salad

The older I get the more salad I eat. This is only in part a matter of necessity, and increasingly one of taste. It's true that I wake up in the morning, take a look at my no-longer-bony frame and mutter a few resolutions (one of which involves salad) on the way to the coffee pot. Sometimes my resolutions involve the coffee pot, but only when there's no coffee in the house, which is never. Resolutions to postpone gratification work better when the object of desire isn't at hand, but remember: that's no excuse not to buy coffee. And make sure that it isn't some bargain brand from the 7-Eleven with wood crumbs* and gopher teeth mixed in. Get the good stuff, the expensive kind, the one that truly justifies your craving. The whole point of bourgeouis addictions is the quality, the elite brand of the substance you're hooked on. That's why middle-class kids, when they want to talk about drugs, gibber on about Acapulco this and Red Hair, or mention the purity of the isopropyl alcohol used in making hash. They've imbibed their parents' addiction to quality and taste.

Somewhere in the past thirty years, during the orgy of brand diversity and the wild outflinging of supply chain tentacles to the last arable lands on earth, salads got fancier along with everything else. Star fruit and endives infiltrated the Fortress of Iceberg Lettuce and Maybe Romaine in its mountain fastness. Microdairy cheeses wheeled through the predawn fog and assaulted cheddar and blue cheeses in their sleep. And then the cucumbers and tomatoes were marched into the fields and shot. Now our peacetime salads are irredeemably artisanal, sops to a fantasy of pre-Industrial Revolution life. They're the kind of salads the Khmer Rouge would have made if their Year Zero utopia had held up.

If you want you can still go out for the kind of salad that restaurants used to offer everywhere: pale iceberg lettuce browning at the edges, slices of tomato that taste like bitter congealed water, wilting slices of cucumber and shreds of carrot, the whole swimming in a quarter inch of cloudy water. Sometimes I go to places where I know this kind salad awaits me, hiding behind the fries, and I take mouthfuls of bitter recollection - of a middle-class childhood in the seventies in a small Nova Scotia town, in which any family that didn't serve polyvinyl-based food to its children was seen as snobbish, elitist.

Where I lived embodied in a thousand people or so the greatest class distinctions you can possibly imagine, from bizarre inbred families who raised pigs in their backyard to the summer mansions of some of some of the richest people that the world coughs up. The rich showed up in the summer and sailed yachts, the poor kept raising pigs. We were the middle class folks who had moved there from the city, whose family history did not go back five generations on the same plot of land or could be traced to the Mayflower. I was the children of immigrants, a first-generation Canadian set apart by my looks, my unplaceable accent and my air of intellectual superiority, which irritated my teachers even more than it did my peers. I did not fit in very well, finding myself picked on at school and put up with at the yacht club (sailing lessons). I was a product of the long supply chain, a seasonal import on a bed of plastic grass. Given the limited tastes of the time and place, it's not surprising that few people bothered to take me home.

As a consequence I didn't go outside if I could help it, spending my days inside reading - my first furious addiction - and psychically inching ever farther away from other people my age. My parents forced to me mow lawns for my allowance, which I now think may have been a way of ensuring that I would get some sunlight and physical activity. Peeled of my shirt and browning in the sun, I'd aim the self-propelled lawnmower and let it pull me over the acre of grass we lived on. It had the benefit of leaving me to think and sing to myself (which must have looked ridiculous) under the noise of the engine. When I started writing poems at sixteen, a surprising number turned out to be mythopoetic reflections on mowing. But I loved the smell of cut grass, and the dark wet green chunks that fell away when I shook the mower. I also had a fear of losing a foot to a flyaway blade.

Even though I stayed home most of the time, I loved staying overnight with friends. Other kids had the kind of toys and video games (such as they were back then, in that featureless plain bounded by Pong on one end and the Atari 2600 on the other) that I longed for in my book-heavy household. They also had deep freezes and cupboards full of junk food: Popsicles, Drumsticks, ice cream sandwiches, Freezies. Count Chocula, Honeycombs, Froot Loops. White bread. 'Store-boughten' cookies. Hot dogs. Skinny hamburgers with processed cheese, mustard the colour of screaming. The punishment for being a vegetable was boiling. This was a deeply different world than the one in which I lived, in which junk food wasn't frowned on, but it wasn't really a part of our life. My father liked black licorice and sherbert fountains, candies that reminded him of his childhood summer trips to Blackpool. My mother's cooking was always the result of a recipe, an interest in the flavours and textures of food, not at all the transposed barbecue that seemed to be going on at my friends' houses. My complaints about my family's food were taken as bragging, and occasionally grown adults were so rude to me that I was left shocked; I didn't realize at the time how my words sounded, that my pipey little overenunciating sounded impossibly effete no matter what I said.

Now I live a good 3000 miles away from that class-addled hamlet with its sail-spiked harbours and 18th century gravestones. In this city, barely a hundred years old, my looks and accent are still a bit unorthodox, and I fit in only a little better than I did as a child. I've become a lot more likeable, partly because I picked up some tact over the years, and partly because I like people a lot better than I used to. They are more varied and interesting than I had believed when I was a child. And I eat more salads, which suit my metabolism a lot better than Freezies and hamburgers.

*Some folks call it sawdust, I call it wood crumbs, mmm-hmmmm.