James Griffin 's Opinion

James Griffin is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

James Griffin: What's with kale?

Why is everyone crazy for kale? Photo / Thinkstock
Why is everyone crazy for kale? Photo / Thinkstock

Where the hell did kale come from? Seriously, how did the cauliflower's ugly cousin go from this thing no one outside a few food/health freaks had ever heard of to suddenly being the single most important vegetable none of us can possibly live without? In fact, while we're at it, how the heck do some foods become faddish, while other foods will never be fashionable, ever?

Kale has been with us for a long, long time. In fact, if I understand my Wikipedia correctly, back before the Middle Ages (during the Beginning Ages, I suppose you could call them), people in the kale-growing parts of the world used to eat bucket-loads of the stuff - possibly, literally, from a something closely resembling a bucket.

Then, after proper food was invented, kale lay dormant for many hundreds of years. In the meantime, we had worked our way through such faddish vegetables as the avocado, the sundried tomato, and an assortment of things with the word "heirloom" in front of them.

Even kale's strange and disturbing relative the brussels sprout had a faddish moment where people tried to figure out how to make it edible - mainly by drowning it in bacon fat.

And then along came kale. Intriguingly, the arrival of kale on the fad food front coincided with the evolution of the hipster, to the point where they are now synonymous and kale is the third most popular name for the baby offspring of hipsters. It was odd, therefore, that about the first thing the hipsters did with kale was to turn it into chips that crumble to dust when you bite into them and get caught in your extravagant facial hair.

Kale is, apparently, remarkably good for us. Take one look at kale and you can sense that a vegetable so ugly must be good for you; otherwise there is no reason for something that looks like spinach with a skin disease to exist. Kale is a great example of the Rule of Food, that says if something looks and/or tastes awesome it will inevitably be deeply bad for us, while stuff that is pig ugly (but not from a pig) and can only be rendered tasty by adding unhealthy stuff to it, will be packed full of all the goodness nature can provide. To counter nature's unfairness in this area, human scientists need to develop a cooking process whereby deep-frying actually adds vitamins and minerals to food.

Among the good stuff kale has in it, I have learnt, are lutein, zeazanthin and sulforaphane; all of which are things that no normal human being has ever heard of but that we apparently should eat a lot more of. If you chow down on 100g of kale you will be consuming 85 per cent of your daily vitamin A requirements; 49 per cent of your vitamin C necessities; and a remarkable 778 per cent of your daily vitamin K needs. I do not know if it is possible to overdose on vitamin K but I would suggest the way to find out is to eat a wheelbarrow load of kale.

Gwyneth Paltrow is a big fan of kale, which says as much about kale as it does about Gwyneth. There are lots of recipes for kale-based dishes on Gwynnie's goop website. I wonder if kale is a comfort food, and now that she's uncoupled whether Gwynnie spends her nights crying into her vodka and kale juice while listening to old Coldplay songs. Intriguingly, the word "goop" is not only the name of Gwyneth's website but also: (a) a commonly used adjective in describing the music of Coldplay; and (b) kind of what boiled kale looks like.

Food fads come and food fads go, of course. So it is an inevitability that the kale fad will fade and another mega-health source will rise to take its place. Will anyone weep at the passing of the Days of Kale? Gwyneth, possibly, though I suspect she will have long since trailblazed the path to whatever is the next faddish vegetable or fruit. The cherimoya or the pummelo maybe? The jabuticaba or Brazilian tree grape would seem timely in the year of the World Cup. Or what about the romanesco, which looks like a cauliflower cross-dressing as a broccoli? The samphire, which looks like an asparagus that mated with a cactus then decided to live underwater, would certainly tick the exotic box in any fad. Or how about the pungent durian, on the grounds that anything that both tastes and smells bad must be doubly good for us?

At the end of the meal it matters not what fad comes next, because the important thing is that it won't be kale, and for that we must give thanks. Amen.

- NZ Herald

James Griffin

James Griffin is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

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