Marc B. Schenker, a professor at the University of California, has revealed that a staggering 85% of the area's farmhands are now chronically obese.

Physical or philosophical fatigue drew me to the supermarkets of downtown Los Angeles. Ginsberg found Whitman ‘poking among the meats in the refrigerator’, and spotted ‘Garcia Lorca down by the watermelons’. I tried shopping for the images of America on the labels that glistened with red tomatoes. I peered into the glassy eyes of the vast and meticulously lined bottles. I headed towards the fresh vegetables. The plummy Cheroke Purples, the glowing yellows of the Brandywine, the jaded Green Zebras, the golden Kellogg's Breakfasts. The increasing dollars signs attaching higher values to each tomato regiment. Their bulbous bulks, perfumed by the misters suspended above. The dewy droplets cascading down their polished hides.

The American economy doubled in size during the roar of the 1920s. The excess lacquered over the reality that industries were receding, unemployment rates were escalating, and consumer debt was astronomical. The banks were swamped by excessive loans which could not be liquified. The Wall Street Crash of 1929, the consequence of the Great Depression. The warning that America ignored, ignores. The profits of World War Two, the influx of money, again, flavoured this greed. The purchasing of a 'retreat in magical thinking'. The greed of an all consuming self-disillusionment.

In her novel, Did you Buy the American Dream? Jean Riall remarks that: 'Somewhere along the way Americans decided we deserved everything, all at once. So we bought it on credit’. In February 2017 American credit card debt totalled at $1 trillion, and increased by 3.5% within that month. No curbing the insatiable appetite for a dream starved of reality. America land of the plenty, Americans never having enough.

I head back to the ketchups. The cheap cent signs seem to identify them as an accessible and basic need. Their broad shoulders blazoned with cartoonish tomatoes, that seem to evoke vitality and health. The bloody contents, the innards of America. The small print of unbelievably high levels of sodium, sugar and solvents that overwrite the deficit of any real tomatoes.

The 'golden state' of California has more billionaires than any other country (apart from China and the entirety of United states). Hollywood, the celebrated dream factory, the sugar to Los Angeles's sauce. The streets canopied with palm trees, the air exhaling success, happiness in the American dream. Most of the faces I see are White Americans. Los Angeles does the best sushi, Sojin does the best vegan sushi. El Coyote does the best mojitos, Korea-town does the best karaoke .

One in five Californians live in poverty. Los Angeles has the most 'intractable homeless problem in the nation '. Over the past two years, this has increased by 12%, bringing the homeless population to an estimated 25,68624. The problem has intensified since the economy's recovery from the 2008 recession. Affordable housing in Los Angeles is nonexistent, access to healthcare is barely fathomable. Rental is so high that it often bites out 75% of a minimum wage’s income.

The sidewalks of Skid Row are lined with tarpaulins, tents and trolleys, not trees. The air that exhaled opportunity reeks of destitution. No tourists here. No cameras here. No stars here. No money here. No money here, no money here, no purchasing power, no way of buying the sauce. It is exposed, America uncut and laid out on the sidewalk for the flies and maggots. It is tough and inedible, it leaves a lump in your throat. The reality, the shanteys, the poverty. 

The sun bleeds across the sky. The dreams dried out, its residue sticky underfoot. Most of the faces I see are of Black Americans. They cling on, pushing their identities in trolleys sagging under the weight of innumerable possessions, the heavy load of things. Hooked on the additives of positivism, of believing that the dream, their dream is just 'deferred'. Sitting, crouching, lying, standing, waiting. They passively wait, ignorant of the corporate powers that engulf them. A man shouts out that he has a plan. He whispers over and over to me that he will get out of the “temporary situation of Skid Row”. He is going to make it, going to make it big, he's going to get his American dream.

Ten years into his "temporary situation", still no shoes, only red sores. 

Kuang-Yi Ku: The Fellatio Modification Project, Science Gallery, London,  2016.

Kuang-Yi Ku: The Fellatio Modification Project, Science Gallery, London,  2016.