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Yesterday my husband and I drove through a Lubbock Wendy's to grab his late lunch and my afternoon "good soda", that is, from the fountain. We saw taped to the drive through speaker that due to national shortages, lettuce might not be available for what we ordered. My husband's burger did have lettuce, so I shrugged off the whole thing. Maybe a local supplier was short or something.

My assumption was wrong. The lettuce issue isn't local, but rather an industry-wide shortage that's effecting multiple chains including Taco Bell, Chick-fil-a, and Panera Bread. While most of these places haven't actually run out of lettuce yet, they very well may soon. The lettuce shortage may last into December, according to Business Insider.

What happened? 

Prices have skyrocketed on lettuce due to supply chain issues caused in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are really still dealing with that? Apparently so. Lettuce prices have quadrupled in the last three years because farmers focused on other more needed crops during the pandemic, making lettuce more scarce.

Earlier in the pandemic, lockdowns and other measures changed demands on the food supply, and some farmers reorganized farmland to use less space for lettuce, leading to less overall product.

Adding fuel to the fire, a disease hit a major lettuce growing region in California, which saw some farms lose 80% of their crops. It's a disaster.

Why does it matter?  

Fast food restaurants thrive on providing a consistent product with consistent ingredients. Having no lettuce means no salads, and no delicious crunch on your tacos and burgers. Some customers will decide to forgo eating at these places if they can't get what they want, or if the cost is increased on an item to make up for the high cost the restaurant paid for the lettuce. In essence, it's another inflation driver, which is exactly what we don't need right now.

What's the long term solution? 

I mentioned earlier that there should be some relief in late November/ early December as more crops come to maturity. But what if they got wiped out by a disease? What if farmers must continue to prioritize crops? How do we get this important vegetable back as a mainstay of our diets? It's a myth that iceberg has no nutritional value, in fact, it's full of vitamins K and A. Other varieties are even more nutritious. One reasonable solution seems to be more hydroponically grown lettuce. Lettuce grows more quickly hydroponically, which allows for more crops per year.

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