Saturday, May 1, 2010

Remember to flip your calendar

Today is May.

Spring is in full bloom. Tender blossoms exude their sweet fragrance as winter's bitter frosts recede. The warming air and diaphanous mists incite the passions and thoughts turn naturally to the ardor of spring—to love, rebirth, renewal, and salad.

You may not have known it, but in the United States May is National Salad Month. By an astonishing coincidence, the second full week of May is National Herb Week. It's a time to celebrate the verdure of the earth with verdure on a plate. Or in a bowl—salad is just that versatile!

Salad has a long and noble history. The word itself comes from the Latin herba salta, which sounds like urban assault but actually means salted herbs. They called their salads salted herbs because that's what they were: bits of leafy herbs dressed with salty oils.

The Romans weren't the first people to enjoy salad. Though it's hard to imagine, people were eating herbs and vegetables long before the invention of salad forks. Many of our evolutionary forebears ate leaves and veggies right off the plants, vines, and trees on which they grew. In fact, scientists believe our ancient grazing tendencies may explain the popularity of salad bars and our willingness to overlook the inadequacy of most sneeze guards.

The salad was not perfected, however, until the development of Bac-O Bits®, a genetically altered bacon substitute whose artificial bacon flavor and resistance to radiation have made it a staple of American salads, to say nothing of its cult popularity as driveway gravel.

According to the Association for Dressings and Sauces, the altruistic sponsors of National Salad Month, salad dressings and sauces have a history as rich and varied as salad itself. The Chinese have been using soy sauce for over five thousand years, the Babylonians used oil and vinegar, and Worcestershire was popular in Caesar's day. (Ironically, however, the Caesar salad was not invented by Julius Caesar. It wasn't even invented by Sid Caesar. It was invented by Caesar Cardini, a Mexican restauranteur, in 1924.)

The Egyptians favored oil and vinegar mixed with Oriental spices. Mayonnaise was invented by the Duke de Richelieu in 1756 after defeating the British at Port Mahon on Majorca (hence "Mahonnaise," later corrected to mayonnaise). The Duke was best known not for his military victories, however, but his all-nude dinner parties. I'm not going to speculate as to how a bunch of naked people got the idea of covering their salads in a creamy sauce.

In 1896, Joe Marzetti of Columbus, Ohio, opened a restaurant and served his customers a variety of dressings developed from old country recipes. His restaurant might have done better if he had served them actual meals, but his dressings became so popular that he started to bottle and sell them.

It was the birth of a market niche.

Half a century later, in 1950, Americans bought 6.3 million gallons of salad dressing. In 1997, they bought more than 60 million gallons. (This information is indisputable, because it appears on the Association of Dressings and Sauces's website.)

Since the United States had a population of about 260 million in 1997, it looks like the average American buys about 4.3 gallons of salad dressing each year. That's enough to drip a tablespoon per mile from New York to Chicago. I myself don't buy salad dressing, which means that some poor bastard has to buy 8.6 gallons each year to make up the difference. But it all comes out in the wash: I'm probably drinking his gin.

It's informative to note, however, that the Association of Dressings and Sauces measures salad dressing sold, not consumed. We've all seen salad dressing in the final stages of decomposition, the once creamy sauce crusting around the edges and congealing in the bottom of the bottle. Added up nationwide, that's got to be a few million gallons a year.

So it's not like we're pigs or anything.

Carnivorous readers disinclined to celebrate National Salad Month can choose from any of the following celebrations, all of which last the entire month of May:

Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month
Arthritis Month, Better Hearing and Speech Month
Better Sleep Month
Breathe Easy Month
Correct Posture Month
Digestive Diseases Awareness Month
Hepatitis Awareness Month
High Blood Pressure and Education Month
Huntington's Disease Awareness Month
Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month
Mental Health Month
National Barbeque Month
National Bike Month
National Egg Month
National Photo Month
National Physical Fitness and Sports Month
Neurofibromatosis Month
Older Americans Month
Osteoporosis Prevention Month
Stroke Awareness Month
Tuberous Sclerosis Awareness Month
Trauma Awareness Month.

Those who like their celebrations a little shorter can choose from the following, all of which take place on the first full week of May: Be Kind to Animals Week, Goodwill Industries Week, National Family Week, National Pet Week, National Postcard Week, PTA Teacher Appreciation, and Small Business Week.

Here is your Today in History -

May 1 is recognized as May Day pretty much everywhere but the United States, Canada, and South Africa. Modern May Day celebrations throughout the world typically feature huge outdoor gatherings of people, brightly colored signs and banners, and a whole lot of tear gas.

The holiday has its root in the American labor movement of the 1880s, specifically the Haymarket tragedy of 1886. Depending on whom you ask, the Haymarket tragedy was either caused by overzealous cops with way too many guns, or overzealous anarchists with way too many bombs (i.e., one).

Actually, it no longer matters whom you ask, because all eyewitnesses would give you pretty much the same answer (i.e., none—they're dead).

Either way, nervous, well-armed cops and edgy, bomb-throwing anarchists are not a combination one encounters often in the annals of the Nobel Peace Prize. As a result, Americans ignore May Day and instead celebrate Labor Day, which features plenty of beer and barbecues and very little tear gas.

We may be complacent, but dammit, we know what to do with a steak.

May 1, 1915 -
A thoughtful German government took out advertisements warning anyone on ships flying British flags that they did so at their own risk.

That very day, the oceanliner Lusitania left New York, flying a British flag.

You do the math.

May 1, 1931 -

The Empire State Building in New York City was dedicated by President Hoover from the White House in Washington DC where he pressed a button that switched on the lights. The 102 story skyscraper, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in New York City, was the first higher than 1,250 feet.

Excavation had begun in January 1930, construction commenced in two months later, and its cornerstone was laid in September 1930. The steel framework rose at a rate of 4-1/2 stories per week. The building's construction was completed in a phenomenal one year and 45 days.

It reigned as the world's tallest skyscraper until 1954, but it still remains an icon for all things New York .

May 1, 1941 -

Orson Welles’ innovative film, Citizen Kane, a film about a man's unnatural love for his sled, opened in New York City on this date.

Film making was never the same.

May 1, 1957 -
Another in the wonderful series of Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn films, Desk Set, premiered on this date.

This is the first film that Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn did in color and the eighth of the nine films they starred in together.

May 1, 1961 -
Cuban leader Fidel Castro decided things were going along so well

that he absolved the Cuban people of ever having to go through all the bother of another election.

We live in the best of all possible times.

If this blanket doesn’t improve your marriage, nothing will.

And so it goes

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