LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Iceberg lettuce has a bad rap. Food critics sneer, comparing it to wax paper. Dietitians decry its nutritional failings. In a recent piece for The New Yorker, food writer Helen Rosner took a stand for iceberg.
HELEN ROSNER: It's delicious and crisp. And it has this bitter and sweet and toasty flavor. And it's just incredibly versatile. And I love it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Her story got some angry responses.
ROSNER: It's nutritionally vacuous. It's unhealthy. Why would you eat iceberg? Iceberg is pathetic. Iceberg is, you know, lettuce for people who have no class or no taste.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In 1894, the Burpee seed catalog introduced iceberg to the world. It was advertised as hardy, rich, flavorful and, most importantly, durable.
ROSNER: From the moment of its introduction, it transformed the face of American lettuce consumption. And for decades and decades and decades, it was overwhelmingly the lettuce that was consumed in the United States of America.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eventually, iceberg's popularity became its downfall.
ROSNER: It's always there. It's shrink-wrapped. It's in the grocers bin at every big-box grocery store. And so, of course, there must be something wrong with it, right? If it's everywhere, it can't be good. And I fundamentally disagree with that premise.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rosner says once she started researching iceberg lettuce, she realized its history is our American history. From the labor rights movement...
ROSNER: Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers were doing a lot of activism and raising a lot of attention about the way that American lettuce farm workers were treated.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...To water rights.
ROSNER: Lettuce is an incredibly water-intensive crop. And the relationship with climate change and drought...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And even gender.
ROSNER: Iceberg in particular has managed to transcend these unfairly feminine connotations that salad-eating has taken on.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So as you reconsider iceberg's place in the fabric of our society and on your table, Rosner urges you to think even beyond the delicious wedge salad. She suggests stir-frying your lettuce, pickling it or blending it into a cold soup. And even if lettuce experimentation isn't for you, you can still try to let go of your leafy, green pretensions. Not everything has to be arugula.
ROSNER: Enjoy the crunch for what it is. I think even people who are sneering down their noses at iceberg lettuce love it when it's on top of a burger, when it's shredded really finely on a sandwich. There are contexts in which we know that iceberg is the perfect lettuce.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lettuce doesn't have to be a wedge issue. Helen Rosner is a food writer for The New Yorker.
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