Disclaimer: This article was written for my senior year expository writing class in Spring 2014. The assignment was to choose any societal artifact and explain its cultural significance. As a second semester senior, I went for the gold and decided to curse in my opening line (#edgy). Luckily my teacher was chill as fuck and rolled with it. This piece is intended to make you think, feel and explore different ideas about food and society. It is not intended to offend or shit on your love for kale. Although, I do judge you for it.
Kale. What the fuck is kale.
It’s some sort of “superfood” bull shit that some random person decided to market as the food to eat.
First it was heirloom tomatoes, then Brussels sprouts, eventually quinoa, and now kale. I don’t know what it is about this food that has the whole world buzzing. It doesn’t taste good. Oh, you like kale? You’re full of shit. Liking what Wikipedia says kale does for you and actually liking how kale tastes are two completely different things. Kale is not delicious. It is bitter and tastes like the ground. I know, I’ve tried it.
There has been an obnoxious shift towards this ambiguous food group popularly named “superfood,” and barely anyone knows what it means. The Aztecs or Mayans have been eating this crap for years – okay, cool – but why do I have to? There is nothing appealing about kale. It’s a green, leafy vegetable – my two least favorite attributes in food. I typically go for processed and beige – clearly full of chemicals rather than nutrients.
So what’s up with today’s pressure to munch on foods high in omega-3s and vitamins? I feel like a complete outcast when I voice my opinion on foods – such as tofu and kale – to the point that I have to lie about it. I actually texted out a picture of a quinoa, tofu and kale stir fry I forced myself to make one day. The result? “OMG that looks amazing!,” “i want ur leftovers thx,” “#healthy,” along with a few other similarly vague messages.
What does kale represent in this day and age? So much.
First off, if you’re trying to be skinny and look good on social media, kale should definitely be in your diet. Like, how do you think those celebrities look thin on the red carpet? Kale, obviously. Because what else would help you shed those pounds? Disgusting leaves from the earth in their rarest form. Duh.
It’s truly absurd to me. I think the only way kale would be somewhat appealing is if it was deep fried four times and smothered in buffalo sauce. Now that’s a superfood.
Kale represents our culture’s obsession with staying in shape. I’ve personally noticed a shift in our society from an emphasis on being thin to an emphasis on being healthy. Healthy meaning in shape through exercise, healthful foods – that are also gourmet – and treating your body like a temple (aka yoga and shit).
In middle school I remember flipping through magazines and seeing almost skeletal humans smiling back at me from the glossy pages – I wanted to be just like these “creatures.” I’m not sure if it’s due to puberty, an overall sense of self-consciousness, or an indication of the times, but it directly conflicts today’s representation in the media.
Popular bodies have gone from six foot whatever and 105 pounds to five foot average and at least 125 pounds. Growing up I never would have seen a Kim Kardashian-esque body on the cover of any magazine, and now she’s the body that men find sexy and women find inspirational. She has big boobs, a huge ass, and curves. She’s sexy, and she owns it. Compare her to Twiggy in the 1960’s – rail thin and flat with a boyish-like figure.
It’s considered sexy to have a bubble butt – there are even songs about it. It’s nice to have boobs. Hips and curves are desirable. Women want these bodies – they’re sick of starving themselves in hopes of fitting into a double-zero dress size. Times, they are a-changin’.
As a result of body image shifts, popular diet has changed as well. Kale. Tofu. Quinoa. Chia. Juiced vegetables. Ginger root. Flax seed. Literally, wut? These ancient foods are replacing the typical American diet staples like Twinkies, Wonder bread and fried chicken.
A typical refrigerator at WashU, for example, would probably have a handle of vodka, coconut water, kale, Brussels sprouts, tofu and maybe beer. What’s happening to the world of college with fridges full of regular Budweiser, frozen chicken fingers and Hot Pockets? Like I said, times are changing.
Marathons are becoming the new 5K, and don’t even get me started on half marathons. Everyone who’s anyone has run the easy breezy 13.1 miles on a Sunday morning. I feel like part of the American obesity epidemic by not having run one.
Athletic gear has become part of the usual wardrobe – leggings, yoga pants, quarter zips with thumbholes, sneakers. I can’t walk around campus without spotting someone in gym clothes. It’s acceptable to walk around in sweaty or soon-to-be-sweaty apparel, something that my grandparents still can’t understand.
But these habits all stem from this evolving American diet. Ancient foods that are resurfacing as trendy, healthy, “it” foods are part of this move towards gourmet, chic, good-for-you meals. Take a scroll through your Instagram feed. You’ll see quinoa and kale mac and cheese, broiled Brussels sprouts, ginger spinach carrot juice, flaxseed sugar-free brownies, etc. Take a glance at how much engagement these photos have. A hell of a lot more than the image of your cute baby niece, your friends at a bar, or your new manicure.
The success of these photos only fuels the fire for the healthy food fad. How? I see someone with 76 likes on an image of cauliflower crust pizza. Okay, now I’m going to one-up them with my chia pudding decorated with fresh cut berries and organic honey. 84 likes. Hell yeah.
But what is this competition? What is this desire to like images of food? Are we a culture of food-obsessed people? Do we actually have a body image issue? Do we all have eating disorders that culminate through society’s acceptance and promotion of low-calorie pure food? Hmm.
There’s an entire industry devoted to promoting gourmet food – whether it be low-cal, high-cal or medium-cal. Food blogs and Instagram accounts pop up more frequently than froyo shops, each promoting different restaurants, delicacies, food groups, etc., and people eat (in more ways than one) this shit up. Food blogs seem to be replacing fashion and lifestyle blogs – the newest trend isn’t pastel colors or trench coats, but rather a newly discovered food or diet.
Growing up I learned in school that people with eating disorders had an unhealthy relationship with food. I can vividly remember Ms. Mueller in ninth grade health class showed us a video about an anorexic ballerina who had an obsession with talking about food, preparing food, engaging with food – but never actually eating food. Is that what our society is coming to? We stare at it on the internet, read about it, talk about it, share it, like it, try to prepare it – but are we ever actually eating it? Are we a society of anorexics? Or are we binge eaters?
Think about that 100-pound girl who uploaded a picture of a greasy, cheesy hamburger topped with a fried egg and sriracha. Or the foodie guy who instagrammed a pic of his chorizo taco smothered in cheese, sour cream and guacamole. It’s not as black and white as I’m making it out to be. People are uploading images of their homemade kale chips on the side of their dark, leafy salad, but also people are thinking, “Fuck it,” and uploading their parmesan truffle fries on the side of a slab of ribs.
Is this other end of the spectrum – fattening, yet gourmet (gourmet meaning fresh ingredients that are beautifully plated), foods – an indication of our society, or just an opposition to those obnoxious, wannabe-skinny bitches bragging about their 200-calorie dinner? It’s unclear. These absurdly caloric meals with captions such as “there goes my diet,” “work hard play hard,” and, “#fat” raise some questions.
Are these people making fun of those health aware kale-lovers? Or do they just not give a shit and eat whatever they want? Maybe these people are totally comfortable with their bodies and represent a new sector of society – positive body image – and embrace their curves and imperfections, striving for Kimmy K’s voluptuous figure. But then again, are they just showing their band of followers their deep fried butter-smothered meal as a way to cover up their insecurities?
Is my skepticism of their positive body image an indicator of the type of culture we live in? One that wouldn’t allow someone to actually love him or herself? Not find faults in their love handles or cellulite? Maybe I’m just a victim of society’s pressure to have an unhealthy relationship with food. I don’t know.
Then there are those people who purposely dismiss these new healthy food trends, but why? Do they not believe in healthy eating? Do they not care about their bodies? Are they naturally fit? Is it a way to seem cool? There are a large number of people who say, for example, kale is gross – me being one of them – but why? Do they actually think it’s gross or are they just doing it to seem cool?
Am I just writing about this as a way to seem above the healthy food trend? So people think I’m naturally small? Only being 5’0″ and under 110 lbs. maybe I’m just building myself up as someone with a sick metabolism who doesn’t need to workout that much. Lucky me, right?
Or does the fact that I have Celiac Disease and I’m required to avoid fried foods, cross-contaminated buffets, and wheat bread (#missyoumeanit) stigmatize these healthy foods that people choose to eat when I am forced to eat them? Thought-provoking…
It’s like the SATs or studying for an exam – people always underplayed how long they prepared or how well they did. I don’t understand why, but people did and still do.
Maybe people want to underplay how hard they work on being healthy. I always hated those Victoria’s Secret models that claimed they have to cut out fries the day before the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Like, no. You went from eating four raisins a day to one. You are not a normal person – you cannot look like that and eat anywhere over 400 calories every 24 hours. But is that true?
Maybe they’re just genetically gifted superhumans. Who am I to say they can’t naturally be fit, thin, beautiful, and confident? And I think the media, including interviews with Victoria’s Secret Angels, contributes to America’s unhealthy relationship with food and body image.
Everyone has his or her own opinion on this food trend – for it, against it, secretly part of it, secretly angry about it – but what I’ve realized is America’s body image is messed up. And it has to do with kale.
I might be making absurd, almost unrealistic, ties between kale, food, society and our culture. I have completely ignored the fact that these organic superfoods are pretty expensive from places like Whole Foods and specialty shops.
My experience with social media and food seems to limit itself to the middle and upper class who can afford these gourmet meals, Whole Foods shopping trips, and meals at expensive restaurants. This link between kale and body image completely ignores sectors of our society that are pleased with a dollar menu meal at McDonald’s or any food that someone will give them on the street.
America has an obesity issue and a hunger issue, but do we also have a body image issue? The answer is unclear, but after this entire rant, I think I’d rather skip the #whitegirlproblems and kale, forget the bullshit and try to see the bigger picture.
Side note: This is me downing a gluten free pie by myself the day I edited this article. Obviously I had to eat the whole thing and insta it or this entire post would feel like a sham. It was hella good. #fuckkale