In 1992, ranch dressing overtook Italian to become the most popular salad dressing in the USA. If you’re interested in why that happened, click here. I don’t care for ranch dressing. I don’t really like milk on my lettuce.
But thinking about ranch dressing made me wonder: whatever happened to thousand island? Growing up, thousand island dressing seemed ubiquitous; ranch was unheard of. I don’t recall even tasting ranch until around the mid 1980’s; cool ranch Doritos came out around that time. But thousand island dressing was everywhere. If you asked a waiter in 1980 what salad dressings were available, he’d be likely to say “Thousand island, Italian, oil and vinegar, blue cheese, or French.”
Today you’d get “Honey mustard, ranch, vinaigrette, Caesar, or balsamic.”
What has happened?
I have no pat answers; I offer no sweeping theories; I haven’t got a clue. I can only point to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The mind searches for a pattern, for answers, when in reality there’s just arbitrariness, fashion, randomness. Balsamic is in, thousand island is out. End of story. Move on to something more interesting.
And yet I do have a theory, nebulous, half-formed, rising to the surface. My theory is this: most people don’t feel strongly for any particular salad dressing. But people are strongly against.
I have a brother who is disgusted by ketchup. I bet he wouldn’t go near thousand island, because (according to popular folklore) thousand island is just ketchup + mayonnaise. True or not, it’s the reputation that counts; a reputation built in part on the “secret sauce” of the Big Mac and the Reuben and god knows what else. How many people have the following associations in their mind: thousand island…Big Mac…disgusting fast food? I wonder if the backlash against fast food (Supersize me!) is mirrored by the downfall of thousand island.
A lot of people today find thousand island, well, gross.
What about French? Or about my personal favorite, Russian…a dressing so rare, now, that you can barely even find it in the grocery store? I’m going to guess that these dressings suffer because of their names. Russians have been gauche since the cold war 1950’s; the French since…well, since the last incident in which the French incurred the wrath of America. (It’s sad, really, that I remember a movement to rename French fries to “freedom fries”, but have long since forgotten the international incident that sparked such outrage.) Anyway, if you eat Russian dressing then you’re a commie, and if you eat French dressing then you wear a beret, enjoy Jerry Lewis movies, and hate America.
I love both French and Russian dressings.
I dislike ranch.
C’est la vie.
[Note: I’d be curious to hear from the denizens of other countries. What salad dressings are de rigueur in the UK, or in South Africa, or Argentina, or Macao? And how have the fashions changed over time? Please don’t say you like ranch, too.]