Life Handing You Lemons?At Least Its Not Head Lettuce!

There is an old saying that “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade“. It is used to encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. But is there something worse than being handed lemons? Are there categories of handling life’s challenges and opportunities?


The phrase has been around in many forms since the start of the 1900’s. It has been attributed to Dale Carnegie, among others. Before Carnegie though this appeared in The Rotarian:

“Life handed him a lemon,
As Life sometimes will do.
His friends looked on in pity,
Assuming he was through.
They came upon him later,
Reclining in the shade
In calm contentment, drinking
A glass of lemonade.”

It is meant to engender optimism in the face of adversity.

Just for fun I searched for recipes for lemon on the internet and came up with 37 million hits. So you can do a lot with lemons… from a culinary point of view.

But what if life handed you something worse where possibilities were limited. What would you call that?

In my estimation, you would be handed a cucumber.  There is not much you can do with a cucumber. Most recipes involve adding cucumber in a salad. You can make gazpacho and pickles and that’s about it. Limited. Besides being of little culinary flash, it is low in nutrients which also decreases its value.

Is there something worse? Yes. You could be handed something of such null culinary and nutritious value that you are doomed. There are no options for you. This bottom-of-the-barrel item is called Head Lettuce. You can’t make anything with it. At least with romaine or Boston lettuce you can wrap things in them and they have nutrition. Head Lettuce is just cellulose and water… nothing… devoid of any usefulness and purpose. A truly dire outcome. Being handed a Head Lettuce is an end of the road condition.

On the flip side, to be given an exciting opportunity where all sorts of options are open to you … I would say you were handed one of two items… either an onion or a tomato. Both these are considered the most versatile cooking ingredients in our North American culture. They are the standards representing opportunity, adaptability and contribution.

There you have it folks, a culinary scale of metaphors for handling life’s challenges and opportunities. May I wish you all that you are handed onions and tomatoes and not cucumbers and head lettuce. As for the lemon, squeeze it in my drink.


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