Kale Is a Four-Letter Word

The sad plight of the supertaster

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Kale is a four-letter word with all sorts of hidden subtext. If you eat kale, you’re good, you’re healthy, you’re DOING THE RIGHT THING. If you don’t eat kale, well, you might as well be on the Twinkie Train to Tubbydom.

Okay, so maybe I am on the Twinkie Train to Tubbydom. I might even be accused of being the conductor. But dammit, I’d take a Twinkie over kale any day, and I don’t even particularly like Twinkies! I hate vegetables, and I hate that the self-righteousness of veggie-re-virginated people means we kale-aversers are practically the modern-day equivalent of cigarette smokers.

A few years ago I did an empathy juice fast with my daughter, who needed to undergo suffer through one for medical reasons. I knew I was the underdog from the start, being the vegetable-loathing creature I am. As a self-diagnosed supertaster, I find the taste and smell of most vegetables to be abhorrent at best. So the idea of living on the extract of that-which-makes-me-gag wasn’t particularly enticing. Not like the idea of being on Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food fast, for which I might be first in line. I held out blind hope that “juice fast” translated to plenty of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Now that is the kind of juice fast I’d be all over.

Alas, it turns out that fruit juice, even fresh-squeezed, is akin to mainlining sugar straight to your veins. It’s your pancreas’s worst nightmare. I’m a carb junkie, so I’m all about mainlining glucose in all its officially-decreed health-obliterating forms. Evidently I am a lifelong commuter on the Twinkie Train to Tubbydom, where I fear I will remain, unless I develop a freak affinity for foul food or am issued a death sentence from my doctor unless I change my jaded ways. Because for me, that juice fast was aptly described: fast. As in: I lasted precisely ten hours before I dry heaved my way into waving the white flag of surrender.

It’s not that I didn’t want to succeed on a juice fast. After all, it seemed like a quick and easy way to thin-dom. I was emboldened by having watched that paean to juicing, the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. If you don’t want to guzzle your liquefied kale way to health after having witnessed that piece of Vegetable Producers of America-esque propaganda, you’re a lost cause. I saw it with my very own eyes, how people went from fat and unhealthy to near super-human, all by simply pulverizing veggies into a drink. Three glasses a day and I was going to be golden, I just knew it.

Stockpiling supplies for this family juice fast was eye-opening. Make that wallet-opening, because the sheer volume of vegetables one must process in order to make a meager eight-ounce glass of juice is staggering. And I needed a walk-in fridge to store the stuff. For the four out of five in my family who were on board with this thing, I purchased cases of kale, restaurant-level supplies of carrots, cucumbers out the wazoo, enough celery to supply the lunchbox of every child in a tri-county region with peanut butter celery (which the kids would invariably throw out as soon as they were out of their mother’s line of sight). I bought spinach galore, peppers by the pound, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, parsley, ginger, even a few token fruits like apples, pineapple and papaya, though I couldn’t include much, due to that glycemic load problem. I truly tried to envision something I’d want to ingest in a juice: I’m a fan of tomatoes, so maybe with a soupçon of gazpacho? (Nope, it was what caused me to nearly vomit all over the kitchen and call it a day).

The financial implications of all of this veggie-acquisition were truly budget-busting. Yet it’s like paying for caviar, only to eat dog poop.

My family will never believe me, but early in the day, when the juicing commenced, I wanted to believe that I’d acclimate. After all, eventually even Civil War soldiers got used to eating hardtack (which were pretty much army-issue, maggot-infested, molar-cracking rocks).

I’d longed for one of those evangelical moments: this, Jenny, is what you’ve been missing out on your whole life! Vegetables are actually amazing, and delicious, something you will from here on out, till death do you part, crave. Instead, juicing made me hate the few veggies I could tolerate—cucumbers, for instance, and raw spinach. It made me further loath the ones I already detested-beets looming atop that list. Juiced beets reduced me to tears. And not in a good way.

And while the taste was the deal-breaker—one nose-plugged gulp and I knew my fast was doomed—the smell truly created an airtight coffin in the death of my health-food experiment. You know how a certain aroma will take you back to a different time in your life? Say, the waft of your mother’s chocolate cookies in the oven as you opened the front door after a long day in third grade? Take that sensation and flip it, and that’s how I feel at the mere aroma of vegetable pulp even now. I can see if it was the macerated remains of a bloodied animal, perhaps. But smashed-up veggies? How could that be so repulsive? But trust me, grasshopper, it is. I walk by a juice bar, catch one whiff of that pulp oozing through the juicer and I have to suppress my gut revulsion.

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Flickr/Larry Jacobsen

Maybe it’s my body telling me veggies are not for me. Maybe all of those holier-than-thou stick-thin celebrities wearing their kale and wheatgrass-juicing lifestyles like some badge of superiority should just stop with that crap already. Just say no to zebra food.

Like former supermodel Naomi Campbell on the Today show in her affected Brit-girl voice, bragging on her uber-healthy lifestyle. I’m not sure how Savannah Guthrie could keep a straight face asking Campbell about all of her top secrets to looking and feeling so beautiful (mainly green juice, of course). Though Savannah deserved a clunk on the head for the dingdong question du jour: so can I have orange juice on that juice fast? Uh, green juice pretty much implies green.

But as Naomi regaled us with her healthy lifestyle, Savannah went in for the clincher, quoting Naomi from back in her heydey about her life of debauchery, which included cigarettes.

“Well, I do still smoke,” she said with a completely straight face (sounding all the more legitimate with her posh accent). So to get this straight: drink green juice and you’ll have great skin and look young but hey, who’s going to see the cigarette-induced black tar on your lungs anyway and besides, Naomi Campbell would likely prefer to die before getting old and ugly, so those smokes put her in the fast (and not juice fast) lane to an early grave. Natch.

I heard a man claim on the radio that he “tucks” seaweed into his kids’ lunchboxes and now they clamor for it and complain if they don’t get it. What, are his kids baby seals? Who craves seaweed but for sea-going creatures?

Even in sushi seaweed’s a major fail (but then again, so is sushi, for that matter). Add to that this whole fermenting movement, especially kombucha. The stuff smells like my kids’ worn-out soccer shoes. Gonna take a pass on drinking anything that reeks of cat urine.

I once read this piece on how the stars stay thin, featuring Stacy Keibler (one of George Clooney’s has-beens), a super-thin six-foot tall, terrifyingly perfect looking blond creature. Her binge food was chia seeds. Chia seeds! Those things you’d once see on late-night commercials that would sprout into a flower-pot-man-with-head-of-chia-hair. What happened to binge food being banana cream pie? She also does no wheat, no sugar, no fruit, but hey, she has no cellulite. Someone pass me a Twinkie. She also eats almonds sprayed with liquid protein concentrate.

Her dessert splurge, chia pudding, consists of chia seeds, maca (whatever that is), banana, agave, and almond milk. Sign me up. Right after I finish my green juice fast. Meanwhile, the women ingests a mere 1200 calories a day. I’m pretty sure that the United Nations standards for prisoners of war mandates more calories than that (and probably an occasional Twinkie for good behavior). She also has hot water for breakfast (and nowadays, who doesn’t?). I’m trying to imagine the visualization that must have to occur in order to physically accept that hot water is akin to food intake. But I’m not seeing it.

Keibler mentioned that on vacation in Mexico, an amazing chef made a tequila ice cream one night. She admitted to having two teaspoons of it, just to try it. But she said she definitely did a few extra minutes of cardio the next morning. Well, we all have to pay for our sins.

And now we have food sections of major newspapers going all healthy on us. Gone are the days of fattening casserole recipes, supplanted by ones for Brussels sprouts pancakes. Even top chefs are changing their tune, surfing that health-conscious and diet-crazy wave (Alton Brown, the Neelys—the comfort food king and queen, for God’s sake—Rocco DiSpirito, even the maligned Paula Deen). Et tu, brute? They’re all waving the kale flag like rabid Manchester United soccer hooligans flourishing team scarves.

I finally stumbled upon salvation over my hand-wringing about the world being taken over by food-rejecting herbivores, ironically while on my spinning bike (I have to make some concessions here). I turned on the Food Network to see a cheery, zaftig farmer woman cooking the most calorie-laden meal imaginable: roasted French onion dip (for dipping your homemade beer batter curly fries), Old Skool greasy burgers (doubles, with double cheese), and homemade milkshakes with farm-churned ice cream. While on one level the whole thing sounded amazing, on another level the ghost of kale-juicing past reminded me that it was a kiss-of-death dinner, which made me sad. But then I felt a little more cheered to see that the farmer/chef making the meal, while basically the opposite physique of those size zero Hollywood chia-grazing maniacs, looked so extraordinarily happy. So maybe she’ll have a few less years, thanks to coronary heart disease. Perhaps a little case of Type II Diabetes. But damn, she’ll go down happy.

Jenny Gardiner is an award-winning novelist and #1 Kindle bestselling author. Her work has been found in Ladies Home Journal, the Washington Post, and on National Public Radio. She is a columnist for Charlottesville’s Daily Progress and Volunteer Coordinator for the Virginia Film Festival. Find her at www.jennygardiner.net. For your mild amusement, here she is gagging on a glass of juice.