Sunday, June 28, 2009

Everything Explained Through Flowcharts

Did you know I'm writing a book of flowcharts? I am. Each chart is preceded by an essay with some smaller charts and diagrams, illustrations. One of the flowcharts is all about salad dressing. Here's the essay I just wrote for it. Let me know what you think.


 I know what a lot of you are thinking—that the inclusion of salad dressing in this book is a crude and transparent attempt to appeal to readers’ baser instincts; another shameful example of the commercialization of salad dressing, an exploitation that pervades our culture like the strangling tendrils of a fleshy vine (your words, not mine). 

 Nothing could be further from the truth. The discussion of salad dressing here is meant to educate, not scintillate. Like yourselves I am shocked at the ubiquity of salad dressing in the mainstream media. I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with salad dressing—when used properly. Good dressing—used judiciously, applied prudently—is the glue that holds a salad together. But the wonton portrayal of salad dressing in the mainstream media is anything but healthy or prudent.

 Let me describe a commercial I saw on TV the other day: Fade in on a black marble kitchen counter. A techno beat pulses tribally in the background. The camera zooms in close on a chilled salad bowl. The bowl is filled with fresh, plump produce, beaded with moisture, partying on a bed of lettuce: hothouse tomatoes lounge near the bowl’s lip; twin sprigs of frisee frolic between French-slivered carrot sticks; a firm, quartered cucumber dances with a cluster of cauliflower. A husky woman’s voiceover says “What’s sexier than undressing?”

 (Sensitive readers please stop reading here and proceed to the Legumes chart, page xx.)

  In slow motion, a massive bottle lowers into frame above the bowl and douses the salad in thick, creamy, homestyle Ranch dressing. The veggies squeal in delight. Close-up, quick cuts of the tomatoes, the carrot sticks, a giggling gaggle of baby spinach, laughing and splashing in the gooey cream, smearing it all over each others’ bodies. [FIGURE 1: Illustration]

 The woman’s voice breaks in again “. . . Dressing.”

 And then I threw up in my popcorn bowl.

 If you think this kind of filth is only on Cinemax you are wrong. I saw this commercial at 3pm on a Tuesday in the middle of Boy Meets World. Oh the irony of that title! Because this is exactly how so many of our young people (boys) are learning about the salad dressing around them (meeting the world, so to speak). [See figure 2 for full metaphor equation.]


(footnote) FIGURE 2

Boy = Young People

Meets = Learn About = +

World = Salad dressing

Young People + Salad Dressing – Education = Teenage Wasteland

Teenage Wasteland = awesome song/parental nightmare


The crucial variable that separates healthy salad dressing users from dressing abusers is education, and that knowledge is exactly what the Salad Dressing chart can facilitate.

 “But I don’t want my kids to know about dressing!” you whine in a wimpy voice.

 Don’t begrudge your children their natural salad dressing curiosity. Remember that once, not long ago, you too were young and hungry. We can all remember nights when we parked under a burnt out streetlamp and greedily gobbled a take-out salad in the front seat of our hatchback. Or that electric summer night when we plowed through an entire bottle of rich poppy seed dressing, Thunder Road blaring in the background.

 Heck, you might even find your own salads revitalized by one of the dressings on this chart. Maybe you’ve been nibbling greens for twenty years and need a little something to spice things up. How about a French flair spritzer? Or some Garlic Lover’s Sour Cream Caesar with cracked peppercorns? You’re never too old to try something new, and you might be surprised by the zest and flavor some of the new dressings offer. You’ll be shocked to discover that many dressings considered outre twenty years ago are now commonplace. Just look at the proliferation of hot bacon and Asian dressings in your grocery store’s condiment aisle.

 The bottom line is, whether you like it or not, your kids are going to learn about salad dressing—that’s not up to you. But what is up to you is how your kids learn about dressing. Do you want them to learn about it by being eyeball groped by a slick TV commercial with Gwen Stefani dressed as a carrot? Or by having an uncomfortable, borderline creepy conversation with you on the edge of their bunkbead? [See figure 3: Best places to talk to your children about salad dressing.]


(footnote) FIGURE 3:

  1. Ice cream parlor
  2. Around a campfire, woven seamlessly into a ghost story
  3. The Natural History Museum’s Salad Dressing Exhibit
  4. Their wedding night
  5. Fishing trip/rowboat
  6. In the backyard, tossing the old pigskin around
  7. The midst of a three-legged race


The choice is yours. 

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