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Food Porn Friday: Winning friends with salad

The doctor told me to eat more vegetables. Prescription noted.

The doctor told me to eat more vegetables. Prescription noted.

When I first visited McClure’s Barbecue on Magazine Street, just after they’d opened, I had a lengthy and genial conversation with pitmaster Neil McClure. We talked about brisket and chicken and pulled pork, about low-and-slow methods, seasonings and cooking times, and about the pleasures of all the different regional southern barbecue sauces (I’m partucularly fond of the mayonnaise-based white Alabama sauce, Big Bob Gibson-style). It was a fun time, and the BBQ was outstanding. But one thing always tickles me when I look back fondly on that first long chat of ours.

At one point, McClure tangentially noted that his unofficial motto was “You don’t win friends with salad.” He even wanted that tagline to be printed on T-shirts, something that has, in fact, come to pass since that day.  The line is funny, and it should be -- it was taken from one of the finest episodes of The Simpsons ever written, “Lisa the Vegetarian.”  If you haven’t seen it (and shame on you if not), I’ll give you a little context.  When Lisa decides to eliminate meat from her diet, she tries to convince her father not to serve animal flesh at his upcoming pig roast. Homer, unsurprisingly, finds this concept baffling in its naiveté.  “Oh, Lisa,” he tells her, as though explaining an immutable law of the universe, “you don’t win friends with salad.” The kicker comes when Bart latches on to the catchy phrase, after which he and Homer form a two-man Conga line, dancing around the room, gleefully chanting, “You don’t win friends with sa-LAD! You don’t win friends with sa-LAD!” Poor Lisa hangs her head in chagrin.

The word “salad” has gained such unfavorable connotations, it seems. Meat lovers of all stripes are keen to refer to vegetarians as “salad eaters,” conjuring the image that those who shun carnivorous pleasures are essentially large rabbits.  And the phrase, “I’ll just have a salad” is met with a heaping amount suspicion and even scorn by gourmands and gourmets.  “Just a salad” seems to be coded language for “I’m trying to make a good impression by appearing dainty and dietarily conscientious and not shoving a 46-ounce porterhouse steak slathered with truffle butter and a loaded baked potato into my face.” Or even, “I don’t want to eat, but we’re in a restaurant, and I have to order something in order to appear normal, lest some alarm go off in the kitchen and they find out that I’m actually part of an alien species which doesn’t require corporeal sustenance to continue existing, as we feed mostly on human souls and sadness.” That, friends, is how strange the phrase “just a salad” seems to some people.

And I get it. In many regards, a salad is not a meal; lettuce and simple veggies alone do not a dinner make.  But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can, in fact, make friends with salad. It just depends on the salad.

There are ways to make salad more than the sum of its parts, to make it better, to help it rise above the sad connotation of being nutrition for small, fuzzy, helpless herbivores. Take, for instance, the wedge salad my mother (the crowned queen of taking things to their furthest possible extent in the kitchen) prepared for the family recently.  We were having her famous crawfish etouffee, which was treat enough, but of course being somewhat health-conscious, she wanted to make sure we got some vegetables into our diet as well.  Instead of making a simple salad to go with the rich, spicy etoufee, however, Mom decided that a classic “wedge” salad was in order. Note: it should be warning enough about the nature of the wedge salad that it has become one of the most popular salad choices in American steakhouses.  And why is that? Because the wedge salad exists, mostly, as a topping delivery system.

Here’s how to win friends with a wedge: Take half a head of baby romaine lettuce. Dice some red onion and tomatoes.  Place those on top.  (See?  Healthy!) Then, add a whopping fistful of chopped, thick cut, smoky bacon and slather the entire thing in creamy bleu cheese dressing until you audibly notice your entire cardiovascular system desperately crying out for clemency. Serve and devour with gusto, safe in the knowledge that by eating “just a salad,” you need not turn in your carnivore card to the authorities.

But just in case, you should still be wary of salad-only diners in a restaurant. There are aliens among us, you know.  Let’s not give them the upper hand.


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.