Summary: Juy 31, 1988. When we don’t have enough, materially, it’s easy to be spiritual, and we respond with gratitude. When we have enough, materially, it’s still easy to be spiritual, and we respond with responsibility.
You may not know it, but we may be in the vicinity of a piece of history. We may be in the neighborhood that gave rise to a revolution in the restaurant business. I cannot really document this, but at least in my limited observation, it was right here in this neighborhood that one enterprising restaurant invented something that has by now become an institution. And the reason that this particular gourmet practice has become an institution forms the jumping off spot for this morning’s message.
As far as I know or experienced, it was in what used to be known as Emerson’s restaurant, just a few blocks away at Eastern and Georgia Avenues, that the salad bar was invented. Now it may have been done elsewhere, but so far as the Washington area is concerned and far as my limited dabbling in haute cuisine is concerned, Emerson’s was the first.
When we moved to this area in 1971 and began to venture out to eat occasionally, we discovered this wonderful idea: that you could go back to the salad bar as often as you liked and could stock up on lettuce and celery and this and that. You could pile it high and you could even drape the whole sorry mess in blue cheese dressing, all for one price. That appealed to me. I think what appealed as much as anything was getting blue cheese dressing without paying extra. Remember when the waiter always said we have French or thousand island or blue cheese, the blue cheese is 25¢ extra? My dad would never let me get the blue cheese. But now here comes this wonderful idea of all the salad you can eat, blue cheese too, and you can keep on going back, plate after plate.
Well, as they say, the rest is history. And now you can go almost anywhere, from fast food to the finest hotel cabaret, and find a salad bar. It appeals to something inside of us ... and I am going to confess right out front that I have this something ... it appeals to our desire to get something for nothing or nearly nothing. It appeals to our need to feel as though we are really making a killing in the marketplace.
Never mind that it has now been revealed that the original purpose of the salad bar was to keep customers busy while the chefs finished their poker game in the kitchen before putting your steak on to grill; never mind that all that lettuce and other rabbit food is so cheap, relatively speaking, that you will fill up on that and never notice how small the meat portion is; never mind that it saves labor costs and thus helps the restaurant owner more than it helps you; the salad bar has become standard operating procedure because we like to think we are getting to belly up for all we want at little or no cost. Frankly, I consider it a moral obligation to go back for a second plate of salad. Even if the main course has arrived, even if it looks as though I could not possibly consume all that is set before me, I sit there thinking I’ve cheated myself if I do not go back for more cheese, more watermelon, more olives, more something.
My family still laughs about the lady of already generous proportions who preceded us at a salad bar over in Ocean City several years ago. She piled her plate high with every conceivable item, she laced it all with scoop after scoop of salad dressing, and when it was all about eight inches high, she plopped another plate on top, squeezed down the whole stash, and plunged it into a carryout bag. Whether it was edible is quite open to question, but she left happy, because she believed she was getting something more than she had paid for. She believed that she was beating the system at the bountiful buffet.