Over the past several months I’ve noticed that a lot of people—most of whom I don’t know—seem deeply concerned about what I eat. I get e-mails from many of these people of disturbing videos of suffering cattle and chickens, and idyllic pictures of kale fields. While I appreciate their concern what I’ve come to realize is that these people fervently wish I’d abandon my lowly dietary habits and adopt their more superior ones.
I understand that there are all kinds of political and environmental and touchy-feely considerations when addressing the issue of dietary health, food production and the inherent cuteness of pigs. (For the record, pigs lose most of their cuteness at about three months. They also are useless if not eaten.) Most of the people I know who have chosen to live on a plant-based diet do so quietly, without fanfare; so do their less noble friends, the vegetarians. I respect their decisions and admire their devotion to something obviously important to them.
But some of them want the rest of us to suffer as horribly as they must when confronting a dinner plate.
A woman I know got upset when she heard that a new restaurant was opening and it wasn’t going to be a vegan restaurant. I suggested that the numbers for such an operation in Southwest Montana would probably never result in a profit. She suggested that I was wrong because not only would vegans and vegetarians support the place, but that there would be no shortage of meat-eaters who would want to have a vegan experience.
Excuse me, I’ve had salad. I’ve had many salads.
Some of them were memorable.
In 1976 at a restaurant in Davis, California, I had a salad topped with what looked to be little tufts of tangled white hair with green roots. They turned out to be alfalfa sprouts and I refused to eat them because alfalfa once caused one of my horses to get colic and I spent an entire night walking the mare around the paddock so she wouldn’t die.
In 1987 I had a do-it-yourself salad at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. My father refused to eat at salad bars because when he went to a restaurant he thought somebody else should make his salad and bring it to him. If Dad wanted to make a salad, he could do so at home. But my father wasn’t with me that day at the Hyatt. I was with the vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and his manager, a man named Bill Titone who seemed to have a secondary role as apologist for Hamp. We were having lunch together. Hamp ordered three Bloody Marys, a cocktail I don’t care for. Bill didn’t drink much of his either. Hamp led the way to the buffet table and opened every copper-lidded, un-lit chafing dish, announcing at the end of his exploration, “There’s no meat!” He repeated his discovery several times, his voice rising in a crescendo that got the attention of a manager who explained that this was a salad buffet.
Each of us made a salad and returned to the table. Hamp, nearing eighty, mumbled quite a bit and what he mumbled about that day was a lack of meat. “Take a guy out to lunch and there’s no meat!”
The Musso & Frank Grill, one of the fabled restaurants of Los Angeles, had a great salad of romaine lettuce, artichokes and avocado. For a few bucks more you could ruin the vegan experience and order it with meat. Their Martinis were the best in the world and are completely vegan. A few blocks away was the Brown Derby where the Cobb salad was created. It can be ordered without the bacon, chicken and the hard-cooked egg. But then it really wouldn’t be a Cobb salad and what would be the point?
In 1980 I traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, to learn how to make a Caesar salad. Caesar’s Grill is where the salad was created by Caesar Cardini, an Italian, back in the 1930s. They make them tableside. I assumed the recipe was some kind of state secret and so I merely paid close attention as each of my salads was made over the course of several days. After Tony, our waiter, made my ninth salad he asked me if I’d like the recipe and handed me a glossy red business card. The recipe was on the back.
“The Original Caesar’s Salad”
Adapted from Tony’s business card, circa 1980
(For 2 persons)
2 medium heads of hearts of romaine lettuce, chilled, dry, crisp
Garlic-flavored corn oil, ¼ cup
Red wine vinegar, 1 Tablespoon
Juice of half a lemon
Freshly ground pepper
Dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, to taste
Croutons, a handful or two
Cut the lettuce hearts into thirds, discarding the thick stem. Place in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with salt and squeeze lemon over the lettuce. Mix. Add vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and 3-4 Tablespoons of parmesan cheese. Mix. Add oil. Mix. Divide between two plates. Top with pepper, croutons and another sprinkling of cheese.