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Straight to Kale The rise of the celebrity super-green

By Christie Pool

Staff writer

Who knew that Beyonce and Gwyneth Paltrow were to blame for us having to eat kale in a thousand different recipes, even as substitute to potato chips.

Just a decade ago, kale was on 0.7 percent of restaurant menus in the United States. In 2011 it began to creep up in popularity and now it’s on one out of five restaurant menus. Even McDonalds features a kale/sriracha sandwich in the summer months.

How and why did this happen in America - the land of fast food goodness like french fries, burgers and milk shakes? No one has ever taken a bite of kale and exclaimed, “Simply amazing! I want it every meal.” 

The television show Parks and Recreation had an episode about a farmers market vendor selling chard (kale’s equally hip cousin) using lewd dancers. His response to a complaint was how else could sell that stuff? It’s like lettuce “but worse.”

Sometimes certain foods achieve a status above their actual taste merits. Kale is basically a sophisticated version of spinach. It’s a little chalky, bitter, and basically tastes like, well, something rabbits would enjoy. But kale is also stylish. The green plant has become the darling of foodies, much like some popular kid in high school, even people who hate him, still want to be around him.

Food trends come and go and kale’s day in the limelight may be numbered. In the 1970s and 80s it was all about cutting animal fats. The late 90s brought the Atkins Diet that ruled out carbs and it was back to meat. The next pendulum swing in food trends landed on kale. It’s nutritious, cheap, and apparently very easy to grow (at least in my husband’s backyard garden). It keeps in the fridge forever, but do not put frozen kale in your smoothie or you wind up with specks of tiny green kale shards in your teeth.)

So how did this leaf go from obscurity to mainstream? Beyonce and Gwyneth Paltrow are mostly to blame. 

It first made the radar after a popular farmers market t-shirt and bumper sticker proclaiming “Eat More Kale” got hot, selling far more than the original creator expected. It seems first generation foodies, spawned by books and movies like Fast Food Nation, were looking for some way to proclaim their new healthy lifestyle.

Then on April 22, 2011 Gwyneth Paltrow appeared on the daytime talk show Ellen and together they made kale chips. People were paying attention because Paltrow and her multi-million dollar business Goop, is all about selling expensive products for our wellness and promoting superfoods that claim to reverse aging (impossible). Paltrow was promoting kale as something that was good for us all and, unlike her other products, it’s cheap and for sale at your grocery store. Suddenly this one plain green was boosted to the top of the hierarchy in the foodie and the wellness trend. And then Beyonce happened. 

When Beyonce released her video for the song 7/11, for the first 37 seconds of the video she is dancing around in a sweatshirt. The sweatshirt simply said “KALE.”

Drop the mic. It was all downhill from there for those of us who prefer Captain Crunch for breakfast. Because of a t-shirt and the earlier reference from the Hollywood actress, trend-followers all want somebody to “Give’em Kale.”

And it’s all because of Beyonce, Gwyneth, and farmers market t-shirts and bumper stickers.

I’m nostalgic for the days prior to 2011 when Pizza Hut was the country’s largest buyer of kale. They used it as decoration underneath the food on the salad bar.