Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Summertime, and the living is easy!  Humid days.  Iced tea.  Warm nights.  Afternoons on the porch.  Dialogue at the pool.  (One of my students is going to the next TT, hooray!)  Fireflies.  Outdoor music.  And summer reading!  Oh, how I love summer reading.

I've just finished the newest (?) Malcolm Gladwell, What the Dog Saw.  It's a nice thick book of his various works from The New Yorker, and it's been keeping me happily occupied.  Yes, XKCD, I am living the dream.  In case you're not familiar with him, Malcolm Gladwell has written a string of non-fiction best-sellers (The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers) that all try to make you see the world in a different way.   Blink, for example, is about the split second-decisions that happen behind the closed door of your unconsciousness, and it's fascinating.  As examples, Gladwell talks about how art dealers instinctively identify frauds, why tall-dark-and-handsome types earn higher salaries, how hospitals should really diagnose heart attacks, and what makes the best car salesman in New Jersey so successful.  It's an awesome book, the kind of book that has me telling me friends, "Oh, I'd lend it to you, but I've already loaned it to somebody else."

Anyway, What the Dog Saw is a loosely strung together collection of essays on various topics - hair dye, football, the Challenger disaster, etc.  One of these essays is about ketchup.  It's called "The Ketchup Conundrum."

Here's the question: "Why are there dozens of varieties of mustard but only one variety of ketchup?"

Never thought about it, did you?!?

For a long time, there was only one type of mustard: French's yellow mustard.  Then, about thirty years ago, Grey Poupon launched a really successful marketing campaign to become a household name, and that spawned the whole mustard section that we have in the supermarket today.  Meanwhile, we still just have Heinz ketchup, plus a few specialty varieties that never hugely took off.  (Apart from Muir Glen at Whole Foods and some supermarket generics, there's not much out there.)

What works for mustard should work for ketchup, right?  They're both just condiments!  So eight years ago, a guy name Jim Wigon from Massachusetts decided to do for ketchup what Grey Poupon did for mustard.  He started a business called World's Best Ketchup, using all sorts of premium ingredients that you can't get in Heinz.  Build a better ketchup!  This guy Wigon poured his heart and soul into the project, all kinds of research and taste testing, but it never took off.  Why not?

Because the flavor of ketchup, as it turns out, is universal.  The human palate recognizes five fundamental tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami.  When the Heinz company developed their ketchup, they ended up hitting every single one of these notes, in a balanced composition.  Heinz ketchup is one of the only products on the shelf that pushes every single sensory button.

So how can World's Best compete with this?  Jim Wigon made World's Best using different sweeteners and more tomato, but in doing so he changed the balance.  The ketchup experts - and shoppers of the world - said that it simply wasn't ketchup anymore.  A quote:
World's Best Dill ketchup on fried catfish, for instance, is a marvelous thing.  But it also meant that [Wigon's] ketchup wasn't as sensorily complete as Heinz, and he was paying a heavy price in amplitude. "Our conclusion was mainly this," Bhuchholz (a ketchup taster) said.  "We felt that World's Best seemed to be more like a sauce."  She was trying to be helpful.
Ouch!  So much for building a better ketchup.

What the heck does this have to do with Bikram yoga?  Oh, I bet you can guess by now!  

Bikram yoga is ketchup.  By a combination of cleverness and luck, Bikram put together a class that hits every single note in the human body, in just the right balance.  

When I first started Bikram, I had done plenty of other exercise and yoga in my life, but I remember walking out of class thinking, "I think I just used every part of my body, and half of those were parts I didn't even know I had.  What happened in there?!"  Because unlike everything else - unlike dance, Pilates, running, sports, hiking, or even other types of yoga - Bikram's class hits every note.  You've heard the spiel before - you're using every part of your body, every system, every muscle, joint, organ, and major gland.  Inside out, bones to the skin, fingertips to the toes, blah-de blah blah blah.  We say it all the time, but man oh man, we say it because it is true!

Just think of it.  In 90 minutes, you stretch and strengthen lots of different muscles.  That part is easy to see.  But there's also tons of stuff happening inside your body, and it's easy to forget about the things you can't see. You're working your cardiovascular system (heart), your respiratory system (lungs), your digestive system, your immune system, and the rest of your endocrine system.  You're working on strength and flexibility, plus balance.  And you're working all the mental aspects as well - your determination, concentration, self-control, patience, and faith.  All of this in perfect balance.

That is Bikram yoga.  There can be only one.  Bikram yoga is ketchup.

And if you change anything?  Take things away, add other things in, try to build a better hot yoga?  Well, my conclusion is mainly this: although it might be delicious in its own way, that seems to be more like a sauce.

1 comment:

Saar said...

Love this! A daily dose of ketchup, just like the doctor ordered :)