I'm not ordering a salad to make you feel bad.

I had a boyfriend in high school who was sensitive about his weight. I have no idea why. Maybe he went through a baby fat phase and was tortured by his brothers, but by the time he caught my eye in Shakespeare class, all I noticed was his pretty blue eyes and long lashes. There were no gaping buttons on his pink oxford cloth shirt or extra padding under his chin. He was cute, funny, and liked F Scott Fitzgerald and The Clash. On one of our first dates, he made dinner for me in his mother's kitchen—enchiladas—which I praised and consumed as enthusiastically as a sauce and melted cheese averse and very nervous 16-year-old can. I guess I didn't eat enough because he always seemed to be watching after that. If he ordered a club sandwich and I got a salad, he'd pounce, "That's all you're going to order?"  As though I was ordering it to shame him or pretend I didn't have an appetite. Wrong on both counts. It's just what I wanted.

Salad is always what I wanted. When my family would go up to the clubhouse at my dad's golf club a few times a year, I'd order an entree because it was expected being a "fancy" and rare meal out. I'd usually get walleye with choice of potato (baked—because we're fancy plus the whole melted cheese thing made scalloped out of the question), but what I most looked forward to was the dinner salad—a bed of chopped iceberg lettuce topped with composed rings of green pepper and red onion, shredded carrots, cherry tomatoes, a sprinkling of grated cheddar cheese, dice-sized croutons and a drizzle of creamy Italian dressing. Heaven. I really didn't care about the main course and would poke around the buttery center of the baked potato, empty the lemon wedge on the fish and eat a few bites, but it felt like a letdown after my first course. I wanted crunchy, creamy, bright and salty and a salad rarely disappointed on that front. My restaurant choice was always the one with a salad bar and I knew where they were. Byerly's had a killer one at least fifteen feet long with all kinds of vegetables, cheeses and sliced green olives and it was there that I discovered I liked blue cheese dressing. Wendy's had one too and was a beacon for me on road trips (yes, I have tried to eat a salad while driving, and no, I don't recommend it).

I eventually discovered (with the rest of the United States) Caesar, Cobb and Nicoise, which brought a new form of the salad shame from helpful dining companions "You know there are probably as many calories in that salad as there are in a burger!" OK. Thanks. But that's not the point. Why are you upset I'm getting this? Ordering a salad started to feel subversive and anti-social. Why can you order pasta primavera unmolested, but I have to brace for comments when I get the Bird's Nest salad or Spring Greens Glory or whatever they were calling it?

Things have changed, salad restaurants are everywhere and even the manliest men order them without batting an eye.  And while I'm wary of the line between a "bowl" and a "salad" (the difference usually being a big scoop of couscous or rice which we all know is just filler), I'm happy to see the trend. Like many, I eat a salad nearly every day, usually a bed of greens with always-on-hand red cabbage sliced thinly plus any leftover chicken or roasted vegetables on hand and a shake of olive oil and vinegar, which is kind of virtuous but primarily, emphatically, enthusiastically, still just what I want. 


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