Well, Liz Truss’s reign has been outlived by a head of lettuce. After 45 days in office, the prime minister resigned on Thursday. It’s not a huge surprise, considering her approval ratings were extremely low. There was so little confidence in her ability to stay in office that she was put in a race against a vegetable. Yes, you’re reading all of this right.
Since Oct.14, the United-Kingdom-based tabloid The Daily Star has been broadcasting a video of a head of iceberg lettuce, next to a picture of Prime Minister Truss, to see who would last longer. “Will Liz Truss still be Prime Minister within the 10-day shelf-life of a lettuce?” the caption reads. The answer, not even a week after the experiment began, is clearly no. The triumphant head of lettuce, which was purchased at Tesco for 60 pence, leaves the experiment with a substantial following and even its own Cameo account.
But it raises the question—how long does a head of lettuce typically stay fresh, or even least recognizable as lettuce? Was it a close race? What would have marked the end for the lettuce? And was it even really lettuce? It looked rather cabbage-like!
Let’s address the last question first. Cabbage does apparently last longer, so it would be something of a small scandal to pass off a cabbage for a head of lettuce in the context of this race. I luckily happened to be in the United Kingdom and could answer the last question for myself—a quick trip to a Tesco Express produce section confirmed that visually, yes, the object in the video really does appear to be a UK-based head of lettuce (and yes, lettuce is really 60 pence here!).
In terms of the life of lettuce, the Daily Star claims that lettuce has a 10-day shelf life. There’s all sorts of conflicting information about this. The Food Network corroborates the Daily Star’s claim. EatByDate.com estimates that a head of iceberg lettuce lasts 7-10 days, and leaves, if separated for salad prep, last 3-5 days. (The Daily Star was not bold enough to go with just lettuce leaves.) Lacademie, a website with cooking tips, says loose-leaf lettuce lasts 5-10 days whereas the head lasts 10-20 days. DoesItGoBad.com also seems to think that a head of iceberg or romaine lettuce can last anywhere from one to three weeks. Romaine lettuce’s shelf life has actually been studied in a lab setting: a 2021 paper in Hort Technology says the green has a shelf life of 2-3 weeks and can be improved with the correct temperature and storage conditions. The lettuce in question was, again, iceberg, but it stands to reason that storage conditions play a big role here, too.
Based on the Daily Star video, it does not appear that there was any kind of cooling system set up for the lettuce. Another wrinkle: regardless of what the shelf-life of iceberg lettuce really is, by definition, shelf life is referring to the length of time a product may be stored without becoming unsuitable for consumption. The Daily Star specifically used the term “shelf life.” But I take it no one is consuming this lettuce, so, despite not being refrigerated, it’s probable that the lettuce could “last” even longer.
As for what shape the lettuce would have to be in for it to count as “outliving” Truss I think the definition of living depends on who you’d ask. I’d say the lettuce is no longer “living” when it no longer resembles lettuce. Apparently it could take up to 25 years for lettuce to completely decompose, according to a documentary called Wasted: The Story of Food Waste.
At the end of the day, how long lettuce lasts probably depends on your particular lettuce, and the purpose you are asking it to serve in your life, as a source of food or, in the Daily Star’s case, a comedic entity. There has not been any information about the state of the lettuce and whether it had gone brown, so who is to say how close the race really was. At 6:00 p.m. UK Time, the iceberg head gave its winning speech, chock-full of lettuce puns. “After an unbelievable campaign, I’m thrilled to have been crowned victorious in these chard times,” it said. Long live the lettuce.