A Blending of Cultures

It began as a fish sauce from Vietnam made of fish entrails, meat byproducts and soybeans. Since it was easy to store, British traders took it on board their long voyages as they returned from Southeast Asia and China. The traders liked the taste, as it was a change from typical British fare.

Once the sauce arrived in England, it was changed to include other types of seafood as well as nuts, lemons, celery, mushrooms, and other fruits. All of these ingredients were boiled and let sit for a while before salt was added. The resulting sauce was added to soups and meats.

An American horticulturalist by the name of James Mease added love apples to the mix. We refer to love apples today by another name: tomatoes. Tomatoes were brought to England from South America and were considered poisonous, hence the name change.

The sauce had a remarkable shelf life, but tomatoes did not. The result was a product that contained bacteria and mold as well as unsafe preservatives such as coal tar and sodium benzoate. Customers of the sauce revolted until a Pittsburgh entrepreneur by the name of Henry J. Heinz used only safe ingredients in the sauce. He was able to dominate the market for what eventually was called ketchup. Part of his success came from a unique blend of spices – some coming from Africa.

When you think of the history of ketchup, it’s remarkable how it grew from a blending of the world’s cultures. What’s so remarkable about the history of ketchup is that the blending of cultures in its history isn’t that remarkable? The same can be said for other food products. But it’s also true for music, dance, and other forms of the arts. It’s also true for sports and other forms of entertainment. When you delve into the background of almost any product, you can trace the origins to multiple cultures.

With so many multicultural influences in our world today, it’s hard to imagine why xenophobic politicians have become so popular. Why can’t we celebrate the influences from across our planet? Why do we need to think that we alone are special? Why do we imagine that denigrating others makes us better? The next time you put ketchup on something you are eating, just imagine the various cultural influences that touch our lives every day. Cultural differences have made all of our lives better.

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“No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.” – Mahatma Gandhi

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