It’s an exercise in self harm on a national scale. Buy a bag of supermarket salad leaves. Make room for it in the fridge by throwing out the pond-weedy, half-eaten bag you bought on your last shopping trip. Possibly eat the ‘new’ leaves, trying not to notice how the flaccid, gastronomically unrewarding, lifeless greens promptly slump, then clamp themselves to the salad bowl. Repeat the same robotic pattern week after week.
It’s no news that salad bags generate grotesque waste - 40% end up in the bin. What a lunatic waste of money and effort. But why do so many spend money on food they’ll never eat?
A handful of bagged salad leaves bestows an instant, effortless halo of health to meals we know aren’t good for us. Dedicated supermarket shoppers trust retailers to help them tick the eat-your-greens box without knowing the backstory. Industrial quantities of mainly unseasonal, fertiliser and pesticide-grown greenery, grown to puny ‘baby’ size or broken up roughly, are ‘washed’ in chlorinated water, spun or blow-dried, then sealed in a plastic tomb gassed with altered air to give them a superficial aura of freshness well beyond their natural lifespan and nutritional peak.
Back in March I visited the co-operatively run Unicorn Grocery in Manchester during the ‘hungry gap’: the period when British veg are at their lowest ebb. I was bowled over by the biodiverse mix of vibrantly fresh leaves it was selling, supplied by a Lancashire grower who’s currently in the two-year transition to full organic production. Unicorn customers aren’t minted, but they were enthusiastically filling up brown paper bags with these life-enhancing greens at a very affordable price. Their intention, I guess, was to eat them that day.
Message to TV commissioning editors: there’s an opportunity here. Britain needs a cookery series on salads. Programme one: understanding what’s in season when. Programme two: ‘cooked’ salads made from autumn and winter veg. Programme three: fermented and preserved salads, drawing on Northern European recipes such as sweet-sour dill cucumber. And so on. I volunteer as researcher. I’m waiting for the call.
Joanna Blythman is a journalist and author of Swallow This