When Pittsburgh-native Kristen Beddard moved to Paris (from New York City) in the fall of 2011, she quickly realized her new home was lacking in something Manhattan was awash with: kale.
"You could not find kale in Paris markets or supermarkets, and many people I asked about it or showed a photo to did not know what it was," says Beddard, who then launched The Kale Project, her now 18-month-old initiative created to bring the nutrient-dense leafy green to France.
1. New Yorkers are obsessed with kale to the point that it's kind of weird, actually. Why do French people hate it? What's the deal? The French don't hate kale, as it's hard to hate something that you don't know. It's a war vegetable and in France, considered a légume oublié (forgotten/lost vegetable), and cabbage in general does not have the best connotation—although all other cabbages are commonly sold. Just to note, there are French people who remember kale from their grandma; some in the country may grow it, but only feed it to livestock. The majority of people who've tried kale in Paris now are very receptive to it and like it. And kale is selling out at markets every day, and it's not just expats buying it.
2. Okay, but if kale is not their thing to begin with, why do you want to bring it to them? Why not leave them to eat their croissants and brie and to somehow look incredibly fabulous and svelte at the same time? The French grow every other kind of cabbage, so there was no reason not to try to have them grow kale as well. Plus, the micro-climates throughout France are great for growing kale, which is really easy. Sauteéd kale with brie and a croissant sounds pretty good to me!
3. Which greens were Parisians eating before you served them kale? Lettuce. Spinach. Lamb's lettuce. Swiss chard. But the commonly sold chard is actually a little different than the chard we buy in America. The stalks are thick, chalky, and white. Other hard to find leafy greens are: collards, mustard greens, and dandelion greens. It's not to say that they don't exist, but they're not at your fingertips. I always joke and say that I could have started The Leafy-Greens Project.
4. Since you started The Kale Project, what successes have you celebrated? Kale is now available in 22 markets and/or co-ops in France. A year ago it was zero. I receive emails every week from new farmers that would like to start growing kale. Conde Naste Traveler claimed kale to be the Paris food trend for 2013. (Yes, this sounds ridiculous to New Yorkers!) And overall general awareness and interest of the vegetable has grown in the French media.
5. Pretty impressive! Tell me the truth, do you ever get sick of kale and cheat on it with a spinach salad? Of course! I never thought I would spend my days talking about kale. I only eat kale about three times a week. I'm all about everything in moderation and enjoy eating all vegetables. I think my husband feels most deprived since we always have a fridge full of kale for events but never for him! —Lisa Elaine Held
For more information, visit www.thekaleproject.com
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