The perils of bagged lettuce have been all over the media this year; in 2012, a debate raged on whether to rewash or not to rewash bagged lettuce. Now, some recent NPR coverage has brought this issue back to the forefront. So with lettuce season upon us, this seems like a good time to show some gratitude for the fresh produce that The New Century School community has access to, both from One Straw Farm’s CSA for families at home and from Chef Emma Novashinki’s Garden Tuck Shop Program for school lunch. “Lettuce rejoice!”
You might be thinking, “Pshaw. Prepackaged lettuce is so convenient—it’s already washed and ready to go! I have a full time job, already!” But if you’ve ever opened that Mixed Herb Salad with a use-by date several days in the future only to be choked by the smell of decomposing greenstuff, then you know that those bagged or boxed greens were actually harvested a good 2 weeks or more prior to your purchase. The waste of money aside, rotting lettuce tastes terrible and robs you of the significant health benefits you’d be reaping from fresh produce. So, really, what’s the point? The would-be convenience is negated by the glaring disadvantages. And, if you bother returning your rotten package to the grocery store, you haven’t even actually saved any time by not having to wash your lettuce yourself. However, the real shocker is, the triple-washing that prepackaged lettuce companies conscientiously implemented (to their credit) after the 2006 Escherichia coli outbreak probably doesn’t remove those intractable pathogens trapped just below the leaf’s surface that can make us really sick. Then there are the pesticides in nonorganic varieties. Although triple-washing probably removes the majority of chemicals, considering that lettuce is one of the most chemical-intensive crops, there’s likely some residue left behind (your chances of achieving cleaner lettuce are better at home, leaf by closely scrutinized leaf). To boot, triple-washing is enormously costly and a considerable drain on already scarce water resources in the nation’s biggest lettuce-producing areas like southern California.
Let’s get back to the health benefits of fresh lettuce. Buying a head whole and washing and prepping it yourself at home halts the nutrient-loss process. Turns out, lettuce and spinach are among those superfoods we should all be consuming in vast quantities but that almost immediately on picking begin to lose antioxidant content. According to Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health author Jo Robinson, they should be on your refrigerator’s “Eat Me First” list. Moreover, doing the prep work yourself actually makes your lettuce healthier! “If you take your lettuce right from the store and rinse it and dry it and then, if you rip it into bite-sized pieces before you store it, you’re going to increase the antioxidant activity … fourfold. The next time you eat it, it’s going to have four times as many antioxidants.” Ms. Robinson recently appeared on Fresh Air; read more of the transcript here.
So, thank you, thank you, thank you TNCS for providing access to fresh, local produce both in school and at home. Now where did that darn salad spinner get to?
Check out this clever (okay strange) way to preserve fresh greens longer here.
Meet Dave, the friendly Bag O’Lettuce frog here (not joking).