Sassy at seventy: What happened to our delicious greens?

Mar 08, 2023
Source: Getty

Where have all the iceberg lettuces with dark green leaves gone?

The ones you buy from the supermarket these days have pale green leaves that quickly morph into a white heart that is so compact it would make Marie Kondo swoon with joy. Iceberg lettuce used to be so big, so chokas with huge dark green leaves that you couldn’t fit them into any plastic bag at any supermarket. Sometimes they even came with so many of the original outside leaves you could compost a whole garden with them, or keep a passel of pigs happily munching for a minute.

These days they are insipid imitations of their former selves. Stripped of the dark outer leaves that contain all those wonderful nutrients we keep being told about (Eat greens!), they are about the size of a bowling ball for three-year-olds (if you’re lucky), or a medium-sized rockmelon.

I’ve recently learned that large amounts of iceberg lettuce can give chickens diarrhoea, but when I was a kid our chickens (we called them chooks – chickens were the little yellow fluffy things) were fed anything we couldn’t scoff down. If our chooks got the “urge to purge” at least we knew they weren’t constipated.

The humble iceberg isn’t the only thing to be stripped of its former glory. Baby spinach leaves, once openly displayed in boxes and able to be purchased in the exact amount needed, now only come in pre-weighed cellophane bags with so much writing on them it’s hard to see if the leaves are in good condition or a day from being fed to the aforementioned chooks. Sorry, chickens. I shouldn’t be an ageist or some chicken-lover somewhere will want to roast me.

Kale, a leafy green that’s a late-comer to the supermarket shelves, is probably the most divisive vegetable in existence. Touted as being anti-cancer, super nutritious, and almost miraculous in its life-giving compounds, no one mentions its ability to resist chewing, blending, and softening in boiling water, as well as its stick-in-your-teeth tenacity.

I wonder how many of us who hope the hype is true actually enjoy eating it. I much prefer the spiel about dark chocolate having exceptional health benefits, though being wrapped around a Cherry Ripe or Snickers bar tends to detract from its nutritional benefits. But kale, apparently, is good for chickens.

I know I’m beginning to sound rather chicken-centric, but that’s probably because on the weekend I looked after two of my grandchildren, and a sick chicken. My twelve-year-old granddaughter has five pet chickens that she adores. The fact that they lay eggs is a bonus for her parents and helps to offset the cost of establishing their chicken condominium.

A couple of hours before said parents were due to leave for a wedding in another town, they discovered Princess Cluckers was not her usual cackling self. Her comb was drooping, her eyes glazing over, her feathers fluffed in a most unusual pattern, and her bowel movements… Well, let’s just say that if iceberg lettuce had been thrown into the pen (which it most assuredly had not), then she must have consumed it all.

No vet could see her before 1 pm and the parents had to leave by 11 am, so I picked up the kids, and the chicken in a carry cage, and tried to keep them all happy until then. The vet was extremely kind and understanding of a pre-teen and her beloved chicken. He diagnosed an infection, gave Princess Cluckers an antibiotic injection, and showed my granddaughter how to give the next four days of injections near the keel “bone”.

The end result was a much-improved chicken and a grandmother and grandchildren who learned that the flexible wedge of cartilage connecting a chicken’s breast muscles at the tip of the breastbone is called a keel or keel bone. So-called because if a chicken fell into the water and had to swim, the keel would act just like it does on a boat and stop them from wobbling from side to side.

I don’t think I’m going to look at roast chicken in the same way I had before. And I’m glad I’m not a chicken, because I really like iceberg lettuce.


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