Pass the watercress. Or the arugula. I’ll even take some purple cabbage; anything dark, leafy and other than kale, please.
What’s turned kale into the iceberg of the supergreens category? One word: Starbucks.
That’s right, the skinny on the venti is that Starbucks is now serving kale smoothies at select U.S. locations in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Northern California. With fresh kale added right into them, and your name drawn on the cup. You know, the same way pumpkin spice lattes are supposed to have real pumpkin in them. Except, of course, that would be totally gross and no one would line up out the door to buy them. But kale, well, that’s a different story–one Starbucks hopes is leafy, green and lucrative.
Evolution Fresh, the fresh juice brand which is now owned by Starbucks, is responsible for the three smoothie options: Sweet Greens, Mango Carrot, and Strawberry. All three of the smoothies contain Dannon Greek yogurt along with fresh cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices. So they’re clearly not going for the health foodie demographic; they want the Wendy’s Frosty customers, the closet Dairy Queen lover, the Shamrock Shaker.
Step into any trendy restaurant on either coast and you’ll be bombarded with kale salads, burgers and even housemade kale chips. Of course, there are kale juices and smoothies aplenty too.
Starbucks and McDonald’s are doing what they think their customers want; it’s a strategic business move particularly amid declining sales. And the silver lining, if there is one, is that this could be a customer’s first foray into the world of dark leafy green vegetables, which is certainly a step in the right direction–a step away from deep-fried nuggets and pink slimed burgers.
But there’s still reason to proceed with caution. The most glaring issue with Starbucks serving kale smoothies is that they’re loaded up with sugary fruit juices and conventional dairy products—not exactly the healthiest combination. But worse than that—they convince consumers that they’ve eaten (or drunk) something healthy. And that may lead people to overcompensate with unhealthy foods later. It’s an excuse to skip a fresh salad and opt for fries instead, because, hey, that kale smoothie was really healthy. It’s the diet soda effect–people who drink diet sodas often overeat unhealthy foods because they believe they’ve done their body good with the artificial sweetener.
And while a kale smoothie may be slightly healthier than a latte or Frappucino, or even a Diet Coke for that matter, it’s still never as healthy as plain old steamed kale. It’s not a substitute for a healthy meal; it’s a distraction, a detour, a workaround. It’s a lie.
Kale has had a good run, though.
For more than a decade it’s reigned as the Green King of the produce aisle, outselling all other fruits and veggies. It was the antithesis of foods served at Starbucks and McDonald’s until the corporate food machine co-opted it, until they figured out ways to make it unhealthy and quasi-cool. Corporate Cool. There’s no turning back now. If you think you saw kale everywhere in recent years, just wait. Kale Nuggets? Kale-Lover’s Pizza? Kale Ranch Doritos? It’s all possible. Probable. Inevitable.
But if we want kale to retain its rightful standing as a healthy food, we mustn’t cave into the Kalestorm. We must decline the green smoothies at coffee shops, ignore the McKale salads. We must decline for moral reasons, for healthful reasons, and out of sheer respect for a little piece of glorified lettuce that has the power to change lives–and should–but without big marketing budgets, ad campaigns or clever names. Until we can rediscover the gloriously inconspicuous green bunches of kale at our farmers markets or those in our own gardens, kale it seems, has become a celebrity–one that’s so popular that it’s become totally uncool. Until it makes a comeback, pared down, humbled and just wanting to make people smile.
Kale image via Shutterstock