"Lettuce should be eradicated from the face of the earth."
Those were the words embedded in my mind following a conversation I had with fellow Foodbeast and full-time Hispanic heartthrob Isai Rocha. We were talking about burrito bowl spots like Chipotle and Qdoba, and how neither of us ever order lettuce on top. To us, on those bowls, it's useless. Simply put, lettuce adds no flavor or significant nutrition to the meal, and you can get that same crunch (or better) out of other offerings both chains have.
We might as well just wipe out lettuce altogether. Come to think of it, why is lettuce still around if this is how we feel about it?
I wanted to see what the rest of the Foodbeast squad thought, and opened it up for discussion within our Slack channel.
I was hoping to get some interesting feedback on my take as well as some differing insights. What I didn't expect was for the entire office to devolve into a ferocious debate over lettuce, of all things. Below are a few of the highlights:
Just from the above banter, it's clear this fast food afterthought has the potential to be as polarizing as pineapple on pizza. When did something as basic as lettuce become so controversial? Who knows, but our reactions were visceral on both sides, with arguments leaving us wondering whether lettuce still deserves its role as the generic green veggie.
While I think it's trash, let's give it a fair trial in vegetable court.
One has to look at lettuce to see if it's anything beyond a simplistic garnish, or if we just eat it because we're so used to it. That could help us see if lettuce indeed still has a place in today's food supply, or if we should just let the rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs of the world enjoy the surplus.
The Power of Crunch
There's two extremes when it comes to the texture of lettuce: a watery crunch or a soggy tear. Neither of those sound appetizing, but there's a reason lettuce is basically just "crispy water." I've always seen it as the latter because of how easily lettuce shrivels on hot foods like burgers and tacos. But for those who enjoy lettuce, the crunch makes those foods complete, and the afterthought suddenly becomes important.
It's the perfect example of the love-hate relationship we have with lettuce: We either enjoy the crunch, or hate the sogginess.
Let's be real with the leafy veg: it doesn't add any significant nutrition anywhere. In fact, a total cup of lettuce contains just 10 calories and only adds in a noteworthy amount of vitamin K. While that sounds cool, literally every other leafy green vegetable does the same while adding more calories AND a wider variety of micronutrients. Even celery, which you lose calories just by consuming, has more nutritional value. You hear that, lettuce? Even. Celery.
Sure, you can make the argument that for satiety reasons, lettuce is nice. But for that, there's also celery and a load of other greens that help as well, since fiber can fill the stomach.
The Future Of Lettuce
As we move to a sustainable future of food, it's not just the environmental footprint of meats that we have to look at. Several vegetables, including lettuce, are resource guzzlers as well. Lettuce is particularly exhaustive because of its high water content, difficulty to grow, harvest, and transport, and its relatively large energy requirement. It's the newborn baby of garden vegetables.
Everything from onions, okra, carrots, broccoli, and other vegetables have significantly better footprints. That means the tradeoff to getting it on our burgers and salads, is asking the planet to drain a lot more of its resources for nutrition It's not worth it, if you ask me, but lettuce lovers may think otherwise.
Is Lettuce Replaceable?
I get why lettuce is so important to us and what it's become to society. It's the base of our salads, a key part of the iconic BLT, and is used across the board in fast food. That's not to say that lettuce is necessary in that role, but it has become the ubiquitous vegetable topping to just about everything.
Is it replaceable in that regard? Absolutely, and looking into alternatives like spinach or even cucumbers could help improve the micronutrients we get in our diets while adding extra flavor and the same amount of crunch. And save the planet, might I add.
For those that enjoy having lettuce in their food, I can see why it's so hard to break away from what we know to go together. But lettuce simply doesn't provide enough value to the modern consumer for it to stick around.
Sorry, lettuce, but you've been chopped.