Belly Up to the Bar

I should know better than to do this. I really should. I’m better educated than this. I know I am. But it’s time that I admitted it to the world at large.

I eat at salad bars.

I know, you’re all shocked and dismayed and hurt. I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth as I type.

When I lived in New York, I avoided them like the plague, which isn’t entirely an erroneous metaphor. A lot of those salad bars and steam tables are not so affectionately referred to as “bacteria bars”. Food left out in the open air for hours at a time with little to no covering to keep the food fresh. The cold food never stayed cold and the hot food never stayed really hot. They were Petri dishes with egg rolls and iceberg lettuce. Yet every now and then I would grab something at them. Even after I graduated from culinary, I still made the occasional pit stop at one. My choices were a little more selective (no mayonnaise based products) and only if I had no other choice.

Lately though, I have been working in a neighborhood that has a pretty decent salad bar in it. The amount of food that they set out is limited and the tubs rest directly on ice. The sneeze guard is big enough that it’s actually awkward to get to some of the items. The store seems to have one person dedicated to keeping it stocked and clean. Also the food moves quickly at lunch-time so I feel a little better about eating it.

Yet the question remains why I eat it at all. I could save myself a small fortune by cooking lunches, or even making sandwiches for myself. I could have a broader range of lunches and therefore more control over my diet and nutrition.

That also of course would be too easy.

I frequently barely have enough time to make myself a real dinner let alone lunch too. Breakfast? That’s a big mug of steaming brown stuff with a sugar to liquid ratio that supports a small Central American nation.

This probably stems from a childhood trauma. My mother had sent me to school with a container of fresh food. I ate it for lunch and then threw it into my locker…. where it stayed until the end of the school year. When I cleaned out my locker I extracted what had become a major feat of biological diversity, all within the container that had held my lunch all those months before. I’m sure if I had left it alone it would have either formed a single new life form or spawned a society and culture that would have taken over the world and eradicated humans. When Todd Kowar snatched it out of my hands and then opened it….. well, I don’t like to think about it. The avoidance of packing up my lunch is probably something I need to address with a therapist rather than just admit I’m a lazy shmuck.

Yet I rationalize it. Salad is good for me. I need to eat more vegetables and lean protein anyway. Besides, I don’t eat the heavy dressings. I douse my salad in olive oil. Oh and red wine vinegar! None of that faux balsamic sludge for me. I even ponder what could make the salad bar better. Some fresh herbs over here! And a broader selection of vinegars and oils! OH and can we please get some REAL bacon instead of those things that are essentially bacon flavored pop-rocks? I get to feeling mighty proud of myself until I go to pay for it and more digits than I should.

My guilt really manifests itself when I think about all of the plastic forks and salad trays I have sent to landfill. OK, so now I take my salad back to the office and use of the regular forks from the pantry, but the container still gets dropped in the trash to disappear over night. A container that gets used once and that will not decompose until long after this planet is recognizable anymore.

My guilt gets stronger when I realize that I’m spending almost $60 a week on salad. ON SALAD! This not caviar folks! What we have here is a convenience that has gotten out of control.

I think, no wait, I know I will have to start bringing lunch with me and just admit that salad or not, I can’t afford to be doing this. I could spend the same amount of money buying the ingredients for a week’s worth of salads myself that I would have spent on one salad from the salad bar. I could then get real creative (or anal retentive depending on your point of view) and create a tracking spreadsheet to see how much money I save over the course of a month like I did with cigarettes. It could be all colored lines and stuff.

Now if only I could get past the image of Todd Kowar throwing moldy Tupperware at me…

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