Soup or salad? Some people have a tough time with this choice. They idly stroke the covers of their menus while vacillating back and forth, debating the relative merits of each. Meanwhile the server gets to stand there awkwardly with a pen in hand and a carefully neutral facial expression, hiding their impatience with dreams of knocking off work and playing Xbox with their roommate Willy. Naturally they’ve forgotten that Willy is giving a speech at the library tonight on the topic of sexually confused termites, but never mind that for now. Soup or salad — that’s the question.

And the answer should always be soup.

I know, I know. There are a lot of salad lovers out there, and look, I get it. A salad is a nice treat every once in awhile. It’s customizable and colorful and contains a lot of variety, not unlike a multi-layered cake, only salads have the distinct advantage of being made of actual food. Salads are sneaky, though. They are, in fact, a lie.

The lie is this: Salads like to present themselves as the healthy choice. “Look at all of this green!” they shout at you from their bowl. “Look at the splashes of red and orange! The crumbly croutons! Eat me and be thin and happy, friend!” If you hear your salad saying these things to you, do two things. First, be skeptical of its claims. Second, seek psychiatric care. Salads can’t talk, you freak.

If salad was just salad, that would be one thing. What makes it such a clandestine smuggler of unwanted calories is the dressing, a viscous stew of sugar and unmentionables that consistently thwarts a salad’s claims to healthfulness. You might as well be pouring chocolate syrup on your lettuce. That would probably be preferable, in fact, because not only is chocolate syrup more delicious than balsamic vinaigrette, but you know exactly what you’re getting — an electric jolt from your taste buds and a lot of extra wheezing while walking uphill.

We know this about salad dressing on some level, and yet we pour it on anyway, because when you get right down to it, most dry salad is gross. It’s like someone reached into their backyard garden, grabbed a fistful of whatever was handy, and dumped it into a bowl shaped like a half-head of cabbage (a bowl design that has never, ever been clever, by the way). A naked salad is like a naked congressman: frightening, a little fascinating, and regarded with disdain by almost everyone involved.

Consider the ingredients in a typical salad. Most contain cucumbers, which is a vegetable so bland it makes a rice cake taste like a Toblerone. Who’s idea was it to incorporate this culinary travesty into a dish? A cucumber is a pickle that isn’t done yet. Much like Pauly Shore, it has no place in a civilized society.

Tomatoes are also common, and that’s unfortunate, because they’re the most vile fruit this side of pineapple. Judging from the BLTs and tomato-tastic burgers everyone seems so fond of, I’m probably in the minority on this one, but I will maintain my anti-tomato crusade until I’ve rid the world of this evil scourge, or at least convinced the guy at the sandwich shop to remove it from my tuna melt. Indeed, some people are shocked that I hate tomatoes so much, and when they ask me why, they always try to guess the answer: “It’s the consistency, right?” Wrong. I mean sure, the consistency reminds me of those pig lungs my biology teacher brought in one day, and that doesn’t help their case. But the flavor is also highly offensive. They have no place on a salad, in a burger, in my apartment or on the planet Earth. Plus they look bad. Boom, epic tomato takedown complete.

Remove dressing, cucumbers and tomatoes, and there isn’t much left in your salad. Lettuce, mostly, which people think is more healthful than it actually is because it’s a shade of green that doesn’t glow in the dark. What a lot of people don’t realize is that lettuce, while not deleterious to one’s health in any way, actually doesn’t contain a whole lot of nutritional content; it’s mostly water. It’ll hydrate you, but it won’t make your biceps bulge like in a Popeye cartoon — unless you lace it with protein and steroids, in which case you’re either a professional baseball player or certifiably insane.

For me, a salad’s true worth is in the extras, those added bits that give it its classification, be it Caesar, Greek, etc. Cheese cubes, ham, shaved carrots: That’s all good stuff. But you don’t need a salad in order to eat those things. You could add those ingredients to a roast turkey sandwich, skip the salad altogether, and eat a satisfying meal that won’t leave you hungry again in half an hour.

All of this runs through my head in a nanosecond. The server doesn’t even notice. I’m well-practiced at this, and I’ve eaten way too many salads to be duped by their false promises. Soup may not be as green — in fact, most soup rather looks like a congealing pool of motor oil — but at least you know what you’re getting. And if you’re lucky, you get noodles.

“Soup,” I say to the server, and in my head he walks away nodding his head slightly, thinking to himself, “Now THAT’S a guy who knows what he wants.” In reality he probably hasn’t given me a second thought, but it’s still nice to imagine sending someone off into the tingly embrace of a good mood. Besides, he’ll need that good mood. Once he finds out Willy’s at the library, he’s going to be ticked.

— Jeff Lagasse is an editor at a Portland media company, and you know what? If you’re anything like him, you need a little frivolity after this past Tuesday. Contact him at [email protected]

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