When I was uploading the kale pics for this post, I posted one of them to my private Facebook page. A friend promptly responded, “What’s wrong with your mouth?”
Kale gets a bum rap. It’s a food people often profess to dislike, even if they haven’t tried it, and its association with health foodies/green living/general tree hugging doesn’t buy it many points in some circles. I think a lot of people assume that a green and leafy darling food of vegetarians must taste like crunchy shoe soles, and why eat crunchy shoe soles when you could be eating anything else?
I don’t think kale tastes like crunchy shoe soles. I think it tastes like broccoli-flavored cabbage, and I’m shocked to learn that my perception is, for once, rooted in reality: kale is a type of cabbage, and belongs to a vegetable species that includes broccoli. When cooked, it’s not unlike spinach in texture, although it has a little more body. If you can handle broccoli, cabbage or spinach, you’re in a good position to like kale.
Incidentally, liking kale is nothing uncommon or new. My research (read: Wiki) revealed that kale was cultivated in ancient Greece and Rome and pretty much everywhere else throughout history, and people outside of the US eat it all the time like it ain’t nothin’ but a thang. They even have kale festivals in Germany where neighborhoods choose kale kings and queens. I picture the winners wearing little crowns made of kale.
So why are we so slow in getting over our kale resistance in the US? I can think of two reasons: a) it’s super healthy, and somewhere along the line Americans got the idea that healthy food is nasty, and b) it challenges our old-school national belief that nothing is more nutritious or wholesome than beef and milk. Brace yourself – two of kale’s claims to fame are that calorie for calorie, it’s richer in iron than beef and a better source of calcium than milk.
And frankly, it’s a lot better for you. Unlike beef and milk, kale is naturally fat free, fiber-rich and low calorie. The vitamins and nutrients it contains boost metabolism, strengthen immune systems, protect against various cancers, lower cholesterol levels and help prevent Alzheimer’s – in other words, it can undo some of the damage beef and milk have been accused of causing. And growing it isn’t expensive and doesn’t leave an enormous environmental footprint.
Save the Kale
Kale is kind of the anti-cow. It delivers the same nutrition, only more of it, more efficiently, plus bonus nutrition, minus negative environmental impact. But before middle America was ready to accept a vegetable healthier than milk or meat, activists latched on to kale and started waving it around like a leafy green political flag, incorporating it into t-shirt slogans, plans to save the world, etc…and that alienated some people. Kale didn’t ask for that. Kale just wants to be kale.
But happily, things are changing. It’s no longer an act of social defiance to care about the environment or a cultural taboo to not eat meat at every meal – and it’s considered okay, even smart, to seek out and enjoy foods that are good for us. Kale is one of the healthiest foods we can eat, and it’s tasty, too, so let’s just go for it like it ain’t even a thang. Hail to the kale.
For more on kale, check out:
Eat Healthy’s Hot n’ Spicy Curried Kale
MindBodyGreen’s top 10 health benefits of eating kale
The Washington Times on kale and Alzheimer’s
Bon Appetit’s best kale recipes
Epicurious on kale and sex drive(!)