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LETTUCE

Finally, lettuce comes in various shades of green. Even red lettuce contains chlorophyll, which confers the green color, though it may be hidden in the red parts of the leaf. Green means vitamins. Green is a cool color. Many also associate greenness with the health of the planet and with personal health. The process of photo- synthesis produces oxygen and sugar converted from car- bon dioxide and water. The absorption of carbon dioxide by green plants, from lettuce to trees, helps prevent its accumulation in the air, thus mitigating the greenhouse effect and possible global warming.

The symbolism of these words is so strong that they and similar words, such as “ice,” “crisp,” “winter,” and “spring,” have been used repeatedly in various combina- tions in the names of lettuce varieties. Consider the names Green Ice, Iceberg, Crisp as Ice, Coolguard, Green Towers, Valverde, Valspring, and Winterset.

In ancient Egypt lettuce had sexual symbolism. Af- ter completing its vegetative development with the for- mation of a head or a rosette of leaves, the plant goes into its reproductive phase with the formation of an erect seed stalk bearing flowers. The amount of latex in the plant increases and is under pressure, so if the top of the flowering stalk is cut off, the latex spurts out in a man- ner reminiscent of ejaculation. The same tomb paintings portraying the ancient stem lettuce also picture the god Min with an erect phallus. Consumption of lettuce may therefore have been thought to increase sexual prowess.

Commercial Production and Marketing

Lettuce has become a major player in commercial pro- duction and marketing. Total production worldwide does not compare with the major cereal crops, especially rice, corn, and wheat, or with other commodities, such as sugar crops, beans, and potatoes, but among the vegetables it ranks high. In the United States it is in the top three with tomatoes and potatoes. The key word in contemporary use of lettuce is change: in use of the various types, in development of world markets, in methods of marketing, and in methods of production.

The primary markets for lettuce were, until the late twentieth century, in western Europe and North Amer- ica, the consequence of its first appearance in the Mediter- ranean basin followed by movement into northern Europe and then to the New World. In the late twentieth cen- tury lettuce became important in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Australia, and some countries of South America and Africa. In the different regions where lettuce was con- sumed, one type was usually more popular than the oth- ers. In northern Europe, for example, the butterhead type predominated. Until the 1970s about 80 percent of the lettuce consumed in England was butterhead, and the other 20 percent was divided among the other major types. In the countries surrounding the Mediterranean nearly all the lettuce was romaine. Stem lettuce was the main type in Egypt and China. In the United States, until the early part of the twentieth century, no one type was strongly

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dominant. At that time crisphead lettuce began to increase in popularity at the expense of the other types. After the modern iceberg lettuce was developed in the 1940s, 95 percent of the production and consumption was of this type. The first modern iceberg variety was created by T. W. Whitaker of the United States Department of Agri- culture and was named Great Lakes, although it was ac- tually bred in California.

Changes in Consumption Patterns

In the late 1970s and early 1980s changes in consump- tion patterns began. In Britain and Scandinavia iceberg lettuce increased in popularity until it became the dom- inant type. Iceberg lettuce also made inroads into the but- terhead and romaine domains in other western European countries. In the United States, where the iceberg type reigned supreme for most of the twentieth century, ro- maine, butterhead, and leaf lettuces regained popularity and comprised about one-third of the total production at the end of the twentieth century.

The construction of a home-cooked meal has be- come a casualty of the modern fast-paced lifestyle. Peo- ple either eat out more frequently or rely on food packages that are partially processed and therefore can be prepared quickly. Salads are included in this drive for efficiency and speed. Modern supermarkets have dedi- cated extensive shelf space to packaged salads containing what appears to be an infinite number of combinations of leaves (lettuce, cabbage, radicchio, spinach), cut veg- etables (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower), dressings, bacon bits, shredded cheeses, croutons, cut fruits, and more.

Changes have also occurred in production methods. Growing, harvesting, and marketing of lettuce is mainly on a large scale, from planting, with significant inputs of water, chemical fertilizers, and appropriate pesticides, to harvesting, cooling, and shipment to market. Production of food with organic methods has become a rapidly grow- ing industry although it is still a small part of the pro- duction picture. Lettuce is included in this cultural change. Most of the change has been in the production of nonheading types, such as romaine and leaf lettuce, but some iceberg lettuce is grown in this way. Organic production emphasizes nonuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This type of production began with small-scale growers, but has been included by growers in large-scale production systems.

Where Lettuce is Grown

The need for coolness is a key factor in the location and magnitude of lettuce production areas. In the early twenty-first century the United States was by far the largest producer of lettuce in the world (Table 2). How- ever, few of the fifty states produce lettuce commercially, and of the ones that do California and Arizona are re- sponsible for over 90 percent of the production in the country. California alone accounts for over 70 percent and actually grows lettuce year-round. In the summer let-

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