Saturday, January 16, 2010

Salad Days

Unless you are a native son or daughter, if I said "Schenectady" to you and asked you to say the first thing that came to your mind, odds are you'd be hard pressed for an answer. However, given a moment or two to ponder, a few things might pop up. If you have a college aged kid, you might know that it's the home of Union College, which happens to be the oldest planned college campus in the United States. If you're a Kurt Vonnegut fan, you might recognize it as the setting for a number of his books, including "Hocus Pocus" and "Player Piano." And if you're a zip code connoisseur, you might know that the General Electric plant there has a mailing address that ends in 12345.

Well, now you can add one more piece of useless information to your treasure chest of lore about "The City That Lights and Hauls the World," a reference to hometown companies GE and the American Locomotive Works. According to an "exhaustive 18-month research effort" done by Dole Fresh Vegetables, Schenectady is actually one of the "Top Salad Cities" in the country.

Just what does that distinction mean? And how did it join such other distinguished leaf-eating locales as Flint, Michigan and Richmond, Virginia on this august list? According to the study, in those metropolitan areas and 18 others, "local residents eat more salad per person than their counterparts in other U.S. cities, have the potential to eat more salad and/or are more likely to try new salad blends, experiment with salad and salad ingredients in the kitchen or serve salad as a meal." And you thought Kansas City was known for its stockyards... yes, it made the cut.

Dole conducted the research as part of its launch of nine salad "kits." (In a side note, it was a major announcement at the Produce Marketing Association's "Fresh Summit" in October, the highlight of the produce season.) The idea behind the kits is convenience in today's busy world. Since it's so hard to find lettuce and carrots at your local store, and even if you could, assembling them into a serviceable course is such a daunting task, you can now buy a kit to help you. No need to go the salad bar when you can bring the salad bar to you, and in perfect proportion.

Each kit contains all the makings you need to put together this difficult culinary preparation. Simply open the bag and pour out the lettuce, carrots and other crunchy stuff, add the enclosed dressing and enjoy. That's so much easier than taking out lettuce, carrots and other crunchy stuff from your fridge, adding your own dressing and enjoying. Can't you feel the stress of making a salad just fade away?

Or let's say you're the confident type who's not afraid to plunge in on your own. But like a fine wine, maybe you need a little support when selecting which of the many ingredients in the produce aisle should accompany whatever else you're making. In that case you might turn to Dole's newly designed "Salad Guide." Each of their 32 prepackaged blends of edibles now includes two five-point scales to help you make the perfect selection. The "Taste" scale goes from "mild" to "bold," while the "Texture" guide goes from "tender" to "crunchy." Add to that the suggested "pairings" on the packages, and you have a no fail salad. For instance, the "American Blend" starter ("Taste/1, Texture/5") goes well with "Bacon Ranch Dressing, crispy onion strings, and shredded Cheddar Cheese." Who would have thought?

Now, I know we've become obsessed with our iPhones aps and our Wii Fit scores. I know there are only so many hours in the day to customize and update our Facebook pages and follow Ashton Kutcher's Twitter feed. And I know that in spite of the popularity of Iron Chef and Emeril and Rachel Ray, processed and prepared foods are a huge market for a busy public. But I would like to think that as a country, we could take a stand and recognize that even the most distracted, pressed for time, culinary challenged individual can make a salad from scratch and succeed on their own terms. In these tough times, it would be a reaffirming nod towards all that made this country great.

Still, Dole must be on to something, or else they wouldn't have committed this much muscle to the market segment. So buy the kit if you must, or use the "Spring Mix" if you're in a rush. But take a stand: add cherry tomatoes AND sunflower seeds to either, and assert your rights as an individual.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has recently discovered the pleasure of dried cranberries in almost any salad. His column appears regularly in The Record Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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