My salad days

31Jan06

What defines a salad? I’m not sure exactly, but I’m pretty sure that chopped lettuce alone does not a salad make. To me, the word “salad” implies some sort of heterogeneity. The case for this is strengthened by a secondary, non-culinary definition of the word as an incongruous mixture, i.e., a hodgepodge. It’s not unreasonable to assume from this that an actual salad should be a mixture too (though preferably a congruous one). You can’t have a tossed salad with only one ingredient. How would you know whether or not anyone had actually tossed it?

And yet, our company cafeteria has developed a dismaying trend of passing off plain chopped lettuce as a side salad. This is part of a widely observed larger trend of a general downward slide in the quality of the service. For instance, Caesar salads rarely include croutons now, let alone bacon bits. For a while, if you ordered a hamburger, the number of available condiments was scaled back to only ketchup and mustard. You could add lettuce to that if you ordered a side salad and put it on top of your burger, but good luck getting a slice of tomato or onion. Plus we rarely have any cutlery, and the same girl is frequently making food and running the cash register.

As I understand it, when we first moved into our new offices, the company subsidized the cafeteria service fairly substantially. That subsidy has now been cut back, and the company contracted to provide the service has tightened its belt to try to provide the same service without hiking its prices. The number of staff was cut. The quality of the food dipped. And inevitably, the prices were hiked anyway.

I’m sympathetic to the position the cafeteria staff are in, but we’re paying more and getting less. Of course we don’t like it. People sit around the table and kvetch about how the cafeteria is going downhill and talk about how they’re going to start bringing in their lunch. But this does no good. These are the same people who will wash their dishes with plain tap water and paper towels for a matter of months and complain about how no one ever replaces the dishcloths or dish soap, rather than actually seek to have the dishcloths or dish soap replaced. Problems like this can be resolved with a quick call to the facilities manager.

For instance, our fridges reeked of rotting food for weeks until I reported it to the facilities manager. The problem was solved promptly. Within a week, the stench was back, so I called him again. Immediately, he checked out the problem: Someone had left a black bean salad in the refrigerator over the weekend. So while I may not always remember to take my food out of the refrigerator on Friday afternoon, I am at least the squeaky wheel who gets the grease and in so doing, keeps the entire vehicle running smoothly. And though I may come off as a unicycle-riding crank (to belabour the metaphor), someone has to do it on the behalf of all. It doesn’t do any good if everyone merely complains to each other instead of the right people and makes idle threats to start bringing their lunch from home.

With this in mind, when I got plain chopped lettuce passed off to me as a salad a few weeks ago, I took it to the facilities manager. You might argue that the right person to complain to would be the chef, and you’d be right if you thought the addition of spit to the plain lettuce would make for an improved salad in future. As a rule, I refuse to be a silent hostage to poor service for fear of food tampering, but I recognize the possibility and prudently avoid it if possible. Besides, his office is just off the cafeteria, incidentally, so I’m hardly going out of my way to make trouble. It’s actually less walking to go see him than all the way back to the chef. So the facilities manager is the guy to talk to. Immediately, he went to order a salad himself, and returned with one topped with tomatoes. He said he’d had a word with the cafeteria staff and it wouldn’t be happening again.

Yet it did. Yesterday, I again got a side salad with my lunch that was nothing but chopped lettuce. “Is there anything more to this salad than chopped lettuce?” I asked.

The chef shrugged. “Dressing?”

Rebuffed and unwilling to press the issue for spit-related reasons, I talked to the facilities manager again. He shrugged. “So ask him for something else.”

“I did,” I said. “He blew me off.”

“Fine,” he said. “I’ll go talk to him now.”

“Don’t worry about it now,” I said. “I’ll just go eat my plain lettuce.” And I did. I’d like to say it was terrible, but I really can’t. It was plain lettuce, after all. Cool, crisp, innocuous to the palate. But it simply wasn’t salad.

However, the facilities manager must have brought up the issue sooner rather than later. This morning, I got a call from my lunch buddy who told me she’d been ordering breakfast and the chef asked her, “What’s that Peter Lynn guy’s problem, anyway? Why is he always complaining?” The answer in both cases is “poor food quality and/or service”.

But now I have another question: Did the chef put two and two together, or is the facilities manager using my name when passing along these complaints? From the use of the word “always” to characterize my complaining, it sounds like my anonymity isn’t being protected. This really isn’t fair. First, I speak not only for myself, but also for those many others whose voices would otherwise go unheard. I have a dream that one day, salads will include not only the lettuce, but also tomato, the celery and the cucumber, the spinach and the shredded carrot. And second, if I’m going to be getting loogie dressing on that salad in the future because the cafeteria staff hates me, it should at least be because I had the pleasure of personally bawling them out.

Forget idle threats. I’m going to have to start bringing my lunch from now on. I’m not going to have a choice.



11 Responses to “My salad days”

  1. 1 Jimmy Jangles

    ah Salad days….

  2. 2 Riley

    Are you saying you don’t deserve any of this? Granted, you’ve done nothing wrong with the cafeteria staff, but can you really claim that your Karma is really clean for the whole company.I must say that your complaining here sounds like Hitler whining about getting a parking ticket, only with much less charisma.

  3. 3 Peter Lynn

    My name is Peter Lynn. I am the chief copy editor of the marketing department. I do not deserve this. I should be building good karma with the company for my efforts to procure decent salads for all, for fighting for the common man. Instead, I am persecuted. Martyred, if you will.

  4. 4 Peter Lynn

    Also, if Hitler had had a blog (and his authorship Mein Kampf leads one to believe he probably would have he disposed toward blogging his daily struggle), you can bet he would have had plenty to say about not being able to get a decent salad, especially if he was a vegetarian, as they say. I think he’d care less about a parking ticket, as he could just pay it with looted artworks and treasures.

  5. 5 Peter Lynn

    Also also, whatever happened to Godwin’s Law around here, anyway?

  6. 6 Anonymous

    Oh, iceberg, I love you,Though no nutritional value.You’re just cellulose filler,but the crisp is so killer!Since all water you are,Fatty dressings can star.Take it retro to the fiftiesWhen Thousand Island was nifty,But my favorite, as you know,To old school steakhouses we go,Is a wedge with Bleu!Oh, iceberg, I love you! (From a Slashfood post today.)

  7. 7 Kendal

    What about people who don’t like lettuce? Get someone to ask for a salad without lettuce. Go on, do it!

  8. 8 James

    To play Devil’s Advocate here, I think you should have addressed it with the chef first. Naturally he wouldn’t have done anything to help you; but then at least you could have gone to the Facilities Manager without the feeling of “going over his head.”Also, I imagine the Facilities Manager name dropped you because you’re always getting him to do things for you (like cleaning out an offensive item from the fridge when you easily could have done that yourself.) While you’re within your rights to ask the guy, I can also see why he might be complaining about you to others.

  9. 9 Peter Lynn

    Point taken. However, the facilities manager is always glad when I bring things to his attention, because no one ever does. He gets as annoyed as I do by people who complain among themselves but don’t tell him.And I did bring it up with the chef first.

  10. 10 John Eje Thelin

    Maybe your chef is Swedish. The Swedish word for lettuce is “sallad”, which is also the word for…salad.

  11. 11 Peter Lynn

    A Swedish chef? Bork, bork, bork, bork!


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