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Kale has had, and is continuing to have, its paparazzi moment. When kale first exploded onto the scene (as they say), this homely wild cabbage — with its tormenting, stiffened leaves, mouth-abrading texture, and fiber like a burlap bedsheet — surprised everyone with its star power.
Influencers, chefs, smoothie enthusiasts and wellness gurus have indeed been unreserved in their praise for kale, lifting it onto a pedestal from which the leafy loudmouth has lorded its popularity over the lesser lettuce community. Which only pushed the perennially insecure Iceberg Lettuce into more of a funk, but whatever.
Kale: the Surprise
Some people have been surprised at kale’s ascendance in the popular gastronomical imagination. Most surprised of all were those who took the bold step of actually putting kale in the pie hole and chewing.
Yeah, that goggle-eyed expression that looks almost like alarm?
It is alarm, and an element of surprise. The taste and texture of kale is not the most food-like experience, as many have noted.
Whatever the final judgement on kale, you wouldn’t confuse it with a dessert. But have we confused it with edible food? Hmmm. Possibly. The jury is still out. Why?
Because the jury had Kale Salade du Chef for lunch. At press time they were unable to leave the courthouse restroom. A pound of insoluble fiber is a biatch.
Kale’s “Superfood” Benefits
Kale’s vitamins A, K, B6 and C, calcium, potassium, copper and manganese make it — from a safe distance — an impressively nutritive wad of leaves. Kale has more iron per calorie than beef, and even contains omega-3 fatty acids. Kale is jammed with quercetin and kaempferol, two potent anti-oxidants, and is also overstuffed with Vitamin K, nature’s important blood clotting agent. Weird fact: A single cup of kale contains seven times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K.
The Lutein and Zeaxanthin in kale are healthy for your eyes, and seem to mitigate macular degeneration.
Lastly, if you rush at an intruder with a fistful of kale they may mistake it for a weapon and flee, or see that you are wielding actual kale and have the same flight response, but with a cry of alarm.
“Kale Challenge”: An Indication.
Some of kale’s supporters use language that suggests they are fair-weather friends of the leathery lettuce. On one website I saw lighthearted mention of the “Kale Challenge”— and who doesn’t love a challenge? What is the “Kale Challenge”? To remove the bitter-tasting spine of the kale leaf, tear the remaining leaf into bits and work it into a salad. That’s it.
The word “challenge”, as in “ice bucket challenge”, suggests overcoming a considerable obstacle by using one’s discipline and reserves of strength. If these qualities have to be brought to bear on eating a green salad, the ingredient list may need revising.
For a time kale was topping health food headlines in the weird vacuum tube that is celebrity culture. Gwyneth taught us to make kale chips on TV, Jennifer Aniston, Heidi Klum, and Sarah Michelle Gellar waved kale around like a pageant bouquet, and Beyonce danced around with a Kale sweatshirt on. Yes, people – when we adopt a new Slinky™ it can go to strange places.
One of the Jonas brothers was heard to bravely exclaim “I love kale with seasoning on it.” I love kale with seasoning on it? A tepid endorsement at best, and a sign of the bandwagon even kale-ambivalent celebs were anxious to hastily board.
No A-list celeb wanted to be perceived as living outside the perimeter light cast by the all-consuming kale bonfire. We can suppose that, even at the frenzied zenith of our cultural kale worship, many of the red-carpet kale endorsers wouldn’t have known kale if it, like, appeared on a plate in front of them. Such was the adoptive celebrity chic of kale.
The Emperor’s New Kale
Fad may not be the best operative word here since this hardy veggie has been around for a couple thousand years at least, the Greeks and Romans doing their part to perfect and cultivate kale. But kale’s having been so loudly championed by wellness influencers in the 21st century really did amount to a sort of national fad not always connected to reality.
Today the internet – global barometer of the human race’s willy-nilly attention span – is rife with headlines like Let’s Be Clear: Kale is Revolting, Kale is Disgusting, and the refreshingly earnest Why Does Kale Taste So Bad? As a culture we seem to be waking from a troubled dream.
Kale in its Angelic Form
To be frank—powdered kale, kale in a complex and masterfully whirled smoothie, kale that is not recognizably a withered leaf with a spine you need shears to remove—is good kale. You kidding? The vitamins, manganese -- you saw the list. Yeah -- kale is classified as a superfood for good reason. It just isn't something nature ever meant us to chew.
Many ghastly, nutrient-rich superfoods sneak in behind the lines to bless our bodies with their molecular and metabolic treasures.
For a while though, it became cool to eat kale in its natural form. This is what broke our collective spirit.
All Hail Kale
As kale’s ticker-tape parade nears its end and the pitiable leaf heads back to its old job as the inedible garnish used to gussy-up the crushed ice in Pizza Hut’s salad bar, everyone is furtively looking at everyone else, murmuring their confessions.
“I…uh…I could never really stand the sight of kale. I’ve no idea what the stuff tastes like. I couldn’t even stand the sight of it, you see.”
“Whoa! Same here!”
It’s as if the awfulness of kale was a terrible and deeply private secret nobody realized was shared by the world at large.
May kale now be at peace with its fall from grace.
Once we have exhausted our fleeting love for black carrots, bittermelon, and the trilobite-like fiddleheads, we’ll rediscover kale and start the whole love parade over again. This is all part of Life’s Rich Pageant. As you know.