The French also love their vegetables, pureeing them into soups, chopping them into ratatouille or just popping radishes into their mouths when it’s time for an aperitif.
But when it comes to food trends, the French don’t necessarily like to follow suit: they like to be the ones setting the mode… especially if the current food fads seem to go against their indigenous inclinations.
That said, it isn’t a huge surprise that kale, the super food you can find on almost every menu in New York City and much of the US and UK these days, isn’t very popular in France. It is, however, super-annoying for a ex-New Yorker living in France who drank green juice before green juice was cool (I actually once saw someone gag watching me down some fresh greens after class at NYU one day).
Complaining about this very subject on my site a few weeks ago, I received a comment from a woman in Paris, Coralie, who told me about someone named Kristen Beddard who had started The Kale Project, which aims to make kale more readily available in France.
I immediately looked up Kristen (she’s even been featured in the New York Times), checked her #kalespotted map to see if any had been spotted near Geneva (Yes! One farmer 45 minutes away sells it!), read her website and kind of felt bad for slamming the French for not embracing kale sooner. It’s not really their fault… they just didn’t know about it.
And, to be fair, they didn’t really care. The French are technically much healthier than we are, choosing to eat local, in-season fruits and vegetables regularly. Even with all the cheese and butter, they really aren’t in need of super foods, like us crazy Americans. The French do things in moderation. When we Americans do things, we typically do things to the extreme, i.e. if we decide we are eating healthfully, we cut out all refined foods/sugar/gluten/dairy/soy, etc.
Basically, instead of being cynical and complaining about the lack of kale in France like me, when Kristen moved to Paris last year from New York City, she stood up and took action, and began researching why kale wasn’t showing up at the local markets and why restaurants weren’t putting it on their menus.
Kale was once grown and eaten in France and it is good for everybody, so Kristen has taken on the challenge of reintroducing it to the French and hoping they’ll embrace it (because she knows all the expats will). So far, so good, check out all the press she has already received.
I sent Kristen a few questions about kale and her crusade. Here are her answers:
1. Why is kale such an important veggie?
Kale is just as important as every other veggie but I think what makes kale (and all hearty leafy greens) special is that is great for people that choose to eat a vegan/vegetarian or highly plant-based diet. This is because of the iron, calcium and fiber contents. I personally enjoy eating all veggies in moderation and only eat kale about 2-3x week.
2. What’s your take on why the French haven’t caught onto kale?
It’s not that the French have not “caught-on,” they just have not gone crazy for it like the Americans. And let’s not forget that five years ago the majority of Americans did not know what kale was (although you still could find and buy it!)
The biggest thing to remember is that kale is not anything new in Europe. It is an old world vegetable and in France considered a légume oublié. If anything, kale lost any hope it had during the war as it was one of those veggies that was “left” during a tough winter. So it did not have many fans from that. Plus the French have such a strong and fantastic culinary food tradition that they do not catch-on to silly “health” food fads like Americans. But don’t worry… kale is catching on. If it wasn’t, it would be available in a few grocery stores now.
3. When and why did you first begin your kale crusade?
I began The Kale Project in April 2012 for a few reasons. 1. I could not find a job in advertising which is what I did in NYC. 2. I could not find kale and knew a lot of other people could not as well. 3. I thought it would be a fun way to meet people who work in the food world and something that if successful would help me find a job when we do eventually go back to America.
4. Have you been able to get French people, not just ex-pats, interested in this lovely leafy green? Or do they usually just pfffffft you?
Absolutely! I have a lot of support from French people. Expats of course were the target in beginning but over time with the French press helping, French people are excited to try it. My favorite thing is watching someone at a market ask about kale and buy it for the first time.
5. Where is your favorite place(s) to eat kale in Paris?
There still are not that many but Holybelly has a great kale salad and Cafe Pinson also does many nice things with kale. Luckily more and more places are using it as time goes on.
6. How big is your kale-spotting network?
The network grows by the day. More and more people send in tips because I can’t be everywhere at once! I am so grateful to those that share the markets and photos where they spot kale. This Project would not be where it is today without all of the supporters.
7. Your ultimate goal is to make Kale available in Paris and its restaurants, eventually expanding to the rest of France. You are off to a good start. How have you been successful at getting the word out? Do you just go up to farmers at the farmer’s markets and ask them to start growing kale? Tell restaurant owners they need to include it on their menus?
It’s been a mixture. I still will talk to farmers and restaurants but as I knew would happen, there has been a natural progression of buzz around the vegetable through social media and the French press. This may sound silly but really I just have been doing a very slow PR campaign for the vegetable.
8. How often do you actually eat kale now?
The same as I did in the states – well except for the first year that I lived here! About 2 or 3x per week. I also love swiss chard and spinach. The biggest complaint is from my husband because a lot of the time we have kale in the house but it is for events and not for us and he says that he needs more kale in his life!
For more about Kristen and The Kale Project, click here.