Salad Squared at the Dole Summit: Salad Samplings, Salad Ballet and Salad Recipe

 

Candida Diet, Sugar-free Greens with Pineapple Vinaigrette Recipe on RickiHeller.com

[My own creation, inspired by our group's favorite sample salad. See recipe, below.]

After a whirlwind three days at the Dole Salad Summit, I finally woke up yesterday in my own bed.  Glancing out the window, it seemed to me that something was a little “off”: the sky outside looked just a little  little less blue, the grass a little less green, the earth a little less burnished.  (And the fact that I had to cook my own meals for the first time in 3 days kinda sucked, too).

(“True, Mum, but you have us.  Doesn’t that make up for everything? Okay, don’t answer that.“)

Was it the indescribably beautiful landscape that impressed me most? Getting to meet and play with 19 remarkable bloggers, many of whose blogs I’ve been following for a long time? The fabulous food and drink? The resort-like quality of the accommodations? No.  What made the greatest impact, for me, was observing the passion and commitment of the Dole employees themselves, learning more about the company as a whole and its practices and policies when it comes to their products.

Along with the enthusiasm and dedication was a clear intention to pay attention and really listen to their consumers’ wants and needs, and to strive to improve wherever they can. I left Monterey having experienced a shift in my own perspective, one that I truly hadn’t anticipated before leaving for the trip.

 At the Dole Processing plant and the “Lettuce 101″ tutorial. Could you name more than 28 kinds of lettuce by sight? Naw, me, neither.

Today, I thought I’d share some of the highlights (and believe me, there were many), plus my own impressions over this and the next post.

Oh, and a couple of killer salad recipes, too. :D

[Warning: Lengthy post ahead.  You might want to read for a bit, then stop and have a little salad break before returning to wrap up reading the post.]

[A favorite sample salad: Arugula, Avocado and Mango with Macadamia Nuts]

I. Butter (Lettuce) Me Up in the Morning: A Visit to the Dole Offices and Product Tastings

Our first stop on Thursday after a continental breakfast at our hotel was the Dole Fresh Vegetables office building, where we soaked up some statistics about the company, their products, and the huge variety (200 products!) of vegetables they grow. I learned more than I ever imagined about lettuce and salad (actually, more than I ever imagined there was to learn about lettuce and salad). Interspersed between our roundtable discussion, information on the different types of lettuce and some lively commentary on our favorite ways to use veggies, we were served samples of Dole’s new salad mixes or greens.

The group favorite by far was a combination of arugula with avocado, mango and macadamia nuts in a pineapple vinaigrette (see photo, above), which also inspired my own salad recipe, below.

Another favorite taste test (for me, anyway) was the new Salanova Butter lettuce, a tender, delicate variety that is visually stunning in its resemblance to a giant, blossoming rose, petals hugging a hidden core.  One cut across the bottom and each leaf is transformed to a single bite-sized piece.  SO tender and delicious! I am counting the days until this baby makes its way to Toronto.

[Standing on the iceberg lettuce field after harvest.  The discarded lettuces are turned over for compost. Background: fascinated bloggers. Foreground, a real farmer!]

II. Outstanding in Their Field: Meet the Farmer, Eat Some Lettuce

After the meeting, we hopped on a bus to the Salinas Valley to view some of the lettuce fields and the men at work harvesting.  We traipsed over a cushy carpet of iceberg lettuce leaves where the heads had already been harvested, gazed in awe at the harvesters prepping the lettuce for its trip to the processing plant (the lettuce is touched but once by human hands–housed in gloves–before it is sent to the plant and made into your packaged salad mix. How cool is that?), and chatted with Mark Pisoni, who represents a fifth-generation farmer with Dole (note to self: California farmers are definitely more hunky than Ontario farmers).

As we bobbed along the winding California roads, a backdrop of impossibly beautiful mountains and sky, Terry Foley, the General Manager of Commodity Operations, answered a slew of our questions.

Here are some of the key queries (and Terry’s answers) that I found most thought-provoking:

Q. Does Dole grow organic products? I was disappointed to learn that the answer to this question was, sadly, “no.”  They are, however, involved with integrative pest management and natural means wherever possible. In one recent study, according to Foley, researchers found that 85% of packaged produce showed no pesticide residue at all. As another blogger noted, “Now that I know that, I may not feel I have to buy organic next time I shop at the grocery store if I see your products there as well.”  The fact that the products are mostly “clean” was a huge eye-opener for some of us, and we urged the company to let more people know about that fact.

Q. Does Dole use GMOs at all? No.  A clear win.

Q.  What kind of packaging does the company use for their salads? Recyclable plastic that is made from 70% previously recycled materials. Again, win-ning!*

Q. Does Dole grow its own vegetables? The surprising answer here was, again, “No.” Obviously, Dole could easily farm their own produce, but they choose to do only about 10% of the direct growing. The remaining 90% of their produce is grown by independent farmers with whom they’ve established long-term relationships (in one case, up to five generations with the same family). In fact, I was struck that so many of the growers and harvesters have been with the company for as long as they have; the company has, clearly, spent a lot of time and effort to build mutually beneficial, long-term connections with farmers and other workers. I was repeatedly impressed by the Dole employees’ passion, enthusiasm and knowledge about their company, its operations and products.

[Field workers handling lettuce--but only once.]

While I’ve always been aware of Dole and certainly purchase their pineapples and bananas on a regular basis, the salad mixes were, as a rule, generally outside my purview; I mean, my subconscious mind was aware of their existence as they glided through my peripheral vision, but I didn’t think one way or the other about them. My preference was always for organic.

Over the course of this event, however, those veggies took on a new connotation: like the nerdy guy in high school who finally got a good haircut, decent clothes and switched from plastic glasses to wire rims–hey! I’d consider dating him now!–my impression changed.  While I certainly hadn’t harbored a negative impression of Dole, I’d say my previous feeling was, at best, neutral. After learning as much as I did, however, I’d now feel perfectly happy eating these mixes. For those who don’t want to spend the extra on organic, or don’t have access to a farmers’ market, or simply want the convenience of buying all their food in one place, I’d certainly consider them.

What do you think? Have you ever tried Dole salads or lettuces? What’s your impression of the company?

[Dana and Amie at our “Special” lunch table]

III. Déjeuner with Dole: Our Lunch at La Bicyclette

A short bus ride later, we found ourselves at La Bicylette, a quaint, authentically French corner bistro in the heart of Carmel.

Now, normally, one would never connect authentic French food–cream sauces, butter, poached salmon, butter, cream, butter and a smidge more butter–with the anti-candida diet.

[My carrot risotto was so good that one of the non-vegans at our table preferred to share mine rather than the cream-laden one!]

However, after conferring with our tour organizers, Amanda and Kelly, who conferred with the restaurant’s floor manager, Caroline, who checked with the two sous-chefs, James and Christophe, those of us at the “Special” Table (Dana, Amie, Irvin, Shannalee and Tim, Stephanie and I) were treated to an impeccable meal,  perfectly plated and presented. First up were mixed greens and beet salad, followed by vegan Carrot Risotto and a brimming plate of grilled mixed veggies and toasted hazelnuts. The risotto practically exuded richness while somehow remaining fairly light, offering a hint of orange zest from within the mounds of carrot-soaked arborio.

As we decompressed from the morning’s activities, our chatter overtook the space and we talked about all that we’d learned, the surreal surroundings, organic vs. conventional produce, the beauty of Monterey and Carmel, our blogs (of course), travel, tattoos and photography; and we learned that Amie really, really likes salsa.  ;)

[Almond-Berry Tart slices.]

Dessert was a lavish sliced almond-berry tart and chocolate mousse (I savored a huge bowl of fresh berries instead. Let me tell you, they sure know how to grow them in California. Easily the best berries I’ve ever eaten). Satiated and happy, we practically rolled ourselves into the bus to make the trek to our penultimate stop of the day.

IV Final Stop Pre-Dinner: The Processing Plant

By this time, we were all a little  faded after trudging through the fields and hopping on and off the bus (What? You mean you don’t feel sorry for me?), but we were instantly re-energized and enthralled by our tour of the Dole processing plant, where the work of cleaning and packaging the salads takes place.

Gil Oetzel, Director of New Product Development, conducted a mini tutorial and fun quiz on the myriad varieties of lettuce before we were ushered into the plant itself to observe the operation in action.  There, we were entranced by the men and women who cleaned, dried, bagged, boxed and shipped the salad mixes, all with a coordination, precision and grace that is usually reserved for the ballet stage. For me, this was (another!) high point of the day.

[Who knew that romaine could look this pretty?]

The final food-related event of the trip occurred Thursday evening, when the folks at Dole threw a spectacular party for us on the hotel’s outdoor terrace; the next morning, just before leaving, we took a tour of 17-Mile Drive and Pebble Beach. But given the monumental length of this post already, I’ll share more about those next time!

Instead, I’ll leave you with my latest salad creation, highlighting mango (or pear) combined with avocado, pine nuts, and a base of baby greens (in this case, arugula, spinach, mizuna, and radicchio) in a light and tangy pineapple-tarragon dressing.

Like the earlier pineapple-based dressing I made, this one uses fresh pineapple and veggies for much of the base, allowing for less oil in the mix. The pineapple in this dressing is my nod to Kelly’s orignal, which she presented to us Thursday morning. I shared it with the HH this evening, and it transported me back to bluer skies, greener fields and an expansive carpet of iceberg lettuce beneath my feet.

* I sincerely apologize for the Charlie Sheen reference. In fact, there is no real connection between Sheen and Dole at all. Though I suspect that Charlie could probably stand to eat more salad.

Other Dole Summit Posts:

[Disclosure: Dole paid for my travel, accommodations and food during my stay. They did not ask that I write a positive review of them, or a blog post about them at all.]

I’m sharing this recipe at Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.

Never miss a recipe–or a comment from The Girls! Click here to subscribe to Diet, Dessert and Dogs via email. (“We love subscribers, Mum. . . almost as much as treats!”)

Other salad recipes on DDD:

© Ricki Heller, Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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Comments

  1. Ricki! This looks like an amazing time and I am so glad that you were able to join in on this opportunity. You are such a great role model for healthy living and natural foods cooking. It’s wonderful that you were able to share your expertise and “light” with the Dole community! And that salad, by the way, looks fantastic. :)

    • Thanks so much, Hallie! It really was an amazing time, and I was just so impressed by the company as a whole. And glad you liked the salad! :D

  2. Oh my goodness, that salad sounds amazing. I love the dressing ingredients and look forward to trying it Ricki! Sounds like you had such a cool adventure. I think my favorite part (other than that risotto) would’ve been the chance to talk to the farmers and field workers! Thanks for sharing. I am once again inspired by your open mind and creative spirit.

    • Thanks so much, Maggie–much appreciated! And glad you like the salad, too. The dressing is really lovely, but particularly delish on this combination of salad ingredients! :)

  3. It’s so interesting how our perspectives change once we learn more about a company. Regarding the organic/non-organic debate – I sat in on a session at The National Restaurant Show featuring Rick Bayless who has done so much for the local farmers in the community. When someone asked him about which one is better he said it’s not so black and white – it is a long and very expensive process to get your company certified organic. If we all abandon the non-organic small farmer, it would make it impossible for them to ever make the transition. Sounds like that is part of Dole’s predicament as they have all these small, local farmers that grow for them.

    • Amy, yes, that’s one of the points that came up as we continued to discuss the issue while we were there. I know from studying the issue that here in Canada, a farm must provide at least 5 years of organic growing before they can be certified “organic.” This means they must continue to sell their products as “non-organic” (ie conventional), at the regular price, until they are certified. Many farmers can’t afford to lose money for 5 years (since organic practises are more expensive) until they can be certified. Perhaps with the backing of Dole, some of them will be able to do so in the future, since our rep at the summit expressed an interest in pursuing more organic products in future.

  4. Fabulous re-cap! I’m actually excited that companies like this are bringing bloggers in to help explain more of what they do. Even if they aren’t organic, it’s great that you can relay some info on their processes. I never would have known this!

    Yes, I must admit, I take the produce for granted out west! Even though we aren’t in CA, we are just a few miles from that state, and get lots of spill-over great produce!

    • Alisa, that’s one thing I noticed right away: the quality of the local produce is just sensational there. I buy my produe at farmers’ markets throughout the summer months here, and while it’s SO much better than the stuff we get in winter, it just doesn’t compare to what I ate in CA. Glad you found the post informative, too! :)

  5. Love this recap. I do feel that even if farms aren’t organic, many honor organic and sustainable practices. (conversely, some farms ARE organic but still aren’t sustainable…) It’s always best to learn the actual practices “from the horse’s mouth”. It’s nice to know you’ve been able to learn more about it through this summit. :) And that salad looks delightful.

  6. Ricki, thank you so much for sharing your honest feedback. This is so well-written and I really learned a lot. I do think it’s important to remember that the organic label isn’t the be-all, end-all of healthy food – there are so many things to consider and often times just because something bears an organic label, doesn’t mean it’s any better!

    • Thanks so much, Cara. I know that the organic/non-organic issue is rather complicated, and as you likely know, I have always veered toward organic when it’s available. I also have bought conventional when I can’t find organic, or if it is not as fresh, or if it’s simply too expensive (though I do try to purchase the “dirty dozen” organic). However, I am now glad to have a good alternative that I can feel okay about consuming! :)

  7. All your food looks so good Ricki. I hope one day I can eat pineapple again. I love Dole’s pineapples.

    I am glad they are non GMO and try to use IMP when possible. The thing I would want to know from them is this: my readings have shown me that organic greens have sometimes 10+ times more nutrients than conventional (exact figures are in the book Green for Life). It is why I always pay the extra $ for organic, because you are getting more nutrients. To me, organic isn’t just about what’s not on it (pesticides), it’s about the nutrition too. So I think it would be interesting to see where their greens stood up in those sort of tests. But thanks for reminding us that it’s not black and white conventional/organic, there are shades of grey. I do buy non certified organic when it’s local because it’s the type of situation you were in, you can ask the farmer questions, etc. It’s hard to ask those questions to a box of greens at the supermarket.

    • Bitt, thanks so much. And yours is SUCH a great question! I’ve read those studies, too, but forgot to ask the question (it’s possible they already have the data)–in fact, it occurred to me after I got there that I should have put a call out to my blog readers and Facebook fans to see what, exactly, they would have liked me to ask of Dole. I agree with you, though: if one apple A has 10x the nutritional value of apple B, and I am able to purchase apple B, I will do so. Especially for those of us who have health issues and often react to foods, this is a key question. Thanks. (PS I have pineapple very, very rarely. . . but I do love it, too!) :D

  8. Ricki, this trip sounds like it was absolutely amazing. I think that my favorite part of the trip would have been being out in the fields and seeing the farming practices. That absolutely fascinates me. Oh, and your upcoming description of the beautiful coastal drive and Pebble Beach also would have been my other favorite part as well, but it will probably make me a little homesick. We spent many a summer vacation in Pebble Beach!
    This salad sounds amazing! A huge combination of all of my favorite flavors! A must to make for me now! :)

  9. Oh I am jealous! You were in my old stomping grounds, I spent a week or so every fall in Monterey when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, thanks for a little update from “home”. Your trip sounds wonderful and I wanted to chime in about the organic issue. I had a several lenghty discussions with various food providers about fair trade, organic, etc. It was such an eye opener. As Amy commented, it is not black and white. Often sustainablity or Fair trade practices can not go hand in hand with organic farming and yet, as you point out often the non-organic products are as clean as the organic. I like the fact that Dole gets its produce from independant farmers – it is so important to support independant farmers!

    Your salad (as well as that risotto) looks amazing! Waiting with baited breathe to hear more!

    • Thanks so much, Carol! The risotto was indeed amazing (I think my salad is pretty darned good, too). ;) And so cool that that’s your old stomping grounds! I think I would like it to be my new stomping grounds–ha ha!

  10. So, now I don’t have to write my post, do I? What fantastic post… you are hilarious. I agree, Charlie Sheen undoubtedly needs more salad.

  11. great, great recap! it was so nice to meet you last week :)

    i am still dreaming of that risotto.

    • Ha ha!! I know what you mean. I’ve been thinking about how I can reproduce it. . . wheels turning! So great to meet you as well. Hope we meet up again at another event! :)

  12. Great photos! That carrot risotto was so good! I am liking the sound of that pineapple dressing with plenty of cilantro!

  13. Ricki, I’ve been saving this post up for a time when I could read it with full attention and really savour your experience. (And yes, I did while eating a salad of sorts – raw broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini tossed with flax, sesame seeds, miso and nooch!)

    It was clearly a wonderful and inspiring trip, and I particularly love hearing that Dole has been nurturing relationships with farmer for many years. In these times of mono-crops and corporate non-accountability and a moving-away from recognising the environmental, economic, and social aspects of growing food, congratulations to Dole!

  14. Thanks for sharing your experiences of the weekend – the photos were great and it was interesting to learn a bit more about Dole’s practices.

  15. How lucky are you to be able to actually talk with those who grow the food – makes such a difference in how you approach it – the answer to the question about organics in particular is very interesting and gives a grey area to an issue that is usually organics = good and non-organics = bad. I love the sound of the carrot risotto – hope you might be having a go at making it

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