Does Three Pounds of Croutons With Organic Ranch Count as a Salad?

Pondering the salad bar’s greatest questions.
Salad bar with vegetables and toppings
Photo by Anjali Pinto

Go back in time with us to 1971, the year that changed the way we eat forever.

“What kind of person am I going to be today?” I think to myself as I sidle up to the salad bar at the local Overpriced Fresh Vegetable Emporium, my single seltzer (do I wish it was a Diet Coke? I absolutely do, but they don’t sell those here) and modestly sized square of healthy dark chocolate (revolting!) rolling around my basket. Salad bars offer the opportunity to reinvent yourself for the time it takes to wolf down a bowl of damp lettuce while hunched over your sink or your desk or wherever lonely people eat. The possibilities are endless! Am I healthy today? Do I give a sh*t about being alive? Do I spend half a paycheck on minerals and fiber when my doctor isn’t even around to give his approval, or should I just buy three pounds of croutons with organic ranch poured over them, which is what I actually want to eat?

Am I a marinated artichoke person? Should I pretend to be interested in beets? Do I care about vitamin K? And a follow-up: Do I care enough about vitamin K to spend $14 on an environmentally friendly (read: rapidly disintegrating) clamshell filled with the kind of dark leafy greens magazines are always insisting I try? Is that guy peering skeptically through the sneeze guard judging how many scoops of chickpeas I’m getting? How much meat and cheese disqualifies this from being labeled a "salad"? Do I like nuts on salad or do I just like the idea of nuts on salad? Do I have enough money in my checking account to risk this much herb-roasted salmon? Why do bacon bits taste like burnt charcoal and why can’t I stop myself from sprinkling them on everything? Hang on, what was that NPR thing about phytonutrients from the other day? If I use as much of this dressing as I want to, will the cashier think I don’t love myself? Hang on, should I actually get the nuts? Or should I just time travel back to 1971, when salad bars were new and cool and no one cared how much shredded cheese and Thousand Island you dumped on your watery iceberg lettuce???