The Problem With Salads

Problems, plural, I should say… And I know you’re probably thinking the obvious: “He’s going to say ‘The problem with salads is that they aren’t steaks,’ or something.” And, yeah, sure… that’s ONE problem with salads. But coming from a steak blog, that shit would be way too predictable. Look: I do like a good salad from time to time. I’m not ashamed to admit it. It’s not all meat, all the time for me, otherwise I’d be battling THE GOUT. So my analysis here… what I’m about to get at with this post… is something deeper.

Let’s get this salad tossed, shall we?

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Wikipedia defines a salad as “a dish consisting of small pieces of food, which may be mixed with a sauce or salad dressing.” We can’t stop there, however, because that’s way too fucking open-ended. According to that definition, if we cut up a rib eye and put it on a plate, then it suddenly becomes a salad. Boil pasta, strain and put in a bowl… Presto: salad! FUUUUCK that, right? So let’s unpack this salad bullshit a little further…

Wikipedia goes on to arbitrarily break salads down into seven types:

(1) Green or Garden Salads: leafy greens. Example: Caesar salad.

(2) Vegetable Salads: no leafy greens. Examples: Greek salad, bean salad.

(3) Bound Salads: held together with the use of a thick sauce. Examples: tuna salad, potato salad, chicken salad, macaroni salad.

(4) Main Course Salads: typically a green or garden salad with higher protein content, like grilled chicken or sirloin. Other than that and the portion size, I guess there is no real difference between this and a Green/Garden Salad.

(5) Fruit Salads: pretty self explanatory.

(6) Dessert Salads: usually sweet. Example: ambrosia. I suppose a fruit salad can also be a dessert salad if served at the end of a meal. I’m sensing some serious weakness in these salad categories.

(7) Composed Salads: Wikipedia says that the difference here is that these are served on a plate rather than in a bowl. Fucking stupid distinction, if you ask me. I wonder if a deconstructed or artistically plated salad would fall into this category. Those weren’t even discussed.

A decent attempt, I will grant that – and some of the types of salads seem to hold true. But as you can tell, this rudimentary classification system, while seeming to start out pretty solid, begins to fall apart and lose all sense of logic toward the end – especially when you apply the wide-open Wikipedia definition of a salad to food items, and then try to determine which type of salad it is.

For example: What about my cut up rib eye example? Technically it fits Wikipedia’s shitty definition of a salad, but it doesn’t fall into any of the seven categories. So, okay… what… we have vegetable and fruit salads, but no fucking MEAT salads? What the fuck, bro? “But what about chicken salad? That’s a meat salad.” NOPE, ASSHOLE! If you read carefully, you would’ve seen that chicken salad is a category (3) BOUND salad, since it is held together by a thick sauce (mayo). If I was forced to write that shitty Wiki page, I would have at least added: (8) Meat Salads.

So, long story short, we’ve thoroughly established that Wikipedia sucks. As such, I’m going to completely scrap that bullshit and hit you with my own, genius take on this whole salad thing.

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Let’s start from the beginning… which I am summarizing from Wikipedia… (that’s hypocrisy, but it’s fucking hilarious).

The word salad actually derives from the French and Latin words for “salt” or “salty.” It’s English-language use – “sallet” – as a name for a food item other than simple salt as a seasoning, dates back to the 1300’s. Salty brine water or salt-seasoned oil and vinegar dressing combinations were typically used to flavor vegetables in those days. By the late 1600’s/early 1700’s, we know that salads were mainly comprised of mixed greens with dressing. Okay cool. I like that. Seems logical and makes sense to me, given what I instantly think of when I hear the word “salad.”

But after that, we started fucking things up and making shit really confusing by calling almost anything a salad, just because we fucking felt like it. Leave it to the Americans to fuck things up, right? Wrong. We fucked up this one salad thing, and maybe a few other things here and there, but on the whole we pretty much fucking RULE as a society, providing people all over the world with awesome shit like freedom, hot dogs and porn.

And DON’T FUCKING ARGUE WITH ME on that. You’ll lose. I win at shit; that’s what I do. This entire salad post stems from an argument that my family has had over and over, at almost every fucking holiday meal. I win the salad argument every time. So either get on board or get run over.

I take this shit seriously, because I firmly believe that words have meaning, and meanings should be easily apprehended. When we start fucking around with the meanings of words, suddenly shit gets turned upside down. I’ve even guest-hosted my friends’ Hungry Dads podcast on the topic of salads. You can listen here if you want:

I’ve sort of evolved my point of view since then. I used to be a fan of “any mixture of ingredients bound by or garnished with a dressing,” whereby a dressing could be something as simple as salt, sugar, or oil, as per the etymology and history of salads. But then there’s the fruit salad… usually just pieces of fruit with no dressing at all. The bottom line is that a salad can be, literally, just about anything unless you start acting like a fucking man and drawing some meaningful lines in the sand. Otherwise if you drop a taco into a bowl so that the shell breaks up into pieces, the result is a taco salad.

My cousin has tried to go with “solid and unorganized” as an all-encompassing definition that might include all of the weird, non-leafy green salads that are out there. But I take issue with that, because sometimes the plating of a salad can be artistic and highly organized. Any type of Japanese plating, for example, or a Caprese salad, which is often neatly layered, would stand as exceptions.

Side bar here on the Caprese salad (tomato and mozzarella, with some basil and olive oil): Where does it fit into Wikipedia’s shitty categories? Vegetable salad? But it is equally CHEESE. Yet there’s no CHEESE SALAD category… Another Wikifail.

Want some more humdingers for the Wiki definition? What about chili? Shit what about SOUP? I’ve had thick and chunky versions of soups and chili that were more like “pieces of food with sauce” that could have been eaten with a fork. Also what about pasta, which I briefly mentioned above? That shit is certainly within a definition as “pieces of food with sauce.” Ridiculous.

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So What The Fuck Actually IS A Salad?!??

I have several proposals, or rules and observations, if you will:

1. Majority Raw Leafy Greens
My first proposal falls in line with the common usage and traditional historical understanding of salads, and I think should set the backbone of the definition. Let’s be realistic here. As modern Americans, when we hear the word “salad,” most of us immediately think of raw leafy greens as a majority component of the dish, right? The other supposed “Bound Salads” or “Vegetable Salads” are an afterthought, or exceptions to our normal way of thinking about the salad. Let’s analyze taco salad as an example. The majority of the stuff is meat and cheese and shell. The lettuce is a lesser component, often times. That’s why I joked earlier about dropping a taco and having it suddenly become a salad. But the skewed proportions of the various components would remove it from this first proposal. I DO, however, grant that a taco salad COULD indeed be a salad if most of the shit you’re eating is raw leafy greens, with less cheese, meat and taco shell as toppings. We have to be reasonable when examining the proportions. We must realize that a salad is typically consumed before a main course. But in the event that there is an entree-sized salad, serving as a main course with more protein added (like a grilled chicken Caesar salad), then we must use reasonableness and objectivity to decide whether the addition of such protein removes the dish from the realm of salad. It likely depends on how much is added.

2. Non-Leafy Green “Salads” Are Not Salads
My second proposal is somewhat of an offshoot of the first proposal. It posits that all non-leafy green salads are NOT salads. They are simply other appetizers, sides or desserts. For this proposal, simply ask yourself: Is the item something that is more likely to be sandwiched between two pieces of bread for lunch (chicken salad, tuna salad), or served in a bowl as a side to your meal (potato salad, pasta salad)? Perhaps you ordered it for dessert, like fruit salad? If so, then I’m sorry, ace, but what you’re eating isn’t a fucking salad. Example: a Caprese salad is simply another kind of appetizer. Tougher example: coleslaw is a side – despite being made of raw leafy greens (cabbage) – because it usually comes with or on the SIDE… in a little bowl next to a pickle… on the SIDE of… your chicken “salad” sandwich platter, or burger deluxe platter, or what have you. Slaw is also often a sandwich topper, to add a crunch element in the same way that a few leaves of lettuce would be added to a burger. Use your common sense, people! Gut instinct! If that’s not good enough, cabbage isn’t listed HERE as a salad green (although, to be fair, neither is crisp head, aka iceberg lettuce). Cabbage is from a different family of plants than lettuce, however (Asteraceae). As such I think the distinction holds despite the website not listing iceberg lettuce.

3. Never Warm
My third proposal is that a salad can never be warm. That is one of the ultimate unifying factors across nearly all salads, even the weird ones, with the exception of warm German potato salad. I say that bullshit is a side item, not a salad (see second proposal). My cousin posed an interesting question to this “warmth” issue: “What if we put a hot, cooked protein on top of the salad?” My response was that we should never do that, because we will wilt the greens and ruin the salad. See what I did there? I attacked the premise of his question. But to address his concern, I say we should let the protein cool off, but as long as most of the salad is still cold and not completely wilted, I suppose it is still a salad, all things considered.

4. Use Of A Fork
My fourth proposal, which is more of an observation really, is that a salad is pretty much always consumed with a fork. I suppose they could be devoured by hand, but we are civilized. A knife is permissible if you want to cut smaller pieces of leafy greens per bite, but if you’re using a spoon to eat it for some reason, then it likely isn’t a salad. Sorry, pal. “What about a lettuce cup eaten with your hands?” Sorry again, dude. That’s some other kind of appetizer, not a salad. Get with the program!

5. Generally Healthy
My fifth proposal should be taken with a grain of “sallet:” A salad should… SHOULD… generally be somewhat healthy. The reasonable expectation that comes off of my first proposal is that the dish is healthy. However I realize that when you add eggs, meats and cheeses as toppings, or dump a boatload of cream-based dressing on top, you’re leaving the realm of healthy eating despite the majority component of your food being leafy greens. This is why I say “should” rather than the “must” or “never” language I used earlier in other proposals. It’s still a salad, but don’t think you’re fooling anyone if you say you’re eating healthy because you had a “salad.” With this in mind, I urge people to ask “what kind of salad” to those who casually say they had a salad for lunch in conversation. Telling someone “I had a salad” is utterly useless. Think about it: would something like “I had a sandwich” ever fly? Of course not. You say “I had pastrami on rye.” People like to know what was in that sandwich. Similarly, what was in the salad? People need to be specific. “I had an arugula salad with blue cheese, chic peas and onions.” Boom.

One final note here: I think a lot, if not all, of peoples’ concerns and “what abouts” can be easily plugged into my five proposals above and figured out. Simply apply the rules. A wedge salad, for example: Often just a hunk of iceberg lettuce, some olives and a dollop of blue cheese, plated completely deconstructed and separate, not mixed up, and sometimes very neatly or artistically. It’s still a salad because it satisfies every proposal, and the eater usually ends up combining it all anyway. Want another? Cooked spinach or broccoli that’s served cold with a lemon dressing. NOT a salad. Raw is a key component of proposal number one, above. Got it?

So that about does it. To recap, we basically have two MUST rules: (1) raw leafy greens are the majority component, and (2) it must be cold. The rest are suggestions, observations and/or SHOULD rules. Now get the fuck out of my face with this bitch shit. Go eat your girly salad, you fucking pussy.

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