For the last five years, we’ve watched as kale took over menus and magazine covers. Kale, one of the most nutritionally packed foods, could be concocted into seemingly endless iterations — both liquid and solid — and still taste so appealing that the Queen Bey rocked it on a sweatshirt.
Hipsters were stuffing it into smoothies, turning it into chips and excusing their hangovers because there was no health infraction that couldn’t be canceled out by a gargantuan kale salad.
And yet, even amid all the fuss, I can still clearly remember the moment I knew that kale was over. I was sitting down to my MacBook, green smoothie by my side sipping my way to enlightenment, when I opened my inbox to an article that read: eating kale in excess, especially raw, can be bad for you.
I know we’re supposed to have everything in moderation (try explaining that to my fair-trade coffee collection), but kale’s a superfood! How could it do me any harm?
Turns out, kale doesn’t just soak up essential vitamins and minerals on its way out of the ground; it’s also really good at taking up thallium — a toxic heavy metal — from the soil, and consuming too much of it causes chronic fatigue, skin problems, foggy thinking and digestive troubles. Looking down at my smoothie, green sludge that it was, I knew the kale romance had turned toxic.
Jennifer, CC BY
The rise and fall of kale
A number of external factors surely contributed to making kale so cool — from marketing execs pushing Eat More Kale shirts to the trendy, suspender-wearing chefs at the Lower East Side restaurant Fat Radish who came up with the Kale Caesar — but at the end of the day, I venture to say that all these fancy marketing schemes could not have had the same impact had kale not also packed a lot of nutrition into a small, relatively cheap, package.
According to the USDA, farm production of kale in the U.S. rose 60 percent between 2007 and 2012. In 2012, TIME crowned kale king of its “Top Ten Food Trends” list and from 2013 to 2014, a survey of restaurant menus showed a 47-percent increase in the word kale. It was easy to see that kale’s days on the fringes of pop culture were numbered.
When McDonald’s announced earlier this year that they too could soon be adding kale to their menu, it was merely the last nail in the coffin; kale had officially become mainstream.
It was only a matter of time before kale met its demise. But now, those of us who keep a finger on the pulse of the hippest of foods are all left wondering: which vegetable will be the next to go viral from farm to table?
The Hipster Food Index
There is no shortage of could-be viral veggies out there. We chose eight that we thought had the most potential to go viral and measured them according to six criteria, keeping in mind some of the things that made kale so cool.
Cost. Kale couldn’t have made its way onto the plates of bohemian scenesters had it not been for the low price of entry. To measure whether these other vegetables could live up to the same standard, I compared the cost of each of these vegetables in Brooklyn, New York. (Yes, I understand that everything’s more expensive here; for those of you playing from home, if you’d like to scale the prices to a store near you, compare to the cost of a red delicious apple, which is $2.99 per pound in Brooklyn).
Nutrient density. Other than the very real thallium concerns, Kale is a bona fide superfood. To calculate a vegetable’s nutrient density, I take into account how well it fulfills the Dietary Reference Intake published by the Institute of Medicine (by way of the USDA) for vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber. The scale is out of 100.
Availability. Early on, part of kale’s mystique came from the difficulty in finding it in grocery stores and on restaurant menus. To measure the availability of these competing vegetables, I contacted five Brooklyn grocery stores to see if they carried the product.
Familiarity. Kale isn’t too different from other, more well-known greens, but it’s always been just obscure enough to breed curiosity. I measured familiarity of our contenders by their Google Trends score. The fewer mentions, the better.
Cultural cachet. Restaurants serving kale in trendier corners played up its European — particularly Tuscan — roots. The next hipster vegetable better have an element of exoticism that adds to its appeal. To measure this, I calculated how far away the vegetable had to travel from its original homeland to impart its wisdom on Brooklyn.
Juicing potential. No matter the vegetable, hipsters gonna juice, juice, juice… Kale was no exception. I measured the amount of juice you’re likely to get from juicing 100 grams of the contestants for the next viral vegetable.