Dietribes: Lettuce Rejoice!

Described as a "weedy Cinderella" by some and a "queen of a salad plants" by others, it is nevertheless the most common salad vegetable and somehow part of my daily consumption. Let us learn more about this leafy green:

"¢ A primitive, but edible, ancestor of the lettuce plant has been enjoyed as far back as ancient Egypt. Lettuce has only continued to gain popularity even since. In fact, consumption is at an all-time high, which is good news for these guys (I think).

"¢ From the History of Food, "Modern types of lettuce include iceberg and Batavia (more popular in Europe). Romaine lettuce has long leaves in a loaf-shaped head. Butterhead lettuce is quite small with oily, soft textured leaves. Red and green lead lettuces form no head and have leaves with a variety of shapes."

"¢ Iceberg lettuce was first introduced in 1894 by W. Atlee Burpee Seed Co. Because of its firm ball shape it shipped well, and got its nickname from the way it was shipped on crushed ice (of course). Apparently, this variety can also make for a tasty and comforting snack, which may account for the 22 lbs of iceberg lettuce Americans eat on average per year.

"¢ Strangely, you can also consume what's known as Sea Lettuce "“ a type of algae that looks like romaine and has a spicy taste. Just cut it from a rock or catch it as it floats by ... although you should probably stay clear of polluted waters.


"¢ If you love lettuce, consider it as a Halloween costume. You can dress up for fun or effect, just don't let it go to your head.

Here is a Peruvian inmate dressed up for Environment Day. Is this how they deal with litterers and polluters?

"¢ Of course, not everyone believes lettuce to be a tasty and benign substance - the Yazidis, an Iraqi sect, maintain a fierce prohibition against eating lettuce after a series of unfortunate lettuce-related incidents in their past.

"¢ Lettuce does include the same vitamins and minerals as other greens, but in less quantity. Still, its high water and fiber content make it a healthy choice. Lettuce also has high amounts of antioxidants, which help prevent cancer.

"¢ Extracts from lettuce have been used in folk remedies as a sedative and sleep inducer, and in some cases, as a treatment for coughs, nervousness, tension and pain. Dry leaves can also be used for tabacco-less cigarettes, although its health effects are unknown. An extremely versatile plant, lettuce can also be used to thwart criminals.

Any interesting lettuce stories to tell? Has anyone tried growing it themselves? Please share!

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"˜Dietribes' appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

University of Pittsburgh
Researchers Create Motorized Wheelchair Made for the Water Park
University of Pittsburgh
University of Pittsburgh

Despite advances in technology, there are many aspects of the world that remain inaccessible to people with disabilities. But researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are working to make one activity easier for people who use motorized wheelchairs: navigating water parks.

The average motorized wheelchair has a number of electrical and battery components that can’t get wet, limiting who can access the joys of splash parks and pools. But a new wheelchair that uses compressed air instead of a heavy battery could change that, Gizmodo recently reported.

Created through a joint research project between University of Pittsburgh engineers, the university’s medical center, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the PneuChair is lighter and quicker to charge than traditional motorized chairs. It can also be repaired with basic hardware tools if something breaks in the midst of all the splashing.

The 80-pound chair (a traditional device can weigh up to 400 pounds) can travel about three miles on one charge, about a third of the maximum distance of an electric mobility device. Another benefit: It only takes 10 minutes to recharge rather than eight hours.

The university's Human Engineering Research Laboratories is also working on a scooter version for people who don't need the assistance of a full chair. “The potential to open opportunities for people with disabilities who need powered mobility to access splash parks, water parks, beaches or pools is transformative,” lab director Rory Cooper told the university's press service.

The PneuChair was designed in part for use at Morgan’s Inspiration Island, an upcoming water park in San Antonio that’s designed for people with disabilities. The accessible splash park—which is part of Morgan’s Wonderland, a fully accessible theme park—will initially offer 10 of the chairs to its guests for use while they’re there.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Dietribes: Cabbage

• Cabbages are derived from the wild mustard plant of the Mediterranean region, and have been popular since ancient times. Cato the Elder praised the cabbage for its many medicinal uses.

• Cabbages are highly nutritious, containing large amounts of Vitamin C, folate and fiber. That and its low calorie count is why some people use cabbage on weight-loss diets.

• However, the cabbage is also known to have a certain undesirable gastric side effect. As Nicholas Culpeper said in A Complete Herbal (1653) "Cabbages are extremely windy, whether you take them as meat or as medicine, as windy meat as can be eaten, unless you eat bag-pipes or bellows."

• Remember "freedom fries"? That wasn't the first time the name of one of our foods has been attempted to be changed because of political fervor. During World War I, Americans renamed sauerkraut "liberty cabbage."

• No one knows exactly how the Cabbagetown neighborhood in Atlanta got its name, though stories include the idea that the original poor Scotch-Irish residents (workers at the nearby cotton mill) would grow cabbages in their front yards, and that the smell of cooked cabbage was a nuisance (and later a point of pride). Other apocryphal suggestions include a train derailing or a Model T car overturning and spilling cabbages everywhere for people to snatch up, shouting "Free Cabbages!"

• Georgia has another cabbage connection - Cabbage Patch Kids, which were originally called Little People. In the late 1970s, art student Xavier Roberts started creating "soft sculptures," which he later expanded on by giving them birth certificates and allowing "adoptions." In 1982 the name changed to Cabbage Patch. By the mid-80s, the dolls went on record as having the most successful and in-demand introduction of a toy ever.

• Though cabbages have often been thought of throughout history as a cheap food, that's certainly not true in Northern Canada, where a cabbage can cost $28. The northern Canadian territory of Nunavut is so remote that anything not a product of hunting and gathering must be flown in.

• By the way, that corned beef and cabbage you cook up for St. Patricks Day? Not actually Irish. Though corned beef was made in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries, most Irish families were too poor to eat it. Instead it went to British citizens as well as the British and U.S. military. These days, the Irish reportedly find the dish just plain boring.

• Cabbages can have a killer instinct - genetically modified cabbages can produce scorpion poison that kills caterpillars when they bite leaves. But don't worry, the toxin is modified so it isn’t harmful to humans. (I like that the title of the article is "Venomous Cabbage"!)

• Another way to get rid of pests in your cabbage? Er, human urine. According to a 2007 study, "Our results show that human urine could be used as a fertilizer for cabbage and does not pose any significant hygienic threats or leave any distinctive flavor in food products." Good to know?

• The largest cabbage on record was called "The Beast" and weighed 127 pounds. Reportedly it wasn't actually particularly tasty, so it ended up as compost rather than on anyone's plate.

• How do you like to eat your cabbages, Flossers? And have you found a way to counteract their less-desirable side-effects?

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.


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