Whether or not you’re a salad devotee, lettuce is something most households always have on hand. It’s the perfect all-around vegetable for mixing in salads or topping sandwiches. As a lettuce lover, I thought my favorite veggie could do no wrong. But after doing some research, I realized just how harmful my weekly grocery purchase can be not only on the environment, but on myself as well.
1. It Wastes Water
According to the Huffington Post, 74% of our lettuce is grown in drought-prone California. One head of lettuce requires around 3-5 gallons to grow properly and needs additional mists of water throughout the shipping and handling process to stay fresh. For a state that often experiences droughts, it’s a bit alarming to think about how much water is being used to grow lettuce and other vegetables that likely won’t even be eaten by local consumers.
2. It’s Not Energy Efficient
If the majority of America’s lettuce is grown in California, just think about how long it travels to get to your local grocery store. I live in Indiana, meaning my lettuce has to travel almost 2,000 miles before I can eat it, which is absolutely insane. That means I’m not only wasting 3+ gallons of water when I buy a head of lettuce, but I’m also wasting countless gallons of gas in the process.
That being said, your lettuce could be coming from somewhere closer to home. However, since lettuce isn’t labeled in stores, you can’t be 100% sure how much your purchase is impacting the environment.
3. It Absorbs A Lot of Pesticides
An article published by NBC News labels lettuce as a “ground hugger” vegetable, meaning it absorbs the pesticide-laden ground water around it. Lettuce has the third highest pesticide load of any other vegetable, which is largely due to its lacking a protective skin (like an avocado).
Because of its bumpy surface, lettuce is tough to wash, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to flush out all the pesticides on your lettuce if you simply rinse it under tap water. Pesticides might help our plants grow, but that doesn’t mean they need to go into your body.
4. It Can House Bacteria
In general, store-bought leafy greens are more likely to carry foodborne illnesses. From the immense amount of (possibly contaminated) water that is used to grow lettuce, to the harvesting and processing techniques, lettuce is extremely susceptible to bacteria such as E. coli. The only way to ensure absolute food safety is to cook your food, but cooked lettuce isn’t exactly palatable.
5. It Contributes to Food Waste
An article by NPR states that many pre-packaged leafy greens like lettuce are thrown away days before their so-called “expiration date,” because farmers are afraid they won’t have enough time to ship the food to its final destination. Grocery stores need 10-11 days to handle and sell lettuce before it “goes bad,” meaning greens are being tossed when they’re still perfectly good to eat.
Again, if almost 3/4 of the nation’s lettuce is being produced in a state that regularly experiences droughts, why are we wasting so much water and energy harvesting lettuce that might end up going straight to the trash?
#SpoonTip: Prevent food waste at an individual level by buying only what you can really eat in one week. If your lettuce goes bad, try composting it instead of throwing it away.
6. It’s Not Overly Nutritious
Is lettuce bad for you? Of course not. But when you compare the amount of nutrients in lettuce to, say, sweet potatoes, it becomes apparent why lettuce isn’t worth your money. According to Livestrong.com, iceberg lettuce is a good source of Vitamins A and K, but is otherwise not vitamin-rich.
#SpoonTip: If you’re looking for a nutrient-dense leafy green, try spinach or kale instead. However, you should try buying local organic greens when possible for many of the same reasons why you should avoid store-bought lettuce.
Am I saying you should completely swear off lettuce? Absolutely not. If you’re a lettuce addict like I am, I suggest you buy locally grown lettuce when it’s in season. Farmers markets are filled with freshly picked mixed greens that often use little to no pesticides, which means you can feel good about the food you’re buying.