We live in a nation divided. But until recently, I had no idea how bad things had gotten. My eyes were opened at a popular pizzeria in the college town I call home, where I was sitting down to a hot slice strewn with red pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese, as God and nature intended. That’s when I heard another customer utter six ghastly words:
“Can I get ranch with that?”
Imagine my shock when the server met this blasphemy as a familiar request, pointing out a gigantic ranch-dressing dispenser next to the soda fountain. At a nearby table, a couple was already using some, the woman dipping her crust in it while the guy poured it directly onto his pizza. In the days that followed, I described the scene (and my horror) to friends, only to hear that this is common practice in California. Even worse, some people I thought I respected — both intellectually and morally — often do it themselves.
I’m not alone in being alarmed by the way ranch has crept into places it doesn’t belong. Dallas pizzeria Cane Rosso jokes that they charge $1,000 for a side of the stuff. And The Washington Post’s Ben Adler became the target of pro-ranch extremists over publishing an op-ed titled “Ranch dressing is what’s wrong with America.”
To briefly lay out my own case against the “Great American Condiment”: No fresh salad — let alone a plate of chicken wings — is improved by the addition of this bland, chalky, fattening snot.
Would I care to taste the original buttermilk dressing developed by Steve and Gayle Henson at their Hidden Valley Guest Ranch outside Santa Barbara in the mid-1950s? Absolutely, sounds fantastic. What I don’t want any part of is the bottled abomination developed in the 1980s by Clorox Co. after they bought the brand. The bleach scientists over there won’t say how they developed a dairy product that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and that’s probably because the answer could incite a mass wave of vomiting that cripples our national sewage infrastructure. If I can’t convince you to stick with a vinaigrette, let the rest of the world: They’ve never heard of ranch. The few ranch products to make it overseas are “American”-flavored, which is just embarrassing.
I’d always harbored my hatred for ranch in secret, declining to join the small resistance groups that have banded together to combat its hegemony. As Ben Adler had discovered, the ranch fandom crushes all dissent. So when I learned, along with the rest of the internet, that Hidden Valley is selling $50 mini-kegs containing 5 liters of ranch, my reaction was a curious mixture of disgust and excitement. “At last,” I thought, “irrefutable proof that ranch has gone too far — even the ranch fiends will have to agree.”
Alas, when I mentioned the product on Facebook and Twitter, hoping to read a slew of revolted reactions, I saw instead that this country is just as divided as ever. “Dream come true,” wrote one friend, while another commented: “Ranch for life, mayonnaise for life, Miracle Whip for life, anything creamy and delicious.” On the opposing side, we had remarks like “This is violence” and “This is why we deserve all the shootings, as a culture.” The sole measured response came from an old high school buddy who conceded that the ranch keg is hypothetically suitable for a “hot wings party.”
Hidden Valley’s ranch fountain — a mere $110, with a year’s supply of dressing included — was no less polarizing: A few were up to try it, should they encounter such a display, while a critic disparaged it as “one of the most unsanitary displays imaginable,” unfortunately glossing over the question of whether ranch is vile in itself. I suppose if ranch soda isn’t enough to make a country reconsider its debilitating addiction to this pasty white gloop, an ostentatious delivery system for it won’t do the trick either.
And so we remain deadlocked, a ranch-besotted majority demanding ever more—and at every dining establishment—while the ranch traitors scheme in the shadows, dreaming of the day when justice is served — with a better condiment on the side. What will this tangy and flavorful utopia look like? We already have it figured out: