Cover to Cover: Chick lit and chicken salad

 

While I’m not a fine foods connoisseur, I’m definitely the “chicken salad snob” in my family.

I like mine the way most people in the south like theirs: with sweet pickle and diced hardboiled egg, and maybe a little finely chopped celery, too. That’s not to say I’m opposed to a fruity chicken salad, with pecans, grapes and diced apples.

So, while my wife, Bre, and I were out shopping on Woodruff Road the other day, we decided on Chicken Salad Chick for lunch. These restaurants have been popping up all over the south lately, but I’ve only had their food once before when a friend of mine picked something up for me back when I worked in Columbia. Thus, I knew the food was good. 

However, it wasn’t their sandwiches that peaked my interest on this most recent occasion. Rather, it was the artwork in the restaurant that had my full attention, for the cartoon woman on the wall bears a striking resemblance to Anita Loos’ Lorelei, the main character of her iconic novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Of course, I have no idea whether the ambiance was intended to reflect the illustrations of Loos’ book. Yet, after making the connection, I couldn’t help but draw the parallels between this runaway bestseller of the mid-1920s and the cuisine found on the menu of Chicken Salad Chick.

When you think of the Roaring Twenties, you may think of snazzy suits, flapper dresses and jazz music. You should add two things to this list: suffrage and refrigeration. With most American kitchens having electricity, frozen dinners and cold “salads” became hugely popular during this decade, including chicken salad, egg salad, and the iconic Waldorf salad. Cold deli sandwiches were also a big hit.

Naturally, the convenience of these foods were appealing to women of the era, who were spending less time in the kitchen, and more time in places like the voting booth (the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920). Quick and easy-to-prepare meals, like chicken salad, were regular go-to’s for women who were steadily becoming more independent.

And such independence is catalogued in “chick lit:” works of fiction involving female protagonists, which regularly address issues of modern womanhood. Loos’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is the perfect example of the genre, which touches on these issues in its own lighthearted and amusing ways. Not only did it sell more copies than Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby when it was first published, the book was also made into a movie starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.

In addition to the restaurant’s main artwork, you’ll find little quotes about the store that play towards these themes of femininity. One of them says, “My mother always taught me that there are two things we are allowed to enjoy and never talk about: mayonnaise and money.” 

Bre said she found another one above the sink in the restroom that reads, “If your husband brought you here today and you have a question about how much he loves you… let us put it into perspective for you. There are plenty of BBQ joints in the area. He is sitting here amongst a sea of flowers, women and salads.”

As we inch closer to another “Roaring Twenties” decade, make sure that you pay tribute to two things that played a small role in gender equality. Go find an old copy of Loos’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and pair it with a hearty scoop of chicken salad. As for me, I think I’ll try the “Fancy Nancy” next time.

 

(Graham Duncan is a graduate of Clinton High and Lander University. He works as a staff writer at Lander, and is pursuing a master’s at Converse College. He can be reached at gduncan@lander.edu.)

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