As much as food these days is somewhat of a social lubricant, or in my case, an opportunity for others to speak while the food interrupts me, it hasn’t always been such an enhancer of my social life.
Argentinians are known to be a carnivorous bunch, having only recently relinquished a long held mantel of highest beef consumption per capita to Uruguay. But even in such good company, I stood out for my disdain towards fruit and vegetables, and in particular, the common salad. This side dish mostly made up of lettuce, tomato and onion, with a light dressing, has long tormented me and has impacted on my personality and quality of life far more than desirable.
As a young lad, I hesitated and desisted to go to my friends’ for dinner and sleep-overs, as invariably “it” would be served at the table, and the shame I felt at having to ask for a dish with meat or pasta, but no salad, made the rest of the evening an exercise in self castigation. These became some of my earliest memories of anxiety, a feeling I still get every time I eat in public.
Unfortunately, my condition was not very well accepted by the community in the 80s, and there were certainly no support groups for it, so I suffered alone. The social isolation which ensued still lingers in my psyche. I can still smell the balsamic dressing in my nightmares. While the other children laughed and played, and happily rejoiced on the wonderful memory-making moments that slumber parties, school camps and outdoor picnics presented them, I was putting a down payment on my first box of Aropax.
As I grew older, I somewhat made peace with my eating disorder. I also vastly enlarged my range of consumables, but the social anxiety persists. Catered work lunches are a particular occasion when the cold sweats and enlarged pupils occur. No doubt in an attempt to justify the prices, caterers ensure that every sandwich on the table has at least three colours within the slices, and such artistry can only mean pain, suffering or starvation for the rest of my afternoon. Under such circumstances, which usually find one holding a sandwich with nothing but a napkin or a slight paper plate, not even Houdini could make the salad disappear without destroying the meal, or making a scene. Especially as one is usually simultaneously conversing, or ‘networking’, in close proximity with those who one is trying to impress, or in the very least, not disgust. And so, the torturous salad is once again consumed… bite by bite. Or more predictably, end up discarded untouched and hidden, amongst the rest of the over-catering, which no doubt occurred.
The backyard bbq provides the social equivalent to the work morning tea, with the added bonus that these events are not catered but rather a physical manifestation of your friends’ effort, love and affection for each other. And so, as the makers of said salads mingle nearby, their leering so intense it could re-heat the fried onion, (which I certainly do partake in), the salad avoidance dance is taken to almost professional levels.
By my late twenties I had become a lot more adept at dealing with such situations, carefully avoiding the wrong queue at a buffet, purposely ensuring to be last serving oneself in order for the portions to have run out, or filling the plate with enough bread so the lack of salad doesn’t raise much curios inquisition, but occasionally, when you least expect it, in a moment of distraction, someone selflessly hands you a plate with a whole side of it. And as I look down unto such a plate, almost with a balsamic-drowned resignation, I curse, “Oh salad, why hast thou forsaken me!”