The Palate Cleanser

“Dear High Fructose Corn Syrup”

by Meg Thompson


Dear High Fructose Corn Syrup:


You son of a bitch. You’re in ketchup?  I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but the label on Heinz ketchup bottles in particular feature a very organic looking tomato and the phrase “Grown not made,” so why don’t you hightail it out of there and get back into my Special K Low-Fat Granola Cereal where you belong.


You think you’re such a big shot, don’t you?  But you’re not fooling me.  I see right through your enzyme conversion.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s just a fancy term for a superiority complex.  I’ve noticed the way you almost always have to lead corn syrup, sucrose, and glucose on the ingredients list.  Evaporated cane juice doesn’t stand a chance with you around, hogging the spotlight.  My Knott’s Berry Farm Pure Preserves were just fine until you waltzed in.  The Knott’s tradition started as a roadside stand, I’ll have you know.


And how did you start?  As a humble dream by the Corn Refiners Association?

Where do you think you are, Iowa 1973?  Things have changed, okay?  Food is now marketed as “all-natural” and that is a really big deal.  I know, I know.  Your liquid state makes you conducive to travel, and there’s no need to get me started on sugar tariffs and corn subsidies.  Already skimmed the Wikipedia page and I vaguely recall Michael Pollan mentioning it, so I’m an expert.  If 7-Up can say it’s made with, and I quote, “100% natural flavors,” then by God I am a Classically Trained Corn Sugar End User.


Oh yeah, that’s right.  Two can play at this game.  Guess who teaches composition and rhetoric for a living as a non-tenure track instructor at an open enrollment university?  (Suck it, Archer Daniels Midland!)  How’s that for a sweet surprise?  Dress yourself up anyway you like, HFCS, you’re no match for a college sophomore trying to make a two-page paper into three.  I’ve seen it all: the adjusted margins, the painfully polysyllabic detail, sentence after sentence of rhetorical questions, and abbreviations abandoned in favor of spelling out the words just to take up another quarter inch of space.  So go ahead, change your name.  I fucking dare you.  Alter your composition, find a loophole, skirt the FDA guidelines, whatever it takes. I’ll be here, watching, waiting, slowly stirring my cup of Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Strawberry Banana yogurt just to spite you.  You may reign over banana puree in that product, but you loom behind fructose corn syrup AND sugar.


However, though I hate to admit it, there is a part of me that has to hand it to you. Like people quoting Dave Chapelle in 2004, you’re everywhere.  You’re so ubiquitous I can barely gulp a Vitamin C supplement or lick an envelope without sensing your presence.  You’ve made it, kid.  You worked your way to the top of the ingredients list, and you worked hard.  Gone are the days when you had to grapple just to get a spot at the tail end on a box of generic vanilla wafers, dreaming of your big break.  As a struggling lyric poet, I have a similar dream.  Actually, I think most lyric poets would be lying if they said they didn’t long to be as omnipresent as you are.   But I hope you don’t let the stardom get to your head.  Don’t forget about the little guys, the xantham gums and Red No. 40s.  They look up to you, you know.  If you’re not careful you’ll end up like partially hydrogenated oils.  Remember them?  One day they’re adored by American families, the next they’re scorned.  But it happens all the time.  Look at smoking during pregnancy, Walmart, egg yolks, Charlie Sheen.  Enjoy it while it lasts.



Meg Thompson



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