Smack-Talk of the Town

“Riding the Heinz”

by Isa Hopkins, editor-at-large


It seems a universal truth that the American teenager — that caricature of apathy and sullen disinterest — will, year to year, generation to generation, display their lone unqualified point of genius to societal horror: adolescents are really, really good at getting high.


Marijuana is the most commonly used drug, of course, and in some places — such as California — it is illegal in name only, a normalized part of teen ritual and socialization, and without the long-promised (or threatened) “gateway” effects.  But for kids without the disposable income for dime bags and vaporizers, there are a plethora of alternatives on most any household shelf.  Glue; paint; Sudafed — if you can name it, someone’s minor child has most likely huffed, snorted, or smoked it.  Volatile chemicals, like those in glue and paint, are the easiest to access, but even the seemingly mild compounds in over-the-counter cold and flu medication can be cooked and combined into potency, and have been regulated as a consequence.


But are we, as a nation, prepared to regulate ketchup?


The latest drug craze comes from suburban middle-schools.  “One of my students kept talking about ‘riding the red tide’,” says Sharon Jasper, an eighth-grade teacher in Hanover, New Hampshire.  “I thought the kids were just using slang to talk about their periods, until I realized, ‘Wait a minute, the person who said that was a boy.'”


Surfing the red tide.  Tossing a tomato-bomb.  Having a nosebleed.  Such is the slang of the ketchup-high, which has swept from New England across the country.


“It’s just awful,” says Darren McGutcheon, a registered nurse and municipal public health worker in Oklahoma City.  “These kids — they have terrible hallucinations on this stuff.  Most just snort it, which is bad enough, but some have taken to freebasing.  We had a fourteen-year-old go into a Mickey D’s, fill a cup of ketchup, light it up in the parking lot, and then drive off a bridge.”  McGutcheon paused, overwhelmed.  “Fortunately the bridge was over a shallow marsh, so the kid just sat in the reeds for a few hours until the cops showed up, but still.  It’s terrible.”


The science of the drug effects remains unclear.  “This is a consequence of genetically modified foods,” says Lia Perrsen, with the Union of Concerned Scientists.  “This is absolutely a result of our own hubris.  We are paying for it with our children’s lives.”  Natalya Staminski, from the Food and Drug Administration, demurs from this popular opinion.  “Most things are not safe to snort,” points out the petite Staminski.  “It’s really the drug behavior that’s at issue, not the ketchup itself.”  It’s a tough argument to make to the parents who have lost their children to the hazy, and all-too-accessible, world of nosebleeds.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving has campaigned Safeway, Kroger, and Wal-Mart to keep ketchup and all tomato products in locked cabinets.  Legislation has also been introduced in three states to limit the purchase of ketchup to those over eighteen, although the fast food industry has lobbied hard against any such regulation.


Jasper, the teacher in the New Hampshire town widely credited with originating the craze, is one of those who believes that regulation can’t come fast enough.  “At what price a french fry?” she asks, philosophical.  “Can’t we just make do with, say, hot sauce and mayonnaise?”


A twelve-year-old passing in the hallway looked at us, then ran towards the school’s exits, shouting as his friends.  “Hot sauce and mayonnaise!” he yelled with glee, pumping his arms in the air.  “Y’all, we’re gonna ride some Tabasco and Miracle Whip tonight!”

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