Give Kale a BreakBy ELIZABETH QUINN,
I was walking through Target recently and saw an advertisement for kale cleanser and wondered why in the world kale needs a special cleanser. I mean—I know it occasionally needs massages but surely it’s not such a high maintenance veggie that it requires its own type of cleanser.
It already gets to be called a ‘super food,’ which my friend Laura Hartlein, says is a made-up term. Okay, not made up but just a catchy way of describing nutrient-rich foods in an effort to lure consumers. Since Laura is a registered dietitian and nutritionist with her own consulting business, Hart Health, I believe her way more than some ad campaign. Also—Laura’s tolerance for b.s. might be even lower than mine, so she doesn’t dish it out either.
She’s the one I text when I have shin splints from running and instead of offering me some miracle cure—she just asks if I had actually been stretching like she’s told me to do before… A nutritionist who isn’t blowing smoke will tell you that there’s just food that’s good for you and food that’s not. Some is really good for you; some is really not. Super food is just a marketing term to make us buy food like kale that is so difficult to chew it needs a deep tissue massage before the stems can be eaten in a salad. Don’t get me wrong—I actually really like kale, but a special cleanser? It’s just going too far.
Then I realized that I was in the health and beauty section and it was face wash. For people. Made from kale. I’m not sure which is worse—a salad green needing its own specialized cleaning agent or a facial cleanser made from leaves simply because they are a ‘super food.’ Thanks to kale’s incredible public relations team, we eat kale in salads and sautéed and snuck into smoothies—any way we can think of to get it into our bodies so it can work its super food magic on us; and now we are expecting it to exfoliate, invigorate, hydrate, and replenish our skin as well. No wonder it needs massages, that kind of pressure would make me need one too.
Kale is the working mother of the vegetable world, if you really think about it. Expected to do ALL THE THINGS, but when it doesn’t achieve immediate and noticeable miracles at every task, it’s viewed as letting us down. I don’t lose five pounds every week I consume kale salad—so clearly, it’s not all that super after all. The kale face wash is just soap with inventive marketing. So, it will accomplish the goal of soap: remove dirt from the surface it’s applied to; but when it doesn’t live up to all the hype on the bottle (because it’s actually a vegetable—not a face lift), it will be disappointing to the kale face wash user. We need to give kale a break—nothing can do everything. Except maybe coconut oil—the jury’s still out on that one.
Then there’s poor cauliflower. Bless its boring, lumpy heart. It went unloved by everyone except the people who figured out how easy it was to grow in a backyard garden until one day somebody chopped it up too small and said, ‘You know—this kind of looks like rice.’ And BOOM. Now we demand so much of it. Rice substitute, bread crumb imposter, pizza crust stand-in. What began as simply finding a healthier option than mashed potatoes has morphed into a race to see to what new heights we can take this cruciferous counterfeit. There are recipes for cauliflower burgers, bagels, muffins, tater tots, tortillas, cheesy breadsticks, pasta, pancakes, and bless their hearts—chocolate cake. Listen to me: there is nothing in this world worth trying to make cauliflower be chocolate. Eat the chocolate. Have cauliflower pancakes and kale salad the next day if you have to make up for it—but just eat the chocolate.
As a stay-at-home mom (one day we will come up with a better term for that; I’m never home), I kind of identify with the cauliflower. I’m a mother and that role is really just an umbrella for all the other things required of me: unpaid Uber driver, cook, laundress, housekeeper, psychologist, grocery shopper, birthday gift purchaser, carpool organizer, uniform/costume/spirit day attire locator, school project supply supplier, diorama overseer extraordinaire, sports equipment storage, and finder expert, homework encourager, bedtime story reader, and the rememberer. Rememberer means I’m the one in charge of remembering doctor appointments, school activity deadlines, that we need toilet paper, that the dog needs food and the cat needs litter, that we can’t find the fingernail clippers and need more, that a grandparent birthday is soon and the kids should make cards—the things to remember range from mundane to crisis-level but somebody’s got to remember them.
I don’t always manage to do any of those things well or on time or at all. But they are asked of me simply because of my title as stay-at-home mom. Me and cauliflower get asked to wear a lot of hats—sometimes we succeed (cauliflower tots dipped in ketchup fooled my kids) and sometimes we do not (one year, I had to buy a second birthday gift for my child at 9 p.m. on the night of her birthday because the one I had gotten before Christmas and hidden from prying eyes could not be located).
Working moms and kale can’t do all the things for us—they are pretty super though. Moms who juggle the full-time job of being a mom (see earlier description of mom duties—they get all of those too) and another full-time job that doesn’t care that she’s a mom, pack a hell of a punch into every 24 hours of their lives.
Kale is very high in nutrients and very low in calories, making it one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. (I copied and pasted that from the internet.) One serving gets you something like 684% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin K. I have no idea what vitamin K does but Laura can tell you, and she would also tell you that kale packs a hell of a nutritional punch as well. But kale can’t be expected to turn my body into a paragon of health any more than working moms can be expected to work two full-time jobs impeccably with the time and resources I have to work, and repeatedly screw up, my one full-time job as a never-at-home-mom-without-a-second-paying-job. (That is not going to work as the replacement for ‘stay-at-home-mom;’ we’ll keep trying.)
Cauliflower can pull off some amazing imitations; it can do a job it wasn’t made to do pretty well a lot of the time. But nobody really thinks cauliflower lasagna is as good as the real thing—it’s asking too much. Stay-at-home moms can change hats from one role to another faster than you can say chauffeur/emotional support/ClickList maker. But there are things I was not made to do. I will never be good at practicing any of the sports in the backyard, I can only follow a recipe on the most basic level, and most of my carpool/kid schedule arranging happens on the fly—or actually, on speakerphone in my car when I think of something I forgot and activate the mom-safety net with rapid fire negotiations like, ‘I can get the gift if you can pick them up,’ between errands and drop-offs.
Every mom I know is a badass in one way or another—but not a one of them is at everything. I long for the day that we all actually believe that and treat each other with the grace we should also be giving ourselves. Who knows—if we start trying harder now, we might just raise the generation that will pull that off.
Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.