Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’ve definitely heard of kale. If you’ve heard of it, you’ve tried it. If you’ve tried it, you probably came out the other side asking why anyone would choose to stomach a bowl of leaf-shaped dirt. With this bitter green’s rise to fame one must begin to ask, where the hell did all this kale come from?
I myself became a kale fiend when I started learning how to cook on my own. I’ll be the first to admit my kale obsession largely stemmed from the young 20s female mindset of watching your waistline. Kale is cheap, easy to cook, and less calorically dense than broccoli, stays fresher longer than romaine lettuce, and definitely makes me look cooler than eating a plateful of Brussels sprouts. It’s been three years now and I have to say, I don’t know if there will be any going back.
My obsession waned slightly, however, when I realized kale salads all day, every day, were leaving me hungrier and less satisfied than when I started. A more bitter version of lettuce is certainly an acquired taste and even this many years down the road, I have a mental battle of sorts with myself every time I open my fridge to pull out some kale. Alright body, I say to myself, I know you couldn’t say no to the free Cottage Inn pizza at work or the weekly happy hour at Ashley’s but it’s time to get your head back in the game. I still feel as if I am doing myself a favor by stuffing my face with the dark leafy roughage instead of a bowl of more palatable but certifiably less cool spinach. But it’s so cool! The celebrities love it! Everyone is doing it right? There must be something to this goddamn intestinal floss or else why would it be the centerpiece of culinary revolutions, replacing spinach and sides of roasted vegetables at high-end restaurants all across the country?
And like any well to do twenty year old, I turned to the Internet for answers. A quick dance with Google revealed it’s almost godly status as a “superfood”- a perfect blend of low calorie, low fat, low everything bad and high vitamin A and C and everything else good. More research opened my eyes up to an almost cult-like obsession with kale, ranging from the establishment of a national holiday for the vegetable to calling it the “silver bullet” of the public health crisis. Not to mention the lively Internet discussions on everything from Slate to NPR to the New York Times, boasting across the board from kale as the rise of a new health food savior to how our dietary tunnel vision will actually do more harm than good. It seems that if you want to be cool and with it, you better know what kale is and you better have something to say about it.
It seems that our cultural obsession with kale stems less from its culinary or palatable qualifications and more from its political and social implications. To eat kale, to choose it over the more mundane lettuce or carrots or the likes, indicates a certain worldliness, a certain awareness about the direction in which our society is moving. You realize that chronic diseases are becoming more and more linked to diet and exercise and you will not be the last one on that rapidly moving bandwagon, doggone it. You can walk into a swanky yoga bar with your green smoothie and feel like you belong even if you can’t put your feet over your head.
Bottom line: you look like you know something that other people don’t. You are able to separate yourself from your peers, show off that you know a thing or two about what it means to be healthy, and most importantly, stay a part of the conversations around you. It’s the food everyone loves to hate but something tells me that it’s here to stay.