Here’s a startling fact: Over 98% of U.S.–produced lettuce is grown in California or Arizona. If you’re scratching your head right now, you wouldn’t be alone: It is indeed baffling that, given that the composition of lettuce is 95% water, it’s primarily being grown in two of the most arid states in the nation.
What’s more, growing lettuce in these areas relies on water from costly irrigation canals or scant, non-replenishable groundwater (up to 40% of California’s groundwater, in times of drought). Processing often involves hand picking and trimming, which can introduce harmful bacteria and unsanitary conditions; to counter this, lettuce is typically washed in chlorine and other sanitizers—not water—to reduce the incidence of pathogens. (More shortly on the truth of “triple-washed” lettuce.)
To reach us in New England, mass-produced lettuce travels over 3,000 miles, uses vast amounts of fuel, creates pollution and is often a week old (or more) by the time it reaches our store shelves. In other words, its carbon footprint is absurdly high and nutrient levels diminished. And unless you’re a homesteader, a devout locavore or a total carnivore, chances are this is the kind of lettuce you’re especially likely to be eating at the height of the New England winter.