Eco Guilt: After A Summer of Fresh Lettuce, Giving In To Packaged Food

by Judy Stone-Goldman on September 4, 2010

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The freshest lettuce ever

All summer long I washed lettuce. Red leaf. Romaine. Butter crunch. Bib. Gorgeous, fresh-picked-that-morning, brought home just hours later from the Farmers’ Market. Exquisite lettuce.

Amazingly dirty lettuce.

Real lettuce comes from the ground. Lettuce from the Farmers’ Market is, by all evidence, very real. The core is blackened with dirt, and the inner surfaces of the leaves have dirt the length of the spine. Real lettuce needs to be washed, and washed carefully, leaf by leaf.

I rinse each leaf and spin the clean lettuce in a salad spinner, several leaves at a time. Then I wrap the leaves in white cotton towels to absorb remaining moisture. When I’m done, I label the bundles (“Romaine,” “Red Leaf,” “Bib”) and tuck them into the hydrator. Lettuce for one week.

I have been dutifully washing lettuce every Tuesday since May when the Farmers’ Market started, keeping my husband and me stocked in salad. But last weekend, when an unexpected guest showed up for the weekend and I was faced with preparing dinner, my supply of fresh lettuce was inadequate. I wanted to serve salad, but could I bear to wash more lettuce?

No, I decided, I could not. I could not face more spinning and drying and wrapping. I made a brief effort to coax myself over to the fresh romaine at the store, but in the end I picked up packaged lettuce: 10 oz. of baby spring mix lettuce, wrapped up tight in a 12-inch x 8-inch plastic box bearing the label “Washed & Ready To Eat.” On sale for $3.99–surely that’s a sign I was meant to buy it, right?

Last summer we bought boxed lettuce routinely. It was delicious and wondrously easy, and 10 ounces held an amazing amount of lettuce. But over the summer we accumulated a frighteningly large collection of plastic boxes that our recyclers did not accept. At the end of the summer, when we reluctantly placed a tower of plastic boxes into our garbage, we concluded that we could not in good ecological conscience continue to buy this product.

But last weekend, facing dinner for three (and the prospect of entertaining a guest I hadn’t expected), I abandoned conscience and bought the boxed lettuce. I don’t regret the decision, and I admit to relief that we had lettuce left over. But I also feel guilty and more than a little sad–not because of this one plastic box, but because I can see how easy it would be to return to buying boxed lettuce.

Questions for Reflection: How do you relate to this post–in terms of ecological responsibility or some other kind of conscience-driven commitment? What commitments affect your daily routines?Ā  How easy or hard do you find it to get back to a commitment once you make an exception? Do you believe our small actions can make a difference?

Writing Prompts: “This post reminded me of my ______” (then keep writing); “The topic of conservation and recycling makes me think of ______” (then keep writing); “When I make a commitment I always ______” (then keep writing); “Once I make an exception to a commitment I ______” (then keep writing); “Sometimes, when I think about whether my actions count, I ______ (then keep writing).

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