Kale Bites Back: Turns Out the Popular Green Has a Potent Self-Defense System

Evolution has given this popular brassica, like most every other vegetable, an arsenal of anti-vegan defenses.

kale benefits kale salad

(Illustrated by Lauren Wade)

Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

A laundry list of healthful attributes has put kale in pole position to be the vegetable of the new decade, but the vogue green is also armed with an array of defenses geared at doing serious damage to any creature that tries to eat it. In addition to containing cyanide-like thiocyanate, kale also contains lectins associated with autoimmune disease, and antinutrients that keep your body from absorbing vitamins and minerals.

So why is it again that we’re all trying to out-kale each other, consuming mass amounts of kale salad and julienne-ing leaves edgewise into dishes where it by no means makes sense or belongs?

“The amounts of these chemicals in each variety of kale varies widely,” Melissa McEwen wrote recently in a piece about the potential ills of the leafy green for Hunt, Gather, Love. “So consuming kale is like eating an uncontrolled cocktail of immunogenic and bioactive health-harming chemicals and their even more chaotic breakdown products. 

And as we continue to find new, disruptive ways to eat more and more and more kale, the ecosystem will be put at risk too. As McEwen notes, “At current rates of growth, by 2350, almost all the world’s cropland will be devoted to kale. The consequences to the environment will be devastating.”

Can you tell that this is all a joke yet?

McEwen, who writes about evolutionary biology and food, isn’t making up these facts—but all plants contain defenses geared at keeping other animals from eating them.

Really, the satire is more an object lesson on how just about any food can be made out to be utterly horrendous. “But when you see an article that demonizes a food, think about whether or not there are citations and follow those citations.”

That being said, I’m ready for lettuce to make a comeback.

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