The Baggage That Comes With Your Lettuce

Published Aug 24, 2021

Americans love convenience. From easy access meals delivered by DoorDash to same-day arrival via Amazon Prime, immediate gratification is delightful…yet often to the detriment of resources and the environment.

Produce is no exception as changes in technology and the increased demand for prepared fruits and veggies that are easily accessible and simple to bring together for meals, stock grocery store shelves next to their open stock counterparts.

In addition to single-use plastic bags, we’re questioning the environmental skeletons in the closet that hides beneath lettuce’s lush and leafy green exterior. Holding strong in the top 10 vegetables sold in the U.S., lettuce (according to a PMA survey conducted in 2020) has 73% of consumers stating they buy their greens at conventional supermarkets.

According to the Iowa State University Agricultural Marketing Resource Center commodity report, “In terms of annual eatings per capita, lettuce salads rank second only to potatoes. In 2015, annual consumption of all types of lettuce was 25.8 pounds per person, of which 51 percent (13.3 pounds per person) was head lettuce.”

Suffice to say, we love our iceberg, romaine, and butterhead here in the U.S.

Using lettuce as an example of how distribution systems work to get produce from farm to plate, this article will explore:

#1 – Why lettuce is good for you

#2 – Why transportation kills almost all the benefits of lettuce (and harms the environment)

#3 – Why there’s a lot of food waste surrounding fresh leafy greens

#4 – Solutions for a healthier you and a more sustainable planet

Buckle up, friends. We’re about to unveil the baggage that comes with your lettuce.

#1 - Lettuce is a good thing.

To start, let’s recognize that lettuce, decidedly and scientifically, is good for you. There’s so much value in opting for fresh food, especially when creating a biodiverse dinner plate.

A wide array of plant-based foods in diets has been found to be beneficial for the health of both humans and our environment. But we’re only tapping into a tiny thumbnail of plant kingdom resources and benefits on a daily basis.

Let’s use buttercrunch for example, which is particularly high in vitamin A and in Potassium. These elements support a healthy blood pressure, cardiovascular health, bone strength, and muscle strength. With a mild and faintly sweet flavor, buttercrunch delightfully adds depth and lightness to salads and smoothies alike.

The tender Mediterranean lettuce, Lollo Rossa boasts anthocyanin (think antioxidants that enhance heart health and prevent cancer) and serves up a delightfully bitter-free crunch.

We could go on and on about lettuce, in fact, we frequently geek out over its green goodness here at Gardyn. It suffices to say that vitamins and minerals course through its makeup and act as a powerhouse of color, flavor, and nutrients to meals. 

With one caveat – the lettuce has to be fresh to receive 100% of the nutritional benefits.

#2 - Transportation kills almost all the benefits of lettuce (and the planet).

Because the food system is grown for transport (to last a long time before it even hits the grocery store shelves) and not for optimal nutrition, some studies show that vegetables can lose 15 – 55 percent of vitamin C within a week. Growing from home and harvesting fresh, you benefit from 100% of the intended nutrition of the plant.

In terms of shelf life, the University of California at Davis reports storing at 32 degrees during transport will allow lettuce to survive 21 days before spoilage occurs. A short film from Corduroy Media gives an excellent peek into the journey of lettuce which indicates a month-long cross country drive.

Extreme efforts have been made to extend the life of produce – not to benefit the consumer – but help supply chain and the bottom line.

#3 - There’s a lot of food waste surrounding fresh leafy greens: fossil fuels during transportation, pesticides, carbon emissions, clam shells, single use plastic bags for salads...

According to a case study from a North Carolina farm, food 65% of food waste comes from “unharvested crops that remained in the field were of wholesome, edible quality, although the appearance may not meet buyers’ specifications for certain markets.”

In addition to the negative impact production and transportation brings to the life of the lettuce, a report about single use plastics in regards to produce packaging “found the environmental cost of using all plastics to be $75 billion annually. The food and soft drinks sectors were the biggest contributors, accounting for 23% and 12% of the overall impact, respectively.” (source)

The United States claims the record for plastic waste in a recent analysis which took into account countries all over the world. 

Beyond the actual single-use bag propped up on grocery store shelves, it’s easy to forget about the set up necessary to create this handy meal staple. The USDA reports the capital necessary to start up a processing facility exceeds $20 million (source), not including transportation.

#4 - So what’s the answer?

Growing your food at home reduces the chance of exposure to pesticide runoff and carbon emissions, allowing families to eat healthy and delicious meals with complete peace of mind. While everyone’s experience with Gardyn is different, there is one aspect that remains constant – we’re on the right track and rallying a community of growers who want to join together to make a difference.

How Gardyn Helps You:

A high yield combined with an ever-expanding plant portfolio of fresh produce enhances diversity on your dinner plate, contributing to a health boost of immediate nutritional value from lettuces, other veggies, fruits, and herbs alike.

The benefits of growing home:

🌱 Vibrant and fresh taste – the way nature intended.

🌱 Convenient – food at your fingertips.

🌱 Opportunities for connection – Beneficial sensory experiences to more time to reconnect with family and friends.

🌱 100% nutritional value – Gardyn produce doesn’t cross the country to get to your dinner plate.

How Gardyn Helps the Planet:

Growing fresh and sustainably leaves a minimal impact on the planet and significantly lowers carbon footprint. Less water is used and you spend less time at the grocery store – meaning more time for enjoying the people around you.

Don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper and empower yourself with knowledge about where your food comes from! At Gardyn, we’re committed to growing sustainably, paving the way for a balanced food system that serves and supports people around the globe.

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