You may have heard of the poet T. S. Eliot. He was a leader of the High Modernist movement, which means he wrote avant-garde verses understood by maybe 14 people. His poetry appeals to a certain urbane intellectual, the kind who doesn’t read columns like this.
But here’s the thing: T. S. Eliot loved lowbrow entertainment. He went to see vaudeville shows. He watched Marx Brothers comedies. He enjoyed sports like boxing. Working at a publishing company for much of his life, he would sometimes liven up stuffy board meetings by lighting firecrackers under the table.
I am telling you this because I was recently informed that my taste in salad is practically Philistine.
Here is what happened. My favorite restaurant has long served iceberg lettuce on its salad bar. But when I came back to Searcy after summer vacation, I discovered that the iceberg had been replaced with spinach and red leaf. At first, I took the change in stride, assuming there had been a sale on spinach somewhere and that this disruption would be over soon. But two months have passed, and the iceberg has not returned.
So, I asked my friends about it, and I was told flatly that iceberg is considered the bottom-of-the-barrel when it comes to lettuce. It’s the lowest rung on the ladder of leafy vegetables, far beneath such upscale greenery as romaine, arugula and frisee. And to add insult to injury, my friends were positively giddy about the new options on the salad bar.
I was already on the fence about salad to begin with. I choke down a plateful of the stuff once a week purely to soothe my conscience and have discovered that it tastes a lot better with fried chicken fingers piled on top. But only if the base of this salad casserole is iceberg lettuce.
Clearly, this preference is consistent with my taste in everything else. For a man who likes Waffle House, Burt Reynolds’ movies and Air Supply, iceberg lettuce is just par for the course. It is the French’s Mustard of leafy vegetables, the Big K Cola of greenery, the saltine cracker of the salad bar. It’s the kind of thing you serve with your chicken pot pie.
T. S. Eliot would have ordered iceberg lettuce.
It’s a serious lettuce. It has heft. It has crunch. You can plunge a fork into it and spear several pieces at once. I’m told you can even grill it.
Not so with this limp, flaccid, frou-frou lettuce they’re trying to force upon us. That stuff is as thin as tissue. Eating it with a fork is like trying to stab an eel with a broken toothpick. This featherweight greenery will simply not stay on a utensil. You have to use tweezers instead. Plus, when I scoop a pile of it on my plate, I feel like I’m eating out of the backyard. If I wanted to munch on leaves, I would take a fork and a box of croutons to Vermont.
I understand that restaurants must keep things exciting. And just today, I stood behind a woman in the salad line who went on and on about the pretty new lettuce.
I wanted to tell her that iceberg is crisp. It has substance. It has just as much fiber and keeps two weeks longer in the fridge than most of the wilted, feeble, Frenchified fluff that salad hipsters keep trying to shame us into eating.
Red leaf is clearly the Grey Poupon of lettuce. T. S. Eliot would never spread Grey Poupon on his hot dog. Besides, I refuse to eat anything whose name has “poop” as a syllable.
Have you ever looked at a piece of red leaf lettuce? This flimsy frippery is nothing more than garnish. It’s exactly what you would expect to see on the plate next to your lavender-glazed duck at La Maison — and to see itemized on the bill for $8.
I read somewhere that worldwide lettuce production is 27 million metric tons each year. I’ll bet most of that is iceberg because you would have to pile up a whole lot of that lightweight, gossamer spinach to equal even a pound, much less a ton.
My mother buys iceberg lettuce, which settles the matter as far as I’m concerned. So, I’ll continue to take a stand against this new floppy, slack-stemmed, vinaigrette-soaked greenery until the iceberg triumphantly returns to its rightful place among the cucumber slices and bacon bits. Please join me in a new campaign: #FOIL. Friends of Iceberg Lettuce — unite!