1. Nobody really wants the lettuce.
Sure, we’ve been raised as consumers to believe that the foundation of any decent salad is chopped-up leafage of some kind. This is a scam. Do not fall for it. The salad people want you to load up on the greenery so your container will be too full when you get to the really good, more expensive stuff. Out of courtesy, it’s okay to get a tong or two of the lettuce, if for no other reason than to have a nice background for your salad-building presentation. Otherwise, just say no.
Besides, we all know that lettuce has no nutritional value. I don’t care what the granola-crunchers have to say about this, it’s true. Yes, you might get a vitamin or two out of it if you nibble on some lettuce while you stand there in the garden, but once the head has been officially picked, the nutrition starts leaking. By the time the lettuce has been boxed and shipped, it becomes the equivalent of those packing peanuts you get with the more professional eBay shipments. They might fill up a space, but they don’t really do anything for you.
(Side note to the Lettuce Choppers of the World: Some of you need to get with your union representatives, because you obviously missed out on some training somewhere. Lettuce pieces should be small and manageable, something you can easily get in your mouth without dislocating your jaw. The pieces should not be the size of Delaware. And by no means should you ever let any of that horrid white core get into the mix you present to the public. That’s just obscene. Take pride in your work, for God’s sake.)
2. People don’t understand boundaries.
The sneeze guard is there for a reason. It’s to keep your nasty-ass germs out of the food. Contrary to what your little mind might believe, it is not there to cause you personal trauma, or to present a challenge of any kind. Do not try to crawl under it, with you and your ill-advised hairdo getting too close to the shredded carrots. I don’t care if you’re just trying to reach the artichoke hearts on the back row of options. If you can’t obtain what you want with only minimal effort, then you don’t need it. Pick something else.
And just because there IS a sneeze guard, it doesn’t mean you can forget about any other civic responsibilities concerning things you might feel compelled to expel from your body. If you feel a sneeze coming on, you step away and you cover things. If you are one of those people who don’t realize that hacking and snorting in public is vile, then you need to just put down your container and leave the area immediately. There’s just no excuse for body noises in a mixed crowd.
3. Some people don’t do well in groups.
There is a protocol to going through the salad bar line, and it basically comes down to this: Keep Moving. Yes, there’s a bunch of things to pick from, and it can be a little overwhelming during the first few seconds when you survey the scene and decide on the best approach. But you should already know what you like and don’t like, so there’s no need to consult the stars over every ingredient. Get what you need in the current zone, and then take a step forward.
If you find yourself behind one of those Jerry Springer fans who are mesmerized by the sliced radishes and can’t make a decision, it is perfectly acceptable to show your dissatisfaction. Go ahead, crowd them a bit. Try reaching for something that is technically in their temporary jurisdiction. Use your elbows, if necessary. If all else fails, and the loser is still befuddled and non-moving, take whatever dish it is that they are staring at and throw it off the back of the salad bar. Done. Now go.
Oh, and one final thing with this party train business. If you decide that you now want something you passed up in a zone that is behind you, you DO NOT push your way back to that zone, expecting people to accommodate your worthlessness. You step out of line, forfeiting your position, and you start over at the back of the line. There is no discussion here. Violation of this rule lead can lead to justifiable public-slapping.
4. Variety is not necessarily a good thing.
Although it can be initially intoxicating to encounter a salad bar with hundreds of options, further study will reveal that most of it is for show, with mystifying bogus items that are actually a little frightening, if you think about it. Do you really want some of these things on your salad? Of course you don’t. No one in their right mind would want pickled beets or grilled tofu. These things just sit there, never touched, becoming just like those satellite TV channels in the upper hundreds that nobody watches.
5. There is no “five-second-rule” when you are in public.
If you are uncoordinated and manage to drop a piece of something before it gets in your container, you must be very careful with your next move in order to avoid social ostracism. If the bit of whatever lands in the ice, you can possibly flip it back into the bowl it came out of and no one will notice. (Relax, this is not a sin, the ice will kill the bacteria. Swear.) But if the AWOL ingredient lands outside the iced area, you just let it lay there. Do NOT pick it up, because it is now officially contaminated. Pretend like you didn’t notice the carnage and keep moving, just like most Republican voters in America.
6. Some people are just pigs.
But don’t get too carried away with the food flopping, or you will fall into this mortifying category. How is it that some people manage to make a mess from one end of the salad bar to the other? What are they doing to cause this? You’ve seen the damage before, when you innocently waltz up to the bar, and it looks like the dollar bin at Wal-Mart, with crap thrown everywhere, cheese mashed on the sneeze guard, and the salad dressing tubs knocked over. Did some beast just kill its prey?
7. Some people misunderstand the appropriate time for social-networking.
The salad bar is not one of those opportunities. In fact, it’s basically quiet time. I don’t need to hear anything about why you are having a salad today, what ingredients are your favorite, or what surprising things you may have learned on your last doctor visit when everybody was having a good laugh over your chart. Shut up. Even if you’re my friend or we’re related. Go down there by the croutons and talk to them. They won’t care about your life, either, but those crusty bits haven’t yet mastered the art of mobility and they can be your captive audience. Not me.
8. The salad dressing choices are always limited.
Yes, they might have several varieties, causing some preliminary anticipation and excitement. But again, analysis will reveal that you don’t even want most of these things. What is the purpose of low-fat blue cheese dressing? The whole point of blue cheese is the flavor of the delicious fat grams. Why mess with perfection by trying to make it healthy and therefore tasteless? And all that vinaigrette mess? Vinaigrette anything is just water with some herbs floating in it, it’s not dressing. It doesn’t matter how “balsamic” it might be, you are only setting yourself up for disappointment if you choose this option.
9. In the end, it’s all about the numbers.
If you find yourself at one of those “one price, all you can eat, pile it on” kind of places, you don’t have to worry too much about what you’re shoving into the container. (In fact, go a little crazy. Pull up to the bar in a Mack truck if you want, and use a shovel.) But if it’s a “by the ounce” establishment, and you’re on any kind of budget, you have to pay attention to what you’re doing. Otherwise, you can quickly end up having to decide between actually purchasing the salad or making your car payment.
Meat is heavy. Yes, you need a few of those chicken or ham cubes for the protein, but use some common sense. Don’t go hurling entire carcasses around like the Donner Party on a bender. Stay away from pasta salads. From a weight and cost perspective, these things might as well be concrete blocks with a splash of mayo. And don’t touch the cucumbers. After all, cucumbers are really just water trapped in an oddly-oily green casing. They serve no purpose other than to make you burp. Water is normally free. Don’t spend good money on it.
Follow these rules and you won’t find yourself making the march of shame to the register, forking over twenty-seven dollars for something you’re not going to finish anyway and will probably throw away after you’ve picked out all the good stuff.
10. The world is full of lies about healthy food.
One of those falsehoods concerns the supposed supernatural benefits of having a nice salad for lunch. Pretentious people who graduated from obscure universities want you to think this is a health-positive activity, but it’s not. Look at all that crap on the salad bar. Cheese (usually several kinds), olives, bacon, boiled eggs, and the number one artery-clogging devil product, that salad dressing. These things are dripping with fat and cholesterol. You might as well have the cheeseburger after all.
The only real way to lose weight at the salad bar is to limit yourself to just the lettuce, the celery, and the carrot shreds. Maybe a sprinkle of pepper. That’s it. And who wants to do that? You will completely lose your mind in three days on such a diet, assuming that you still have the strength at that point to even realize that you’ve gone over the edge.
It’s not worth the pain. Just eat what you want. Except for the pickled beets. Our friendship is over if you do that…
Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 05/28/13 and “Bonnywood Manor” on 11/22/13. Minutely revised and updated with extra flair for this post.
Personal Side Note to Chris at pearsnotparsnipsdotcom: You know I’m just kidding with some of the things I mention here, right? Right.
Story behind the Photo: This is a snap of a tapas plate I ordered in Ronda, Spain. It really doesn’t have anything to do with salad or bars (although I did suck down a few sangrias), but at least it involves food.
Categories: 10 Reasons Why