On Being Mayonesian

Craig Santos Perez
April 3, 2013
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The only thing I remember from my first day of pre-school is the lunch my mom packed me: a canned tuna sandwich with the crust of the white bread cut off. My favorite part of the sandwich was the magical white stuff that held it all together: mayonnaise.

As a kid, I had no idea what mayonnaise was, but it sounded exotic. And I witnessed how it made dry canned tuna creamy and dry white bread moist. Mayo made regular foods into Best Foods.

In the colonies, you learn that the best foods are always imported. At first sight, I fell in love with the bright yellow and blue label on the glass jar. The shiny blue ribbon. The sun and sky and the American horizon. I worshipped this cargo condiment of white creamy fat.

Even though I associate mayo with America, they say the delicious emulsion of oil, egg yolk, and lemon juice/vinegar was actually born in Spain centuries ago, known as mahonesa (or mayonesa). It became mayonnaise when it crossed the border into France.

Yolk of Egg. Yolk of Empires. Whisk.

The Best Foods brand was born in California a decade after the war of 1898 between Spain and America (my home island become a US territory as a result of that war). This American mayonnaise colonized the Western US (the “Wild Whisk”), while the Hellmannʻs brand colonized the Eastern US. Best Foods bought Hellmannʻs in 1932, but continued to keep the Hellmannʻs name and sell it east of the Rockies.

Since Guam is the most western sovereign territory of the US, we are fed the Best Foods brand. And let me tell you, my mom makes the best potato salad (potatoes, black olives, boiled eggs, pickles, and cups of mayo). She makes the best broccoli casserole (frozen broccoli, cans of cream of mushroom soup, grated cheddar cheese, and cups of mayo). She makes the best tuna sandwiches (canned tuna, pickles, lemon juice, mayo). She makes the best salad dressing (ketchup, mayo).

The first meal I ever made for myself: white bread, fried Spam, and mayo. I was twelve. That was the first time I felt like a true citizen of the United States of America. That I belonged.

One day that changed my life was when my mom discovered that you could put mayo in the cake batter to make the cake super moist. Another day that changed my life was when I discovered that I could add a little bit of mayo on leftover white rice. Magic.

The US has one of the highest mayo consumption rates in the world. But I was more shocked when I backpacked around Western Europe as an undergrad and learned that some Europeans dip their fries in mayonnaise! Globalization gone wild.

But seriously, all peoples love fat. We love it because our bodies need it. Fat is an important macronutrient that gives us essential fatty acids and allows our body to better absorb certain nutrients. Good fat gives us energy, protects and insulates our organs, and makes our skin and hair healthy. Fresh fish and coconuts fed my ancestors good fats. I can barely afford these items in Hawaiʻi.

Growing up, there was never a day when we didn’t have a jar of mayo in the fridge (we always kept an unopened jar of mayo in the pantry). When I moved away from my parents and into my college dorm room, I always kept a jar of mayo in the mini-fridge (yet I would go months without buying new laundry detergent). The consumption of bad fats increases cholesterol, causes weight gain, and heightens risk of disease.

Most Chamorro people I know love mayo. An archaeologist might suggest that we love mayo because we descend from the Mayo-Polynesian people. But to me the answer is simple: our bodies need fat to survive, and mayo is a cheap and creamy source.

Thus, mayo was stapled to our body. Mayo was stapled to our organs.

So about a year ago, I was having some health problems and wanted to be healthier. I started the reverse-racism diet and gave up mayo (along with white rice, white bread, white milk). Mayo was the most difficult thing to give up (and I even quit smoking around the same time). I struggled because salads, casseroles, sandwiches, and cakes lost their taste, lost their magic, without mayo. They were no longer the best foods.

[Confession: Iʻve broken my no mayo rule a couple of times, but only because my mom makes the best potato salad in all the Pacific diaspora.]

Perhaps if I made my own mayo, I would eat it. It would probably be delicious to whisk some mayo using just olive oil, yolk from local eggs, and a little lime juice. Just the phrase “homemade mayonnaise” makes me want to dip everything in it. Maybe the work it requires to whisk would make me eat it less often.

Whatʻs really crazy, though, are the ingredients that are now in a jar of Best Foods: “Soybean Oil, Water, Whole Eggs and Egg Yolks, Vinegar, Salt, Sugar, Lemon Juice, Calcium Disodium EDTA (Used to Protect Quality), Natural Flavors.”

It is likely that the soybean oil comes from GMO soybeans. And who knew that mayonnaise was another vessel for American sugar (I wonder if the sugar comes from GMO sugar beets?). Plus, those natural flavors are probably not all that natural, if you know what I mean. In the end, Baudrillard was right: “Real Mayonnaise” supercedes the real.

In 2000, Unilever, a multinational corporation, acquired Best Foods Inc. Unilever was founded in 1930 when a British soapmaker and Dutch margarine producer merged. Edible and inedible fats.

Now, Unilever is one of the largest companies in the world. Unilever owns around 400 Brands (including Slim Fast, Dove, TRESemme), and operates factories and laboratories on nearly every continent. From food to cleaning supplies, beverages to personal care products, the Unilever brand identity aims to “add vitality to life.”

Yet in the Pacific, bad fats bring us death. I know it will be a continual struggle to give up American mayonnaise, but I know that if I donʻt stop, the disease will continue to spread.

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