The Strange Mystery of Who Made Kale Famous…And Why

Organic farm to table healthy eating concept on soil background.

Today, kale is on the brink of reaching its cultural saturation point.Us Weekly has covered the veggie in a feature, “Stars Who Love Kale.” Kale Caesar salads are the “it” food on farm-to-table menus, and kale has become a hipster statement, stitched on Beyoncé’s sweatshirt.

And America is eating it up: According to the Department of Agriculture, U.S. kale production increased by nearly 60 percent between 2007 and 2012. Kale is for sale at Wal-Mart. Even McDonald’s is jumping on the cruciferous kale bandwagon and began testing kale breakfast bowls in nine California locations in May.

How did this happen? Not so long ago, salads were made of iceberg lettuce and broccoli was an exotic, acquired taste. For the last few years, I’ve been working on a book about the millennial generation and food culture, and it got me wondering, why did kale become the epitome of cool?

You’ve Got Kale

The reality is that kale is nothing new. It has been cultivated around the globe for more than 2,000 years. Before 2012, rumor has it that the largest buyer of kale was Pizza Hut, who used the curly leaves as décor along their salad bar.

But now, “anyone and everyone is growing it,” says Charles Muranaka, executive vice president of Muranaka Farm, Inc., the largest shipper of bunched kale in the U.S. “The market is pretty saturated.”

So someone has got to be profiting from it.

Through my research, I’ve found that it’s not uncommon for fruits and vegetables to have public relations money behind them.

Exhibit A: Orange juice was created by ad agency Lord & Thomas to help the California Fruit Growers Exchange utilize an over-abundance of citrus trees in 1907. The concept “Drink an Orange” made OJ a staple morning drink.

Similarly, one woman, Lynda Resnick, is credited with giving new life to pomegranates, creating PomWonderful through a similar viral marketing campaign, tapping into her celeb-stocked Rolodex. She was so successful that California’s acres of pomegranates have multiplied from 2,000 to 30,000 acres.

I became curious: Who is behind the rise of kale?

The Kale Hard Truth

A quick Google search about the popularity of kale reveals the name Oberon Sinclair, founder of My Young Auntie PR in New York City. With a client list that includes Hermès, Vivienne Westwood, and Jack Spade, Sinclair reports that she was hired by the American Kale Association (AKA) in 2013 to, well, make kale cool.

Sinclair is cited as the mastermind behind kale in publications around the world. “Meet the Woman Who Made Kale Famous,”they write, calling Sinclair “the woman responsible for it all and the representative of kale across the nation.”

With a sturdy client list in the fashion and music industries, Sinclair amplified the plant with custom t-shirts, pricy salads and celebrity endorsements.

“My approach was relatively simple,” Sinclair explained to me, via email. “I sought to educate consumers on the benefits of a product via guerrilla marketing. I literally put it on chalkboards around Manhattan and on the menus of cool restaurants, the Fat Radish being one of them,” another My Young Auntie client, “and the ‘trend’ escalated from there.”

I thought I had solved the mystery. Celebrity-laden PR guru markets kale and gets it in the hands of paparazzi-followed friends, on restaurant menus, and in the fashion world. End of story, right? Not so much.

Later that day, I had a call scheduled with Dr. Drew Ramsey, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, the founder of National Kale Day and author of 50 Shades of Kale, a cookbook that boasts “fifty enticing new ways to enjoy one of Mother Nature’s hottest properties.”

I figured it was worth getting his opinion on the rise of kale, though I thought I’d already solved the riddle.

“I’ve heard that before,” Ramsey said on the phone about Sinclair’s role in elevating kale. But, he countered, “Have you talked to anyone at the American Kale Association? I’m not sure they exist.”

I paused in confusion. I had assumed the American Kale Association was a group of kale farmers. Kale sales go up, good for the people who grow it, right?

In fact, the exact opposite is true: Many kale farmers are actually suffering from kale’s sudden popularity. “The demand is rising, but the supply is outpacing it,” explained Muranaka, the executive vice president of, again, the largest shipper of bunched kale in the nation.

Ashley Rawl, the director of sales and marketing at Walter P. Rawl & Sons, a large kale farm in South Carolina, told a similar story.

“A lot more people have gotten in on the business,” he explained. “I’m sure there are some farmers who are winning, who never grew kale before. But those of us who have been in the greens business all of our life, [the demand] has changed the dynamics of [the business].”

Not only has more competition bombarded the kale landscape, but eating kale raw, Rawl said, means farms have had to develop intensive food safety measures for a green that used to just sit below plastic bowls of ice on buffet tables.

With the farmers battling an increasingly competitive market, and My Young Auntie claiming that they were paid to make kale cool, I began to wonder who was really behind the American Kale Association.

Seeing Green

Clicking around the American Kale Association website reveals little. A well-linked loop runs from their website to Facebook page to Twitter account (where they have more than 15,000 followers). Posts go up on a somewhat regular basis, but contact information is omitted.

A domain search for their homepage discloses the site was created via GoDaddy through a third party, Domains by Proxy, whose website announces: “Your identity is nobody’s business but ours.”

So I went back to my original source to ask, quite simply: Who is the American Kale Association? A My Young Auntie staffer replied that AKA has “been great collaborators, but prefer to remain behind the scenes, focusing on the growth and supply, and providing the most accurate, updated information.”

“To clarify, the AKA are kale farmers/producers?” I wrote.

“Yes, to your question about AKA,” the staffer responded.

I called the National Farmers Union, figuring if a group of growers and producers had paid a PR firm, this national union of farmers would be able to point me to some growers who were involved.

“I’ve never heard of the American Kale Association,” replied Barbara Patterson, government relations representative at the National Farmers Union. She went on to tell me that if there was, in fact, a group representing kale farmers, it would probably be the United Fresh Produce Association. So I contacted them.

“We are not familiar with the American Kale Association,” wrote United Fresh’s Mary Coppola, senior director of marketing communications, in response to my inquiry.

Someone has to know who these people are, I reasoned. Following the trail, I reached back out to the actual kale farmers.

“I’ve never heard of them,” Muranaka (VP of the largest shipper of bunched kale in the nation) told me. And if there were a union of kale farmers, would he know of them? “Sure,” he replied emphatically.

I received similar responses from other directors at large kale farms across the country.

Don’t Kale My Vibe

I went back to the drawing board. Maybe I was missing something.

In 2009, Bon Appétit ran a recipe for kale chips by Dan Barber, a renowned New York City chef. In 2010, Dr. Oz introduced kale to his viewers. Then, in 2011, Gwyneth Paltrow baked kale chips onEllen. The following year, Bon Appétit named it the year of kale while Time listed kale as one of the top 10 food trends of 2012. In 2013, National Kale Day launched.

Perhaps it was the perfect kale storm: Gwyneth and Ellen promoted kale along with their own dietary agendas. Millennials decided to use their discretionary incomes on Juice Generation instead of cable. Gluten-free, Paleo, and vegan dieters all hailed the permissible vegetable.

Dr. Drew Ramsey began to host kale celebrations where people adorn themselves in kale and dance in the streets (true story). Celebrities began to talk about kale, like their new Beats headphones. All together, kale catapulted into popular culture in a way that other healthful foods have only scratched at in years prior.

Though after weeks of investigation later, the mystery of the American Kale Association still plagued me. Oberon and I had another call, and I asked, “Are you behind the American Kale Association?”

“Yes,” she said simply.

My editors at mindbodygreen called her again to confirm. “It’s my proudest campaign ever,” she told them. “I’ve been trying to convert people for years to eat in a healthy way. I’ve always loved [kale]. It is an amazing vegetable.”

Why, they pressed, why would you take the time to create this made-up organization? “I’m a punk at heart,” she replied. “I wanted to do something differently — and I did.” She figured that people would have been less interested in kale if they’d known a PR firm was behind it.

However unconventional her efforts may have been, Sinclair certainly deserves some street cred for making kale a cultural icon, and for that I salute her.

Which superfood is ripe for a comeback next? Just last week, an email popped up in my inbox from a PR firm, “Sample innovative recipes, sip nutritious juices, and get to know the bold superfood, broccoli rabe.” While I’m not sure it has the same sweatshirt appeal as kale, it’s certainly a veggie that could use a makeover.

2015-12-23T11:29:48+00:00

Related Questions

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    Q: I am a 29 year old African American female. I would like to tell you my story and get your advice. Before Sept. 28, 2008 I was a healthy fun loving female but after sept. 28th my health has not been the same. I wake up in the morning weak with nausea and headaches. I went to Kaiser and they said I had a virus and I had to let it take its course. I work with kids and it was hard for me to go back to work because 1. I kept getting sick. 2. My boss was mad that I was sick and not able to work. So I went back to Kaiser and then they said I was sick and had a virus with a mix of anxiety(due to my boss going crazy on me). They said I need to rest and stop being anxious, so I can heal.(well the anxiety is gone) Next I started to get sharp pains in my stomach area(which I have had before on and off for the past couple of years but it would only happen like once or twice a year) but I was scared because the pains we're very sharp and happening like two weeks apart. So Kaiser told me to go see a Upper GI Dr. I went to see one and had an endoscopy done and they found a yeast infection in my throat and that also my esophagus was irritated to but my stomach looked fine. So they put me on Prontiox (for the irritated esophagus and Difucan (for the yeast infection). Well as soon as I finished the medication for the yeast infection in my esophagus, I lost my voice and could not talk for 4-5 days and I still have the stomach pains. So the Upper GI dr. told me the sore throat and losing my voice was a side effect to GERD and that is what I may have. So he asked to up the dose of the Prontiox (so now I am taking 80 mg instead of 40 mg a day). But guess what still having stomach pains and my voice still goes in and out and it feels like something is stuck in my throat and now when I eat, I feel food get stuck in my chest like right in the middle of my breast. So what is going on with me...they have done blood work on me from blood count to checking me for STD's (even HIV) and everything came back normal/negative. And they keep saying all my blood work is healthy...So what is going on and what can I take, because I am a natural person and my system is sensitive to a lot of stuff and I don’t like being on these medications. And now the DRs may think I have IBS..Oh boy Help!! And oh yeah I have had very bad cramps when I have my period and take Motrin and I would like to know is there anything I can take that is sensitive to my stomach... HELP

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    Beloved, first perform the FULL BODY DETOX. Next, perform TOTAL WOMAN CLEANSE, and lastly, perform the 10-DAY SUPREME COLON CLEANSE. These kits will repair your system!

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    Q: Dear Sir, I was told that you were going to be sending me an email about my situation. I've wrote you a few times giving you bits and pieces of information it seems. I was asking one of your representatives about surgery and from the information I gave him he seems to think that I didn't give you all the information that I should have. Well about 13 years ago a lump formed in my breast after my 4th child was born. For years it's just been there. In 2005, after a mammogram they found calcifications in my breast. They did a biopsy and it came back fine. Six months later they decided that they wanted to remove the lump and when they did they found a small tumor. Since then I've taken herbs and God completely healed me. Well after another six months the lump came back but I didn't want any more surgery so I looked up poultice in my "Back to Eden" book and found a poultice that I used. I mixed flax seed meal, yellow corn meal, and funnelgreek tea together and left the poultice on my breast overnight for three nights. My breast began to get sensitive so I stopped using it. About a week later I noticed that the ducted around my nipple was indented, soon after that my nipple itself went inward, then after that I noticed what I thought was another lump in my breast but over a short period of time the lump extended from my armpit to my nipple. Now that whole area is hard and red. I got an ultrasound done and it revealed that I have swelling and cystic form in my breast. They want to do a biopsy but I am against it from what happened last time. Now I have pain in my arm also and at night I can barely sleep. I am at my wits end and don't know what to do except maybe go ahead and let me cut my breast. I have started your Detox program and I know it's working on my body but I don't want if it's doing anything for my swollen tissue inside my breast. I have lost my concentration because I'm constantly reminded about my breast because of the pain. I am a full time student but I'm thinking about dropping out of my classes until this issue is resolved because I can't focus on anything but the pain right now. I went a different doctor on 10/27/08 and they did a cvc (whatever that is) looking for an infection inside my body. The test came back normal, but my scheduled ultrasound is not for another week and I've told them that I'm in pain and need something done now. But they said that's the first available time.

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    It appears the pain is just too unbearable for you and as such you may have to give in to the surgery in order to get immediate but short term relief. I had a friend who experienced what you experienced and the pain was so unbearable she couldn't sleep. I felt for her and I feel for you. I think you must do what is necessary for elimination or reduction of pain first and foremost. The FULL BODY DETOX (FBD) is helping your swollen tissues, but it seems you mind is so distracted that you are in doubt mode and doubt is the subconscious will to fail. If you know you can't do what you need to do (naturally) to deal with this situation, do what you must for present day relief. You have free will here, Beloved! Please use FEMALE BREAST OIL and Drink FEMALE HEALTH TEA during your FBD.

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    A:

    Have you read the 2 health articles on hair ("HAIR PROBLEMS" and "BLACK HAIR, NAPPY HAIR")? If not, please read these articles for remedy and recourse. Also, read our article "SKIN DISORDER = BLOOD DISORDER"."

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    A:

    I suggest BOTH! First perform the FULL BODY DETOX, secondarily, perform the FIBROID BUSTER kit and regimen. With fibroids your size you will need constant cleansing of your body and a change of diet. You require a life change! Do this and you will heal naturally!

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    Q: I am black/African-American woman who has been getting perms for the last twenty years and now I am experiencing thinning in my hair (especially at the top). What can I do to get my hair thick and beautiful again? Are there vitamins I can take? By the way, I don't digest vitamins in pill form well, therefore are there any liquid vitamins I can take?

    A:

    You are experiencing the results of your actions. You can heal but it will take much effort. The abuse in your hair is programmed at a cellular level. Healing must be on a deep level. Detox your body periodically. Perform the FULL BODY DETOX. Next take MSM SULFUR (6-10 capsules daily), HAIR SKIN NAILS FORMULA, ELECTRIC GREENS CELL FOOD. Modify your diet! Consider going vegan! Read our articles â€HAIR PROBLEMS†and â€BLACK HAIR, NAPPY HAIRâ€. There is much information for you in these articles.

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    Q: Hello, I enjoyed reading the information on your website. I have many questions, but my concern is that I am 43 year old African- American female, who would be classified as obese. Last year I had a miscarriage, which was devastating to me though we were not trying to get pregnant. I have a 16 year old healthy son. The doctor wanted me to have a hysterectomy because of my age and reported that I had non-cancerous fibroids. I chose not to as if I have the opportunity to get pregnant again, I would like to carry my baby to full term and deliver another healthy baby. My question is: which would you suggest I do first (as we know, time is a factor)? Should I do the full body detox and then the weight cleanse? I don't want to do the fertility program, but I'm not sure exactly why I lost my baby. I know stress played a major factor (I quit that high-stress job I was on) and after reading your website, realized that weight played a much larger role than I wanted to realize. I'm not trying to actively get pregnant, but because it remains a possibility, I would like to be as healthy as possible. My partner and I broke up shortly after the miscarriage, but have recently recommitted to a relationship again after almost a year apart. I am sorry for this long email, but your opinion would be greatly appreciated. Sincerely

    A:

    First perform the FULL BODY DETOXfirst followed by the WEIGHT RELEASE CLEANSE AND REGIMEN.

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    Q: I am a 38 year old african american woman who has never had a child, the reason is I have keliods all of my body the are bad on and around the upper body area, and I have infections that come and go the infections get very bad when I have a outbreak they break open giving a very nasty oder. These infections come with boils and nasty yellow-green pus that has a bad oder. I also have boils and infections between my legs. I want these keloids to be gone is there any thing I can do to get rid of these keloids and infections once and for all. Please help me your my last hope.

    A:

    First perform the FULL BODY DETOX. Next, perform the DHERBS 10-DAY SUPREME COLON CLEANSE! Change your diet to raw foods only (for 30 days). Then incorporate the vegan-vegetarian diet. NO MEAT! NO DAIRY! NO PROCESSED FOOD! Bathe in hot water, 2-3 boxes of sea salt! Daily! Drink vegetable juice 2-3 times daily (make sure you use parsley and cilantro). Rub your body down with Dherbs OZ OIL after every bath.

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    Q: Thank you so much for doing all that you do. I wish that you were in my everyday life...If I ever come to Cali, I hope to be able to take you up on some of your services. I have given your site out to many people that cross my paths...most recently, a man with diabetes who is going blind. He seemed to be quite thankful for your info...I do hope that he contacts you...and my friend who perhaps has a problem with a parasite(s). But me....okay just waiting for tax refund and then I will hit you up for another full-body detox...and perhaps a parasite kit myself...as it is sad but true..with my current boyfriend careless but kind...I now have a problem with genital herpes...a small breakout every other month...I eat well for the most part...ofcourse it could be better. But the stress is hish...I am working on that. But my question is...would an air purifier do me any good? You see I live in Dundalk, Maryland...near baltimore...near a Steel plant, and a yeast plant, and close to the military practice bombing sites, and other military negative stuff, and the city polluted with car pollution, tons of light pollution, and they spray for mosquitos...then I go to work and I work at a place called ABC Supply...great place right, well the stress is high, and the building we work in is shot...I swear there is mold under the carpets in one of the rooms...the ceiling is constantly leaking and we don't know what from...and the fumes from forklifts and the asphalt from the shingles...the filterfrom the intake gets changed like once a year...but is filled with 'shit' probably in a day or week. So the answer is to get a new job and move...yeah I know...I just don’t know how to do it...or where to go. Since I moved here, I have a problem with my ears...filling up with water or histimine or whatever...usually if I don't drink enough water near my menstrual cycle...I went to a doctor once and basically walked out of the office telling him what to do for his cold...yasee..he was no help...I knew more than him already....these past two years have been bad for allergies. Now, my ears and my throat...my nose too...though I do clean it out with water and that helps. I am not the only one. In the past two years there is a great number of people who say the same thing...they have never had a problem with allergies until these past two years. My grandmother and next door neighbor are two..but many more...well they just started up that steel mill again probably about that time...they sprayed hard core for mosquitos right before my grandmother started having problems...global warming for one...and i dont' know..but two years ago I was involved with a group of people sending out petitions against an LNG liquid natural gas plant that would bring in a ship two times the size of a football field and a huge pipe line to pennsylvania, and a skyscraper of a building to store the gas. Well...we fought against it...but apparently the gas company has more say than our own local government...I don't know...but hear about it every once in a while that they are still trying to get it built. So, an air purifier?? what do you think? Much Love and Health and Thanks!! Peace, RESPONSE: Thank you so very much for your words, Beloved. Much obliged from the heart!

    A:

    In regards to your question: Oh yes! By all means purchase an air purifier or an ozone machine (which will actually be best or better for you). Make sure you detox (FULL BODY DETOX) periodically, consume ACTIVATED CHARCOAL, and take plenty of IODINE PHOSPHATE as sea weed is great for neutralizing the effects of radiation.

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    Q: My husband has scar tissue on his head. He was hit on the head with a bat by some attackers (years ago). The top of his head is extremely hard like a rock --the entire thing is scar tissue. In the back towards his neck but still on his head is a larger patch of raised scar tissue. It is so severe that he has lost and appears to be losing more hair off the top of his head (I think it's because his skin isn't breathing or getting oxygen. He's tried everything from drinking Aloe Vera and applying this to all sorts of products. Currently he is using the skintight products (razor/hair bump, as well as the coco butter) however after reading your article about alcohol, I know they contain this so I don't want him to keep using it even though we are seeing some larger results than we ever have before with that product. We are both vegetarians. He has been a vegetarian for 15 years. He used to eat soy burgers etc., but has completely cut that out for about 3 months. He is now in his third week of raw food (as prescribed by your website) just drinking the green juice from Bolthouse (algae, wheatgrass, spinach etc.) and eating large spinach and vegetable raw salads. We are using the recipe that you included in your e-books. We will continue on a diet like this for the next year while we cleanse our bodies and keep this lifestyle. However, with all of that, my question for you is-- Do you have any recommendations for him to remove his scar tissue? I thought the OZ OIL would help. In addition, I'd like to buy him the FIBRIOD BUSTER and/or any other fibroid kits- but the website says they are for women (only?). Any recommendations you could make would be most appreciated.

    A:

    I would tell you to keep using natural products (shea butter, OZ OIL, FIBRIOD BUSTER, MSM SULFUR, etc.) and let the healing take place at its own course. The more you focus on what you don't like (his head injury) the more it will magnify (not heal). His body is programmed to heal and it will but you must remain open to let the body heal at its own pace. Just continue to eat, think, and live right. He'll heal! Just give it time! Let nature do her thing!

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    Q: Happy new year mr ma'atra... serious question I don't know if you heard of him but I was watching something interesting with some guy from the zulu nation named credo mutwa and he was talking about a reptilian race... from I was young I always believed that we couldn't be the only life form do you know anything about this...

    A:

    Yes ... I am familiar with the reptilians as well as the Annunaki (alien gods), Greys (bad alines), etc. I can't go too much into detail on these topics because the average person can't handle the information.

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    Q: I have periodic palpitations. I've noticed mostly with gas and after eating. My EKG and echocardiogram all came back okay. However, the cardiologist did mention that the palpitations were from the lower chamber and he could go in to correct it, if it becomes bothersome. My question, is there an association between colon gas and heart palpitations and are there herbs I can take to correct this? They don't hurt, but are worrisome at times.

    A:

    I recommend that you start working on your colon. Perform either the FULL BODY DETOX or the DHERBS 10-DAY SUPREME COLON CLEANSE. These will greatly help your condition and you will notice the change. Individual formulas that are good for you afer the detox include ELECTRIC GREENS CELL FOOD, DIGEST AID, CARDIO-VASCULAR FORMULA, and COLON FORMULA. Don't forget diet! Your diet is too acid-forming. You need to eat more alkaline foods (fruits and vegetables). Cut back on the meat and dairy products. Dietary change is very important for you!

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    Q: I am an African American, 70 years old, and in good health and physical condition. I jog/walk 1 1/2 miles 5 days a week, do pushups and sit ups daily. But, I have low bone density, on the following medication: once a month Itake 1 capsule of Ergocalciferl 50,000 mg; once a week I take 1 tablet of Alendronate 70mg (Fosamax) a week (same day), and daily one tablet of calcium 500 with Vitamin D, and a multi-vitamin tablet. My questions are: 1) is there a herbal product to replace each, Ergocalciferl, Alendronate, Vitamin D, and what do you recommend for a multi-vitamin purpose and something to boost my energy level? Thanks, I will wait to receive your response.

    A:

    I would recommend you take KHEMETIAN GOLD, ELECTRIC GREENS CELL FOOD, IRON PHOSPHATE FORMULA, and CALCIUM FORMULA to replace these products you listed that are harmful to you. All of the above will nourish you with the necessary nutrients your body requires.