For the first three decades of my life, I ate whatever I wanted without ramifications. It was like having a superpower. So I devoured all sorts of crap en masse: Fruit Gushers; Cheetos; Yoo-hoo; Fruit by the Foot; onion rings; and 20-piece Chicken McNuggets (with the Ranch Dressing) foremost among it.
Recently, however, it began affecting my health. My once Wolverine-esque regenerative abilities started to fade as my body turned against itself, forcing me to research foods that were actually good for me. To my crushing dismay, I found that everything I ever loved was essentially poison, and the things that I despised were necessities I couldn’t avoid. Especially that one dish I’d been skipping for as long as I could remember: salad.
I knew it was bad when I showed my personal trainer (I’ve only seen him twice so far) a food journal of what I’d been eating.
Here’s entry #1 — all items were eaten in a single day:
- Coffee, Black
- Häagen Dazs Almond Ice Cream Bar
- 18 pistachios
- Bacon-wrapped steak with rice and vegetables
- Powdered Guac Chips
- Milkshake, 3–5 sips (it was my girlfriend’s)
My trainer, a ripped 21-year-old, raised his eyebrows as he read this and the entries that followed, none of which were very different. “Dude,” he began, solemnly. “You need to start eating greens and fruit. Right now, it’s just meats, sugars and carbohydrates.”
Eating salad was a painful habit to learn, but I knew that if I really wanted to become healthy, there was no way in hell to avoid it.
For me, the trick to eating salad was adding dressing. Until about a year or two ago, every time I’d attempt to attack my side of greens, I’d feel like I was chewing arid grass. It might sound stupidly simple, but balsamic vinaigrette and other toppings have made all the difference in the world.
Luckily, through commiserating with friends, I found that I wasn’t alone on my salad journey. Each of us has a salad origin tale that can serve as a clue to how to start consuming the stuff.
For example, Kurt Steinmuller, my co-worker, gave me this story:
“The reason I started eating salad was because I don’t exercise anymore. I started eating healthier a few years after college; back then I was on the track team and could devour whatever I wanted and burn it right off. Pabst Blue Ribbon. Rotisserie chicken. Midnight burritos. Tornado potatoes (essentially a fried potato on a twisty stick with barbecue and garlic sauce on the side).
“Anyway, that and having a job is what did me in. Now all I do is sit: in my car, at home, at work. Like the universe, my ass is expanding. So that’s why I started eating salad. I still buy the cheapest salads I can find, though, and they probably aren’t that healthy — 7-Eleven salads, McDonald’s salads, the Baja salad from Wendy’s.”
For some who can afford to splurge, the salad bar serves as the ultimate gateway drug to healthy eating. Rob Kutner, a writer/producer for Conan, practically sees them as veggie Shangri-La. “I was one year out of college, wearing a tie on the D.C. subway to my temp agency, and living in my girlfriend’s parents’ basement,” he remembers. “And I was really into salad bars!”
“I adored their beckoningly long twin sides, all those brilliant green peas, the fierce majesty of carrot shreds, the landslide of butter-shiny croutons. But mostly, it was the enormity of choices. You could see how little of my life then was under my control, but my salad incontestably was.
“Unlike most of modern-day American shopping, the salad bar is the one place you’re offered a paralyzing array of options and can say ‘yes’ to all of them! The salad bar is the ultimate antidote to FOMO.”
For my friend Yury Veynblat, a Brooklynite who works for Marvel Comics, discovering that there was a wide variety of different salads was his personal entry point. “I never understood the purpose of salad,” he says.
“I always thought it was just a foolish waste of time; a mere divergence until the real meal arrived. I shunned it, and cast it off as some kind of leper. My parents, however, always insisted that I ate it and being the good young kid that I was, I reluctantly accepted my fate (the promise of dessert helped, too).
“Then one day I saw someone eating a taco salad. My young mind nearly imploded. A salad… That wasn’t just lettuce and tomatoes? Could this be? Pretty soon I was swimming in a psychedelic sea of lobster salads, tuna salads and sweet Asian chicken salads. No longer am I shackled to my primitive culinary beliefs. What a time to be alive!”
The next trick for me to learn is to keep going and not just treat salads as a short-term fad. Because one thing’s for sure: When I have kids, they’re going to be taught how to eat salad, damn it.
After all, a big part of becoming a grownup is eating like one.