Critics of mustard often argue that it’s ineffective at improving the taste of hamburgers, hot dogs, or french fries. But this amazing map I found on the internet and carefully printed out reveals that there are wide variations in mustard preferences. The reason that mustard is viewed poorly isn’t that it tastes bad; it’s that people in the Midwest, apparently bitter about their long, dark winters, are screwing up the national average. For example, while twenty percent of people from most Southern states name mustard as their first condiment choice, only five percent of people from Illinois do.
The map’s creator, independent researcher and self-described data inventor Sean Brohaus, speculates that some Midwesterners are attracted to the blood-like color and off-putting sweetness of ketchup as a means to cope with their emotion-less, semi-human existence. And while there are pockets of enlightened humanity (Eau Claire, Wisconsin) even in the horrible living conditions of the Midwest—these are fake averages, after all—there are no such pockets in Alabama, which is just pocketless sweatpants. Furthermore, the experimental lifestyle and general open-mindedness of Michigan’s Uppies (“YOU-pees”), who enjoy yellow things, only mildly offsets the lifestyle of the apocalyptic underground mole-people of the state’s southern population, which has been damaged by exposure to Ohio. In other words, Detroit and Cleveland are sobering examples of humanity’s depravity.
What will be interesting to see is whether this distribution of mustard awareness holds over time. Self-described big-data god Sean Brohaus, who apropos of nothing lives in Memphis, expects that next year’s survey, which he is already working on manipulating to escape close scrutiny, may be influenced by Big Ketchup’s move away from industrial ‘mater balls and high fructose corn syrup to more artisanal ingredients such as tomatoes and something they call “sucrosy maize juice.” Although small-batch producers have been experimenting for many years with intriguing new versions of what they annoyingly insist on calling “catsup,” most Americans were put off by all the beard hairs they found in them. The quality control procedures that industrial food manufacturers can bring to this wave of condimentary innovation may fundamentally shift preferences back towards where they have never left: giving more money to Theresa Heinz-Kerry.
However, the mustard community has not been sitting still. The High Mustard Council’s national advertising campaign smartly notes that ketchup originated as a disgusting form of “pickled fish brine” and that mustard seeds were cited by Jesus Christ Our Savior Himself. Their striking visuals bring home the subtle message that ketchup is a squeezable variety of Satan. Sean Brohaus, whose parents immigrated from Mexico and for some reason gave him an strange Irish-German name combination, points out that the Council’s efforts may be effective against the red devil, but only tangentially impugns salsa, the disgusting, chunky Mexican ketchup.
The salsa threat is evident in the fact that a large proportion of counties in the southwest appear to prefer eating semi-digested tomato gorge over its fully pre-digested tomato brine cousin. Without significant funds being given to self-described data hacks such as himself, Brohaus warns that this immigrant threat to long-standing American preferences could disrupt years of careful conditioning to think of all palish people as basically white and deserving of a place at the Memphis Area Country Club. It would be better, he claims in an eerily practiced voice, if ketchup and mustard combined forces and made a bittersweet, dirty-orange-colored combination called “mustchup.” Then maybe folks in Memphis would think of him as fully American, which he quickly corrects to “think of it as fully American. Think of mustard. Mustard is American. That’s what I meant.”
So while the scale of this map is off because it makes Alaska look like it has a really small penis, it is a great starting point for a conversation about the cultural differences that are embedded in regional taste preferences. In the future, Sean Brohaus’s self-described intuitive analytics group envisions creating more insightful misrepresentations of the U.S. culinary landscape. One question has been bothering him for some time, and he says he almost has the data ready to be mapped and believable to answer it: why is Memphis barbeque so obviously superior to the dreck that is produced elsewhere? The answer, he suspects to confirm, is that people elsewhere don’t use ethnic food as a way to assert a fully formed, supposedly stable sense of identity.
That, or they may not even be people.