The full-length feature version of The Ethical Salad by Barry Estabrook appears in the current issue of Gourmet Live. Download the free Gourmet Live app for this story and more.
Photo: Condé Nast Archive
As the story goes, Robert H. Cobb, the owner of the Brown Derby, was scrounging through the legendary Hollywood restaurant’s walk–in for a late–night snack in 1937. He hauled out whatever came to hand: romaine, cooked chicken breast, tomatoes, Roquefort cheese, and hard–boiled eggs, along with some cooked bacon. Then he chopped them and tossed them with dressing. His accomplice on the midnight refrigerator raid was Sid Grauman, the owner of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Grauman liked the improv salad so much that he came in the next day and ordered a “Cobb salad.” It was an immediate hit.
Cool, light, filling, a cinch to toss together, and ideal for hot summer evenings, cobb salad also has a place of honor on my table at this time of year.
The trouble is, that with chicken, bacon, eggs, romaine, and tomatoes as essential building blocks, a cobb salad can be a problem for anyone trying to eat ethically. Typically, hogs and chickens are raised by the thousands in filthy, overcrowded Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). As Americans learned during the massive egg recall last summer, most laying hens live their entire lives unable to spread their wings or turn around in battery cages with no more floor space than a sheet of copier paper. They are cooped up in dank barns among rodents, swarming flies, and the carcasses of dead chickens. And tomatoes sold in supermarkets are planted and picked by some of the most abused farm laborers in the country. Continue reading