The Kale Is Dead, Long Live the Kale!

Jen Doll
The Kale Is Dead, Long Live the Kale!

Kale, kale, surely you've heard of kale. Anyone who's anyone is eating it. Any restaurant worth its pink Himalayan salt is selling it. When we speak of trendy foods, kale is it! In a New York Times piece by Kristin Tice Studeman, she writes, "Along with midriff-baring tops and all things Gatsby, another trend has swept the spring social circuit: kale salads." 

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What? You might protest: "I've been eating kale salads and noticing them on menus for months, if not years." But a D.J. has spoken, therefore the trend is real: “'For some reason when you go to a restaurant and they have a kale salad on the menu, you automatically accept that it’s a cool spot,' said Chelsea Leyland, a D.J. and downtown fixture. 'It’s like playing the right music of the moment. It gives it that stamp of coolness.'” Huh. 

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It's a nod to Brooklyn, a nod to vegetables, a nod to food. Later in the piece there's this: "Kale salads, of course, aren’t new. But they began popping up on New York menus about five years ago." Ah, yes. No wonder it seemed familiar. After all, NPR declared kale "in the limelight" in 2011, the same year that Portlandia's Carrie Brownstein recommended buying "organic kale" in an interview with Bon Appetit.

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There is a food of the moment for any time. A brief, not entirely comprehensive look at a few highlights (read that Food Timeline link above, it's fascinating!): In the 1920s, consomme and jellies were in. In the '30s, Kraft Miracle Whip and Fritos were introduced onto the scene before the '40s became about wartime rationing and a rediscovery of "Grandma's food." What fancy person did not eat Lobster Newberg in the '50s? For a large cocktail party in the '60s, the New York Times Menu Cook Book suggested "Buttered nuts, chicken-liver pate, toast rounds and crackers, mushroom-stuffed eggs, tuna-stuffed eggs, cheese straws and twists, wild-rice pancakes, cream-cheese pastry turnovers, meat filling, cherry tomatoes, green and ripe olives." In less refined circles, Tang was hitting it big. In the '70s, fondue. The 1980s had their wine coolers and welcomed a surge in sushi; for dessert, you could have a pudding pop. In the '90s we ate Boca Burgers, Baked Lays, stuffed crust pizzas from Pizza Hut. 

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And now in the food-weary 21st century, we've done it all, we've seen it all, and it's time to make it new again. So we veer somewhere between modern-world convenience and old-school farm-to-table. Hence, kale. It's from the farm, or at least the ground, it's not too hard to cook, it makes us feel healthy and maybe even "artisanal." It's, as Tice Studeman explains it, "humble," and yet fashion-y, because, well, salad. It can also be used to create chips, or juice. You can put it in your whole-wheat pasta. You can massage it. It can be supped raw, too, if you've got choppers. It's got everything we need. Some people only eat kale. Or try to.

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Of course, there's that age-old dilemma. Once something is dubbed trendy, can it remain trendy? Well, The New York Times did speak to the dominance of kale almost a year ago, in a piece in which Melissa Clark wrote, "Five years ago, before kale salads became staples on practically every restaurant menu in New York, I knew kale as a wholesome vegetable that you only ate cooked." Kale's longevity, it would seem, is as impressive as the Kate Moss quote used to conclude Tice Studeman's piece. But, hot tip: the best season for kale is fall and winter. What I want now is really good tomatoes, with artisanal mayo, obviously, and some home-baked sourdough. Trend-setters, take note.

Inset via Flickr/Megg.