12.01.2006

Salad Bowl

In describing America as a land of immigrants, people used to use the term, "melting pot," but are now commonly consider it a "salad bowl."  For some (not all), this is said somewhat derogatorily: instead of assimilating, different groups are choosing to cluster together and retain a non-majority primary identity.

Your political, cultural, and visceral viewpoints on immigration notwithstanding, consider the good that there is in a salad bowl.  I'm not arguing that a salad bowl is better than a melting pot, or that there's nothing wrong about salad bowls.  I am asking that we delve more deeply into the metaphor. 

I happen to love salads.  My most commonly used ingredients (besides some form of lettuce) are tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms, block cheese, hard-boiled egg, and croutons.  I very rarely eat any of those ingredients by themselves, but will eat all of them together six days a week.  The only thing I eat more regularly than salad is a homemade yogurt brew I got from my dad, which admittedly tastes pretty nasty but is great with granola, raisins, and dried cranberries and blueberries - and that's another example of a food consisting of ingredients I would almost never eat individually but which I delight in together.

When you think about it, many of life's most delicious things to eat are mixtures of things you rarely eat on their own and/or that are very different from one another.  Apple and cinnamon, mint and chocolate, bacon and lettuce and tomato, just to name three off the top of my head. 

There's an episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry delights in a Black and White cookie and laments that people can't be as harmonious: "The thing about eating the Black and White cookie, Elaine, is you want to get some black and some white in each bite.  Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate.  And yet somehow racial harmony eludes us.  If people would only look to the cookie all our problems would be solved." 

I think this is a little simplistic; after all, peanut butter didn't ethnically cleanse jelly's ancestors, and jelly didn't enslave peanut butter's people.  The point I do want to make using my food analogies is that it's good that the individual parts are different.  Those who are more about the melting pot are frightened by these differences and want everyone to be the same (or more correctly, to be like them).  Those who are more about the salad bowl delight in those very differences. 
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