It was a simple request which inspired this blog. I chose to ask each person present in our house one evening to contribute to the creation of dinner. One person was asked to cook the steaks and burgers. I made a southwestern potato hash and I asked the other two people to create a salad. Sounds simple, right? After all we all know what a salad is. What was interesting was some of the discussion which pursued as they were choosing what kind of salad to make and what to put in the salad. It got me thinking about what exactly is a salad. Is there A definition of what A salad is? Out of curiosity, I asked a diversity of my friends on Facebook how they defined a salad. The answers were interesting.
Friend A said, “now that you ask I think of all the different salads I have eaten and now I'm confused lol I love pasta salad, but it is kind of an oxymoron if you define salad as greens in a dish.”
Friend B said, “I would say that any combination of ingredients that complement each other, and are served cold as a side dish.”
Friend C said, “all healthy stuff lol and then dressing!”
With some of my friends I actually got into a conversation. for example with friend D, he said a salad was “anything healthy, it’s typically defined as lettuce tomato cucumber and dressing but in my eyes its not. Macaroni salad has none of that. Fruit salad the same”
Me: so then what is a salad?
Friend D: “no one can answer that.”
Me: why not?
Friend D: “because everyone has their own interpretations. Typically they are cold dishes with some form of dressing that is either vinegar, mayo or milk product (like yogurt) based.”
A conversation with Friend E reinforced what Friend D had to say about the diversity of interpretations. Friend E said, “a mixture of vegetables (cold or hot) with extras/toppings and some type of sauce or dressing.”
Me: so there cannot be meat in a salad?
Friend E: “yes, they would be included in extras/toppings”
Me: ah ok thanks
Friend E: “the main portion of it is some type of vegetable (lettuce, potatoes, kale, etc.)
Me: so tuna salad would not be a salad?
Friend E: nope
Me: ah, but we call it a salad
Friend E: I didn't make up the name of tuna salad:-P it's just tuna with mayo, yeah?
Me: that depends on who you are and how you define salad
Friend E then turned to WIKI and decided she was wrong. “ha-ha but wiki says I’m wrong... wiki says you can have a main protein as the base, so I guess tuna falls there.”
As I sifted through the diversity of opinions and definitions on what is a salad I came to realize that defining what a salad is, is not as easy as it sounds. Each of us has our own definition of what is a salad and what it constitutes. It was also clear from my friends that each of them enjoyed different things in and on their salad. Each of our palettes is different.
A conversation with Friend F really illustrated this point. He shared with me that he shared a salad with a few other people recently. They all ate from the same bowl, but they all experienced the salad differently. In part, the difference was because of the dressing the person had put on their salad. He also mentioned that the combination of ingredients that made it on the fork made a difference. Another thing which made a difference was what else the person had done once they put it on their plate. Some of them had cut things up into smaller pieces and others had not. Each of these things affected the experience of the salad.
Another friend of mine G reminded me that salad is known by different names. “well there is cole slaw, antipasti, tabouli, and insalata, just to name a few.”
After all of this I do not have clear definition of a salad to share. However, this process revealed a few deeper things to me. One is that often times we use a word and we assume we know what it means to everyone. Here we had a concrete thing – salad. It was something we had all seen and experienced, but could not agree on a definition of. It reminded me of the various attempts to discuss God, who like salad, is also known by different names in different faith traditions and parts of the world.” I use Infinite Presence, but I have also heard Divine Presence, Creator, Allah, El Shaddai, Higher Power, and the list goes on. While they all refer to the same essential source, we think about and refer to this source differently.
If we were to have a conversation about the Infinite Presence and what it is, we would have as diverse opinions like we did about salad. There is a Christian Scripture which asks how one can love God who one has never seen, but not love their brother and sister who they see every day. We could paraphrase this and ask how we can define God who we have never seen, but not define salad which we see, eat and experience every day.
We know when we have experienced the goodness of the Infinite, just like we know when we have experienced a good salad. The manner in which the Infinite speaks to us and through us spiritually varies from person to person, just as do salads.
Some of us are fairly clear and consistent on the type of salad that speaks to our palette. Others enjoy experiencing a diversity of types of salad from this and other cultures, and creating their own flavor combinations. Similarly, some people tend to follow a specific way of thinking and believing about God, and others have a more blended theology about their Higher Power, however, they define that.
Even when like my Friend G, we all eat from the same bowl, the experience can be different. within each faith or spiritual tradition there is also diversity.
None of us experience salad or the spiritual in the same way. the one thing which is clear is that we know when we have.