Salad bars tell who we are

Have you ever done one of those online personality quizzes?

Very quickly you discover that seemingly random choices you make can tell a lot about your character.

This is evident in some actions you take as well. Social interactions that you thought were mundane are revealing intimate details about your personality.

You might want to be careful the next time you are out in public.

Let me give you an example: you go out for dinner to a place with a salad bar. It’s included with the meal, so everyone goes, right?

  • What do you put on your salad?
  • What do your companions choose?

Let’s look at the possibilities…

When you get to the bar, do you jump right in or are you the kind of person who tours the bar first to see what they have? If you like to assess your options here, you are signalling a lack of desire to be impulsive in other areas of your life too. You like to plan a strategy.

Is your salad plate based with lettuce, or do you leave room for pasta or potato salad too? Are you a conventional sort, or do you like adventure and last-minute inspiration?

Do you look for your usual favourite items? Will you try something new? (Now you can see where I’m going with this, can’t you?)

Here are some specifics for you, to give you a more complex profile of your dining companions:

  • Pineapple – since the 1700s this fruit has been a symbol in homes, when they were transported from far away lands to European shores. They still represent wealth, prosperity, hospitality.
  • Melon – the round shape of a melon made it easy for Chinese to compare it to a moon, a symbol for family unity and good fortune (the wish that your family stay round and whole, like the moon, shows a desire for prosperity)
  • Grapes – the favourite food of Bacchus, the god of wine (and parties) – not a good choice for those who want to spend a quiet night at home
  • Lemon – you might think the sour nature of this fruit denotes the same in people, but it has long been a symbol of fidelity as it offers the necessary balance needed with the many sweeter foods we consume.
  • Squash – another plump, round shape symbolizes prosperity and abundance. It’s easy to over-indulge in savoury or sweet dishes with squash, so they can be a symbol of gluttony too.
  • Artichoke – the tender heart at the core of a spiky multi-layered plant is a beautiful symbol. Hope and peace are often the terms used to convey its character, and those who enjoy it.
  • Tomato – once called the “love apple,” this veggie is a symbol of fertility with its many seeds. It was considered an aphrodisiac in medieval Europe.
  • Cucumber – another veggie full of seeds, and with a suggestive shape… well, you can guess why this is considered a sensual vegetable.
  • Eggplant – often seen as a less desirable vegetable, the eggplant is revered in Chinese culture. It does belong to the nightshade family, a group of vegetables that all have glycoalkaloids (which can cause gastrointestinal problems, and at higher levels anxiety and confusion). The sensitivity of this nightshade has given it a mystical quality in some circles.
  • Pepper – another nightshade vegetable, this one can refer to a desire for excitement in one’s life when it’s the spicy variety. The sweeter green ones still signify a sense of adventure, due to their slightly bitter nature. (Only those willing to sacrifice a bit of sweetness for the sake of a bigger experience will lean this way.)

One further note: olive branches have been a symbol of peace since Biblical times, and olive oil has been used for precious tasks through history.

Your choice of that simple vinaigrette could put you over the top as a sensitive loving individual, instead of being a run-of-the-mill Ranch dressing lover.

Just think, if you’re with a new friend or out on a first date you can let them go first and learn all about them without having to say a word.

If you’re a parent or role model, remember your responsibility; your attitude is setting an example for any young salad-eaters. Just putting a few olives or an artichoke heart on your plate could change their eating habits.

The other component of any buffet eating is choosing your portion. As with any other activity, being responsible is important.

It’s very easy to become overwhelmed and end up with more than we can handle. If you are at an all-you-can-eat place, it’s more graceful to return for a second serving than stagger off with an overloaded plate that doesn’t get finished.

I remind myself to treat my plate like a piece of art – when I’m done my plate should show all the components with style, not be a test of how much I can pile on.

One just never knows when a simple decision can shape the course of one’s destiny. All our actions are open to interpretation by those around us, so I cannot take responsibility for how others will read your behaviour.

But at least now you know your potential.

Bon Appetit!


Will you follow food guide?

We joke about what they are in many contexts, but the four food groups were a part of my childhood education.

Now, suddenly, there is no more food pyramid, no more four food groups.

Meat and dairy are no longer named categories.

We don’t have a recommendation on how many servings of food to have, or what the serving sizes are.

So, what are we supposed to eat?

Health Canada released a new version of the Canada Food Guide this week, and it is a long way from the original advice they offered 77 years ago, even from the last revision in 2007.

I wonder, does anyone even follow any official recommendations any more about what makes a healthy diet? Does it matter what a government department tells us about eating healthy? Are we just as likely to follow the latest trend?

Let’s see what came of this week’s report…

The new food guide is much broader in scale and approach, recommending more of a lifestyle than a diet. Here are the main points on what we should be eating:

  • Food groups are replaced with suggestions to eat “plenty of vegetables and fruit” (illustrated as half a plate’s worth), whole grain foods (one quarter plate) and protein foods (one quarter)
  • Limit consumption of processed foods. If we must eat them, it should be less often and in smaller quantities.
  • Choose water as our beverage of choice.
  • Pay attention to food labels.
  • Fruit juices no longer count in the fruit and vegetables category, but rather in the sugary beverages category (under processed foods).
  • Recommending servings of dairy and meat is not part of the plan anymore either. The general theme is to lean toward a plant-based diet.

The industries that support these products are less than impressed, but Health Canada says it is looking to scientific studies instead of industry for support in their recommendations.

At least we can know that industry lobbying has not muddied the water.

The culture of eating is also a subject broached in the new guide, with recommendations centred around enjoying our food more.

The new suggestions include:

  • Cook more food at home, instead of eating at restaurants.
  • Be mindful of not only what you eat but when; eat only when you are hungry.
  • Share your meals with others, from the planning to the eating.
  • Healthy eating is the focus, and this can include the traditions of family and culture.

There seems to be a significant effort to get Canadians to focus not just on eating healthy but also to take time to enjoy eating as an experience, and value that experience as much as the food itself.

OK, I’m going to say what I’ve thought all week as I listened to this news… it’s about darn time. What took them so long?

In a country that prides itself on what it calls “a cultural mosaic,” why have we not made more of an effort to officially support diversity in our diet and food culture?

The talk of sustainability has been around for decades, and we are just now talking about eating more responsibly. At least now I guess we can say “better late than never.”

I am not a vegan, and I don’t plan on giving up dairy or meat, in light of the new Food Guide recommendations. And I understand that many people with dietary restrictions will take the Guide with a grain of salt (something else that is not overly encouraged in the new plate of food).

Regardless of where our current diets stand in relation to this news, it does offer us new information. At least we can say that the attitude is moving in a direction that helps us all be more aware of a bigger picture.

Maybe now we can start to share more of what is Canadian food besides poutine and butter tarts.

Perhaps this change in government policy won’t change much for the average person’s diet choices right away. But it can help make change possible in education, encouraging funding for things like school gardens and healthy eating programs at school cafeterias and lunchrooms.

The future of healthier eating in Canada looks promising.

The world in one dish

A one-pot meal is the poster child of easy cooking.

Today, it’s all about the spiffy Instant Pot, or if you didn’t get one of those for Christmas then surely you have a crock pot. My mom used to do meals in the electric frying pan.

But the queen of this category, the quintessential comfort food, is still the almighty casserole. Almost everyone can relate to seeing the casserole dish at the dinner table, and it always brings back memories.

The word casserole comes from an old Provençal word, “cassa,” meaning pan. The ingredients of the dish can vary greatly, sometimes including meat or fish and often using vegetables and cheese with some kind of starch; but the key is that it is made and served in the same vessel.

This is a “grass roots” meal if ever there was one.

What was the casserole you ate as a kid? At my house it was tuna casserole. My Mom made it often, in the same Pyrex dish every time, with Campbell’s Mushroom Soup and those crunchy “chow mein noodles” on top.

I suppose I was lucky, I loved Mom’s tuna casserole. For many people, childhood casserole memories are not so dear to their hearts, but they remain a family tradition.

Did you know that casseroles have existed for centuries in most western cultures?

There is a written recipe from the 13th century that describes an Italian dish called “de lasnis” in Latin. It called for sheets of pasta to be layered with cheese and mild spices.

I bet you can guess what we call it now. The migration of this dish to our continent might have first involved Thomas Jefferson, who brought a pasta machine home in the late 1700s after a trip to Italy.

His daughter eventually changed the cheese to cheddar from the most-likely Parmesan, and this adaptation was served at the White House and included in her 1824 cookbook.

In North America, the influx of immigrants in the 1900s from so many different cultures added many flavours and variations to the pot.

  • French cassoulet
  • English pot pies
  • Mexican enchiladas
  • Greek moussaka
  • North African tajines…

And then endless variations as people immersed themselves in a new culture and each dish was shared in a community.

The economic affordability of one communal dish for dinner made perfect sense with food shortages during the two world wars. Then, as the middle class grew and canned foods became popular, casseroles were an easy choice to feed a family.

Campbell’s Soup promoted their cream varieties as main ingredients, and home cooks became well versed at turning leftovers into new creations.

It’s amazing that some of these recipes are still being made, despite being maligned. How many Americans continue to make green bean casserole at Thanksgiving, regardless of admitting that they can’t stand the stuff?

The ability of a dish to be part of a culture, a right of passage even, is hard to keep alive in today’s world. But since casseroles are already staples, they appear to have been “grandfathered” into the traditions of the table.

The secret seems to be the history: you will likely be disappointed if you Google a recipe for green bean casserole, never having had it. But if you ate it as a kid, the nostalgia helps it taste better.

Perhaps the most enduring quality of the casserole is its ability to survive regardless of its status. In a world where status can be everything and branding is key, the everyday casserole marches on.

It is completely unpretentious and unassuming. It claims to be nothing more than a sustaining weeknight dinner. And at the end of the day, what could be wrong with that? Sometimes we just get too caught up in trying to impress and improve.

Some days, “grass roots” is what we’re all about.

Julia Child said it best. An icon in cooking who knew both Continental European cuisine and American tastes, she understood that making a meal is about sharing. Sharing sustenance and sharing time and traditions.

If you gussy it up, that’s just to add to the celebration, but it’s certainly not required.

“I don't use the word gourmet. The word doesn't mean anything anymore. 'Gourmet' makes it sound like someone is putting sherry wine in the corn-flake casserole.”


Office eating etiquette

When you were little, your parents probably told you about:

  • not putting your elbows on the table
  • excusing yourself if you burp
  • not slurping your soup
  • other rules of eating etiquette.

Now though, many meals aren’t eaten at a table; we eat in the car en route to activities and at our desks at work. As much as our dining culture has become much more casual, there are still a few points to remember to ensure you aren’t the subject of ridicule at the water cooler.

We can all do our part in retaining some semblance of a civilized society.

If you are a supervisor or manager, it’s important to set a good example for your troops. If you often eat at your desk, never taking time out to properly “refuel," then, you’re likely to have a department full of overworked and underproductive folks.

If your work space has a never-ending collection of mugs, wrappers and muffin or chip crumbs, you’re encouraging a lack of focus for and the consumption of empty calories.

There are companies that have proven teams that enjoy lunch together communicate better and collaborate more easily; but even just encouraging a simple break improves productivity, and keeps desk space much cleaner.

Most people work at offices with open work space, and even if you have your own office, you likely spend time in a communal lunchroom or have people in your office for meetings or discussions.

Therefore, the first thing to consider in office eating etiquette is other people’s sensibilities. We can’t please everyone all the time, but choosing to leave the strongly scented garlicky stew or leftover fish at home is smarter than warming it up in the office microwave and then breathing it on everyone nearby.

Leave your odorous dishes at home and everyone will thank you.

Sharing at meal time is a gesture of hospitality that goes back to the earliest meals of history. You don’t have to bake cookies on a regular basis and take them around the office, but occasionally it can be a lovely gesture.

When I worked at a big office, I used to have a candy dish on the meeting table in our work pod. It got to be a destination, a bit of respite for anyone flagging in energy and an easy conversation starter that spawned more than a couple of brilliant ideas.

It seems to follow that Mary Poppins “spoonful of sugar” principle, helping people think positive when they might otherwise be less than enthusiastic.

Even if food is not something shared at your place of work, you can show old-fashioned good manners by offering to do a coffee run or fill your neighbour’s water bottle when you go to the cooler.

It can help you learn about your colleagues and open the doors of communication – even if you discover they don’t appreciate you stopping by.

Remember that good manners include being gracious; if a co-worker is put off by your spending work time to socialize with a simple coffee request, just consider it a lesson learned. Knowing they have a more conservative view may help working more easily with them on a later group project.

The business of eating “al desko,” as it’s officially been labelled, is not only bad form, but also generally bad for your health. When we don’t focus on what we’re eating, we eat more calories.

Trying to multi-task by continuing to type, or to read or take notes while snacking works best with unhealthy options like junk food and sweets. You owe it to yourself as well as your work mates to value your body and its capacity for good work.

Did you know that eating at your desk can even lead to lower back pain and bad general posture? (It’s what comes of an overly sedentary work lifestyle).

Whether you subscribe to the idea of valuing a meal break at work or you want to continue dining al desko, please do try to follow the basics of table manners:

  • don’t talk with your mouth full
  • have a napkin handy to wipe your mouth
  • eat slowly and chew with your mouth closed
  • leave your utensils in your plate or bowl when you’re done eating.

Once you’re finished, be courteous enough to use a toothpick or dental floss and reapply your makeup away from your eating place. You can then carry on with your day, and rest easy knowing your mom would be proud of you.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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