I’ve taken a lot of, shall we say, hard stances on Twitter—but only one of them in my living memory has embroiled me in a real-life fight. September 18, 2017 I tweeted that arugula tastes bad. About eight seconds later, I was in the text-fight of my life with my friend of six years (let’s call her “Maggie” because that’s her name and I feel no need to protect her), who had taken up arugula’s cause like it was Jimmy Stewart’s character in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Our relationship has never fully recovered. To this day, I still refuse to believe that such an unpleasant, coarse, and to be completely honest, bitchy plant has such fervent defenders, fans and customers. I would like to forever cement as a matter of public record that not only is arugula the biggest garbage plant on earth, but it’s also complete lunacy that otherwise rational people continue to emotionally defend it to me.
I want to do an exercise with you. I want you to think about textures you enjoy in the foods you eat. I’m sure you’ll argue that it’s up to context—a solid crunch in some foods might be refreshing, while in others might be a source of alarm, and likewise for softness or chewiness. And you’d be right. But I would argue that each of these mouthfeels at least has a place somewhere on the broad spectrum of food conversation. By contrast, one texture that literally nobody on the face of this planet has ever wanted is “the feeling of a leaf grappling with its own demise all the way down your throat.” A more concise descriptor would be “grabbiness.” A less concise, again, synonym would be “shitty scratchy garbage feel.” This is the sensation that arugula brings to the table and why I will not rest until it is expunged from the pantheon of acceptable salad bases.
For centuries at this point, salad science has been developing along roughly one objective thread, and that thread is “making people forget, as much as possible, that they are eating a pile of leaves.” Dressing, fruits, nuts, meats, breads, cheeses—we’ll add anything to a salad, all for the express intent of making it feel, as little as possible, like what we are doing is what we are doing (i.e., essentially reaching out a window, plucking a leaf off of a tree and chewing on it). This illusion finds its allies in the soft, fleshy spinach leaf or the crunchy iceberg lettuce—neither of which make one feel like a hungry, hungry cow chowing down on a fresh patch of grass. However, all of this important illusory work done in the name of forgetting what a salad actually is is immediately brought to shambles by this one trash leaf. It’s the harshest plant. Arugula wants you to feel like a sad, miserable herbivore when you’re eating it. It has no give, no flavor. Actually it does have a flavor: bitter! A synonym for this would be: bad! Why do we tolerate this evil, wiry dirt plant spitting on all of our important salad advances?
I once had a friend who works at a trendy cafe tell me they put arugula on the side of all of their dishes because it’s extremely cheap. Now, granted this was in 2011. I don’t know anything about what kind of lettuce inflation might have gone on since then, and I’ve also literally never attempted to fact-check this. BUT I would argue I have never felt the need to fact-check my friend’s claim because the statement rang with an undeniable, universal truth that the most primal parts of me responded to. Arugula feels like it was cheaply and quickly manufactured at a bottom-rate factory somewhere. It is, at its most basic essence, a bitter feudal root. Sure, if you hadn’t eaten a green in months because the lord of your fiefdom decreed that all your crops be burned because a witch gazed upon them, or whatever, then yeah, you’d probably be happy to gnaw upon this scraggly growth. But we don’t have to live like that! We are living in the golden age of food production! We don’t have to depend on last-resort, bottom-of-the-barrel peasant plants.
I get that arugula is trendy. I guess it looks good on a timeline, garnishing whatever toasted something you’ve gotten from whichever diner the Vanderpumps have most recently opened. But how much longer are we going to let Trendiness stand between us and actual Happiness? It’s time to evolve. And I’m sure there’s an Instagram filter out there that can make romaine look completely fuckable.
Look, I get that some people really, however misguidedly, love arugula. I’m not saying we abolish it altogether. Instead, I’ve thought up several uses for arugula that don’t actually require us to continue eating it.
Here are a few new ways arugula can begin to repay its massive debt to society:
- Be used as cleaning brushes for car detailing. Arugula’s strident, Brillo-eque texture would be perfect for getting into those little tire crevices!
- Contribute to floral arrangements. If you guys love the way arugula ~looks~ so much, why not put it up there with baby’s breath and roses in the pantheon of things we can all agree look nice but should never ever be consumed?
- Serve as food, but only for gross woodland creatures who aren’t endowed with human rights or protected under the Geneva Convention. This one’s self explanatory.
- Be thrown into the ocean to soak up oil spills. It’s worth a shot.