Yes, it's a superfood, but a little-known fact is that the American Kale Association also hired a supercool PR firm to help the leafy green's reputation grow.
Thomas Jefferson grew it at Monticello, the Irish mixed it with potatoes (“colcannon”) and hid charms inside it to predict marriage, but really, its claim to fame is the “kale” emblazoned sweatshirt that Beyonce wore in her “7/11″ music video. Yes, kale, the green leafy cruciferous vegetable might as well be just called cool (which is appropriately close to its Dutch translation “boerenkool”), since it has gone from a weird, fibrous and bitter garnish to the green of choice in just a few years. According to US Department of Agriculture data, farm production of kale in the US rose 60% between 2007 and 2012. Even more recently, from 2013 to 14, a survey of restaurant menu’s showed a 47% increase in the word kale.
We all know that one major driver behind the kale-ification of America (and the world, by the way) is that it’s a nutrient powerhouse. The curly green is high in vitamins A, C, and K, has lots of iron, fiber and calcium and can easily be baked into chips, massaged with oil for a salad, or thrown into a smoothie. But there are lots of healthy veggies available for the picking (including spinach, which is equally healthy as kale); virtually none of them have achieved pop culture icon status, nor do most of them have a doctor-promoted “National Day” (yup, National Kale Day is October 1st, conveniently one day before National Fried Scallops Day).
It turns out, however, that the kale craze was ignited not just by a newfound interest in health and green juice, but in the same way many other trends have become “the new black”: a great PR team. Yes, the kale industry group—the American Kale Association (which is basically like the National Confectioners Association, but healthier)—hired hip New York PR maven Oberon Sinclair, who founded the public relations firm My Young Auntie, to “grow” the brand of the brassica. Conveniently, My Young Auntie also counts as a client the uber-cool and locally sourced New York City restaurant The Fat Radish, which was an eager early kale adopter when it opened in 2010 and likely helped make the now-ubiquitous kale Caesar salad the staple starter it has become.
Along with having contacts (and clients) among some of New York’s chic chefs, Sinclair also has a book of fashion contacts, which meant that the American Kale Association would add hip T-shirts that give back to the Edible Schoolyard Project (where the next generation of eaters is growing kale) to their marketing arsenal. So just like many trends that start on the streets of Brooklyn and Broadway, kale sprouted up at all the hot NYC restaurants and began to spread roots. As eaters across the country were becoming more interested in healthy, sustainable and local, kale became the poster-child “superfood” ingredient that could be Instagrammed by both health-conscious home cooks and foodies at the coolest restaurants.
By 2011, when Gwyneth Paltrow made kale chips on “Ellen” and the lawsuit between Chick-fil-A and the small T-shirt maker in Vermont who made “Eat More Kale” T’s was raging (Chick-fil-A thought it was a knockoff of their spelling-challenged “Eat Mor Chikin” ad campaign), the veggie was firmly embedded in the culture. In 2012, Time Magazine crowned kale king in its “Top Ten Food Trends” list, and in 2013, Entrepreneur Magazine was writing about the race for who would discover “the next kale.” Meanwhile, 2013 was also the year that Columbia psychiatrist Dr. Drew Ramsey and chef Jennifer Iserloh penned the clever 50 Shades of Kale: 50 Fresh and Satisfying Recipes That Are Bound to Please and officially solidified kale among the major cultural phenomena of the 2010s. How much of this was the work of Sinclair and her team, we may never know. But we can certainly guess that the American Kale Association’s money was well spent in getting a cool and connected New York PR chief to promote their veggie.
Of course, the biggest PR budgets in the world don’t seem to be saving many of the biggest fast food companies and junk food brands from a steady fall from favor (or flavor), but the kale example does prove that savvy marketing can sway our food choices. Ironically, just weeks ago, a financial analyst covering McDonald’s suggested that the burger joint would soon be adding kale to the menu and a company spokesperson responded that the company is looking for ways to respond to customers – perhaps a sign that kale has gone fully mainstream.
Which of course means that food trend watchers are now suggesting that kale is out and its cruciferous cousin cauliflower is in. Compelling as it is that cauliflower can be sliced and marinated like a steak, shredded into a veggie “rice” and made into Paleo pizza crust, we can’t count kale out just yet. As long as there is a steady demand for green juice, nutrient-packed salads and potato-less chips, our love of kale is surely here to stay.
Original Article Published on SELF.com