One minor thing that has been exercising me recently is what I think of as the Salad Tax.
As you know, I have embarked in recent weeks on a healthier life style, which includes intermittent fasting and exercise. A result of this is that my tastes seem to be changing with regard to food.
Apart from this week, where depression is kicking my sorry ass, and I am craving carbs and weeping into the biscuit tin. There is nothing wrong, by the way. In fact I would say that my life is going righter than it has done for months. This is why I know I am suffering from one of my regular bouts of depression.
It will pass.
To get back to my initial point, I have noticed that when we go out and I am not in thrall to the black dog, I am drawn more to veg and less to chips, more to lean cuts of meat and less to things like burgers, which no matter how lovingly hand made they are, can be a little greasy on the palate. I have, to my amazement, eschewed puddings on occasion. Not all occasions. I would not like you to think I was turning into Gillian McKeith. Far from it. Let us remember that last week I managed two puddings in one outing. I would say that’s fairly heroic, and not something Gillian would ever do.
Nor do I have any wish to inspect pooh, not even in a Tupperware container.
Despite that, I am, in the main, making healthier choices instinctively, which is pretty good news. I am not feeling cheated or outraged by these choices. I am not feeling that I am somehow missing out on lard. I am enjoying my food, voluntarily.
There is one thing that I am finding quite shocking about this whole process, now that my beady eye is being drawn away from regular favourites on the menu to pastures new, and that is how absolutely ridiculously expensive salads are in restaurants.
This would be fine, were those salads to be comprised of the finest, freshest ingredients money could buy. Were I to be being treated to lettuce inscribed with the face of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall or endives delivered by hand from Belgium by a relative of Hercule Poirot I could live with that. Were the prawns sprinkled about my ‘selection of leaves’ so fresh they still had a surprised look on their faces from being hauled from the water only seconds before being plated up, or if they numbered more than five, and didn’t have freezer burn, that would be cool.
It would be fine were these salads not, for the large part, minuscule in comparison to their other, meatier, potatoier main course counterparts. They might look bigger when you see them plated up, but lettuce is a bit like cat fur, it looks much denser than it is, and when you get down to it, it is mostly the air between the curls in the lettuce that you’re paying for.
As it is, despite great leaps and bounds in many other areas of the culinary/restaurant arts in the UK over the last twenty years, it seems that the salad is the last remnants of parlous, Nineteen Fifties catering left to us, clinging grimly on with only half a sulphur encrusted boiled egg to sustain it.
Here’s the thing. I do not mind paying for food if it is good value, whether it be egg and chips in my local cafe, or a ten course tasting menu hand crafted by Michel Roux, but I have to feel that what I am paying for is worth the money being asked for it.
I do not accept that a soup bowl filled with 90% lettuce, some of which is wilted, the gratings of a heel of parmesan, and croutons so hard I could use them to rebuild my bathroom wall with, served slightly tepid and with ill grace is worth the £9.00 you would pay for it in a TGI Fridays for example, where it masquerades as a Caesar Salad. If each salad costs more than a £1 to make, I will eat my own hair.
Or the cat’s fur.
Basically, what you pay for in restaurants these days, with a few, notable exceptions, is lettuce. Lettuce makes up the vast majority of every salad I’ve eaten in restaurants recently, be they chains or independent eateries (even my local pub, which serves excellent gastro fare has shocking salads). Lettuce that has no calories, which does nothing to fill you up, and which mulches down to a cubic centimetre of food when you finally wrangle it on to your fork.
I wouldn’t mind paying for lettuce if it were a) reasonably priced, b) there was enough of it to fill you up and c) there were other things with it that you didn’t need an electron microscope to find.
Just because I want to eat salad, doesn’t mean I want to starve to death, restaurant type people. I LIKE salad. I don’t eat it as a punishment. I don’t eat it to deny myself chips. I WANT salad that is delicious, not a punishment.
Just because I want to eat salad doesn’t mean I want to pay as much as someone else pays for Chateaubriand for it; restaurant type people. Even I can grow lettuce and I’m the kiss of death when it comes to plants. It hardly needs 24/7 nursing, which is what your prices seem to infer I’m paying for.
Just because I want to eat salad doesn’t mean I am a rail thin, faddy eater who is happy to pay the thick end of a tenner to push my overpriced lettuce round the bowl whilst loudly declaiming how ‘full’ I am. I eat two puddings at a sitting for God’s sake.
Here’s what I’d like to see:
Reasonably priced salads offered for main course dishes, where I can genuinely appreciate where my money has gone.
Less reliance on air and lettuce as two key ingredients of said salads.
More interest in the lettuce selection. Crikey, even our local Co-op offers bags of herbed or peppery lettuces.
More tomatoes that are not £1 in a bag for six and which taste of nothing. There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes available.
More tomatoes that aren’t starting to go watery at the edges and get that peculiar granulated quality to them, because you cut them six hours before I wanted to eat them and now they’re turning into soup before my eyes.
Less green peppers. Green peppers are essentially unripe. They’re acidic, unpalatable and indigestible. Apart from that I really like them.
More variety in general. We live in an age of plenty and choice, which is not something you’d be aware of were you forced to exist solely on restaurant salads. Whither mushrooms, asparagus, endives, radishes, mooli and the like?
More of whatever the salad is supposed to be. If you’re giving me salad Nicoise, I want more than two halves of a boiled egg, a drooping French bean, a quarter of a tin of watery tuna, 2 tinned olives and an anchovy fillet draped over the world’s smallest salad potato. For fucking £12.
No wonder George Orwell sympathised with the unwashed masses who preferred chips.
You get a lot of chips for £12.