Last weekend I read an article in one of the broadsheet colour supplements about lettuce. Not your common or garden iceberg, you understand, but the designer type that comes as a bagged mixture of several ready-washed varieties, ranging from your peppery Rocket or Red Mustard, through to the flamboyant but tasteless Lollo Rosso. It turns out that not only are these packets of leaves a massive rip-off, they are also not particularly good for you.
These salad vegetables, which on the surface look quite nutritious and wholesome, are immersed in a chlorine wash that is equivalent to twenty times the level in swimming pools. They are then packed using a process known as Modified Atmosphere Packaging, which alters the normal levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide within the sealed package, thereby extending the product’s shelf life for, in some cases, up to a month. Imagine what all this chemical warfare does to your salad.
I’ve often wondered what type of person bought these elaborate and pretentious salad vegetables. Well, surprisingly two thirds of the UK population regularly do! When I walk past the salad counter in a supermarket, I look at these flirtatious bags of leaves with contempt, viewing them as the vegetable equivalent of high-maintenance women. All style, no substance, no taste and, according to the newspaper report, subjected to regular chemical peel treatments.
I see shoppers tempted by the apparent freshness, colours and convenience and I desperately want to tell them that for around £1, they can buy a packet of seeds that will keep them and several close friends in designer lettuce all summer. A tiny bit of land – heck even a window box - will suffice for cultivating a fantastic crop of salad leaves that can be picked and eaten within minutes, ensuring the optimum in freshness and nutrition. These leaves can be cut and, lo and behold, they will come up again – an again! All for minimum effort and expenditure.
Maybe I should start a lettuce growing campaign. A growing army of amateur gardeners could join me in fighting back against the economic power of the supermarkets. Soon, the designer lettuce counter could disappear along with powdered egg and Vesta curries. Power could be restored to the consumer and we could, literally, reap what we sow!
Just a dream…just a dream…