Lettuce is a mythical food. According to some sources, you burn more calories chewing it than you gain through its consumption. Whether that's true or not, it jazzes up a sandwich or a burger. So the news of a Europe-wide lettuce shortage is bound to lead to widespread uproar among clean eating freaks everywhere. It has also meant that some supermarkets, such as Morrisons and Tesco, have started rationing the nutritionally-useless plant, alongside other stalwarts such as broccoli. THIS IS A TIME OF WAR, PEOPLE, AND LETTUCE IS FIRST AGAINST THE WALL.
But who is enforcing this ban? If I try to buy four lettuces, instead of the Tesco-ordained three, who the fuck is going to stop me? Can I stock up on lettuces in this, the crisis before the crisis, and sell them on for massive profit over the next few days? If I buy Tesco out of lettuces, what then? And who is going to stop me?
Reader: I decided to go to a bunch of superstores in east London to find out.
First up in our deep-dive investigation was Sainsbury's. They had no formal notice referencing any kind of broccoli or lettuce ban, so I thought I could probably skirt around the rules enforced elsewhere and buy as many greens as my heart desired.
No signage, no notice, but no iceberg lettuce. Not a leaf. They probably thought they could get away with acting like nothing was amiss, but I saw those empty boxes. I eyed up that little "iceberg lettuce" ticket. I saw that nothing sat above it, and I wanted answers.
So I asked an employee, who told me that there was no lettuce anywhere in the building. None. That there hadn't been any for three days. The store had been desperately on the phone to the supplier to try and get some in, and they were hopeful; but the employee told us with a hint of devastation in her voice that "at this point, the lettuce is looking like a little bit of a myth".
Next, I thought I'd hit up Morrisons, who've proudly spoken to the Daily Mail about their three broccoli and iceberg limit. It seems reasonable enough – stop the people (me) from buying up all the lettuce and selling it onto the black market. What I wanted to see was just how serious they are about implementing this rule.
Again, there was not a whisper of iceberg lettuce anywhere in the building, but they did have broccoli, and they had a little sign warning customers that they would in fact only be allowed to buy three. No going wild and making broccoli soup for the whole family, you; not now, not with a broccoli crisis in full swing.
To find out just how harshly Morrisons enforces its new law, I went right ahead and picked up five bits of broccoli. This, I feel, was a reasonable amount of broccoli: not so much that I would deprive all the other shoppers, but enough to test the store's limits.
Walking around with my five broccoli, I started to panic a little bit. I looked around at the other shoppers, politely bowing to the law of Morrisons and buying, at most, two. Heart racing, I walked to the till. Security milled around the doors and I panicked that they might catch me. Would an alarm go off? Would they chase me to the ground and tackle me? What do you have to do to get an ASBO these days?
But no. Barely batting an eyelid, the woman at the checkout let me blithely stroll out of Morrisons, five broccoli in my arms. Take that, limits. Fuck you, rules. Who knew you could get such a thrill in Stoke Newington at 12:30PM on a Friday.
Feeling more than a little amped up after our Morrisons success story, I thought I'd see just how far I could push the reasonable limits of greens-buying in one afternoon. Morrisons might not give a shit about the shortage, but Tesco are a little more upmarket. They've got standards.
And they had lettuce! Finally, for the first time in my actual life, I was happy to see a load of little balls of lettuce. How many? I wondered. How many are in that green basket?
There was no sign near the lettuce, but Tesco had already announced that they would be limiting customer purchases to three, so I figured it was only a matter of time until I got caught. I thought I'd take maybe a few more than in Morrisons. Maybe ten? Ten seems reasonable to push the rules just that little bit. Ten lettuces. Ten lettuces is a feasible amount of lettuce to buy, isn't it? I could be... having a... party. There is nothing suspicious about someone buying ten lettuces at all.
But I just could not stop picking up lettuce. As we're all well aware by now, there's a shortage. I could run out. So I kept going, and going, until my basket was heavy with the burden of 19 lettuces. I got carried away and asked an employee if there were any more, and he said no, but that was OK. I had 19, and the only thing standing between me and a massive, boring salad was the checkout woman.
She was happy to let us walk with our 19 lettuces, until another woman pointed out a sign to her. Purchases are limited to six items per customer. Not of lettuce, not of broccoli, but of anything. Want more than six packets of Maltesers? Nope. There's a great deal on loo roll? Sorry, you can have five, six max. Them's the rules.
I may have walked out with six heads of lettuce, twice the amount in the rule that Tesco had claimed to impose, but I felt deflated. The real scandal here isn't the bad weather in Spain or the fact that you can't have more than three broccoli right now – as if you have ever actually had any need for four heads of broccoli. No, the scandal here is that if you shop at Stoke Newington's Tesco Superstore, you cannot buy more than six of one thing. Where's the justice?
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