the philosophy of mac & cheese

macaroni
Mmmm. Mac ‘n cheese. I am not a great cook, but I’m an effective one: i.e., my kids think of me as a great cook, and they will continue in this blissful, innocent, semi-delusional state until they’re a little older and much wiser and have supped at the tables of many and better cooks than I. This is a final stage in growing up, this culinary awakening, and it tends to occur somewhere in the early- to mid-20s. My oldest just cracked that decade herself. So I have a few years to go, still.

Tonight, as I set this dish of baked nirvana before my 13-year-old, he was one happy fella. If only all human needs were met so directly, and simply, and effectively, and with the same gluey profusion of melted cheese. He scooped it, splooshed ketchup on it (yes, when it comes to eating mac and cheese, we are People of the Sploosh), devoured it, scooped out more, splooshed more ketchup on it and then abruptly stopped.

Analyzing the be-splooshed squiggles of elbow macaroni occupying his plate, he noticed a problem. Something was way out of whack with the mac-to-sploosh ratio. He took another scoop.

“I have to even out the balance of ketchup and mac and cheese by adding more mac and cheese, because there was too much ketchup,” he explained.

Ah. Wisdom for life. Finding balance in all things.

“It’s like, if you have too much dressing on your salad, you add more salad to even it out.”

That sounds deep, I told him. There’s some profound truth embedded in there somewhere.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s like, the mac and cheese is the good stuff in life, the happy stuff, and the ketchup is the bad stuff that happens, the stress.”

He picked up the ketchup bottle and waved it in the air for emphasis.

“So if you have too much stress, you add more of the good stuff to even it out.”

And what’s the good stuff? I asked him.

“I dunno.”

Like, laughter?

He shrugged.

Time with friends?

“Maybe.”

Or maybe we’re forcing this just a little, I said. Maybe the mac and cheese with ketchup is just mac and cheese with ketchup.

“I think so,” he said, and our graduate-level seminar in the Philosophy of Baked Pasta and Condiments came to a swift end.

But I didn’t think we were that far off. The only fallacy in the mac-versus-ketchup thesis is the element of control. In eating, we can dole out the bad and the good, the splooshing and the scooping, without any interference from outside agents; in life, the giant generic bottle of evil splooshes whenever and wherever it damn well pleases. But that only makes the macaroni that much more important, our determined scoops of joy offering our only real counterbalance to the ketchup.

Or not. Probably I’m over-thinking this. Probably it’s just food.

I shut up and ate.

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