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Apr 10, 201411:16 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

What 'Kale Gate' Says About Finding Kale in New Orleans

Missing the point of the great kale debate

Whole Foods Market in Mid-City

Last month there was a generally positive story in the New York Times travel section about New Orleans which inadvertently caused offense to those locals who take notice of things written in the New York Times travel section. The ostensible affront was a quote by the wife of a Dutch actor who moved here a few years ago: “New Orleans is not cosmopolitan … There’s no kale here.”

I am no stranger to defending the good name of New Orleans where food and culture are concerned, and I was certainly among those complaining that we have kale enough and to spare, thank you very much. But I think I missed the broader point, which was that it was written from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with New Orleans who interviewed people who moved here recently because they like the “seediness.” It’s condescending to those of us who’ve lived here a long time in an amusingly clueless way.

The same woman who thought we had no kale also said, apparently without expiring of irony poisoning immediately, “So many of the cool places here are really rundown,” she said. “And not because a stylist designed them that way.” Then there’s Alex Ebert, who is the singer in a band called Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. He was worried New Orleans would become “Brooklyn South” but now isn’t, citing our poverty, heat and general messiness as too difficult for earnest “bright-eyed strivers” to endure.

All of this came up for me again when I read a story at Gambit which linked to a piece at a website called The Grist. The takeway from that story? That kale may be available in New Orleans, but only at Whole Foods.

That’s not true either, but I’m sick and having trouble working up the energy to say something snarky about it. And it is true that certain parts of New Orleans are very much under-served where supermarkets are concerned. It’s getting better — see the Mid-City Whole Foods for example — but there are still few options in the East and when I’ve driven through the lower 9th Ward for work recently I certainly haven’t seen a Rouse’s. I imagine from the merchants’ perspective it’s because there aren’t enough people to support it, but there’s a chicken/egg quality to that argument which suggests shopkeepers aren’t betting on a dramatic turnaround any time soon.

But wherever you go in New Orleans, and regardless of where the ingredients are purchased, you’re likely to find people eating red beans on Monday, fried fish on Friday and cooking kale (and pretty much any other vegetable) with a big hunk of pork. New Orleans is not all about food, of course, but it’s a big part of who we are, and that’s likely why the kale issue was what struck some of us first. If I’m honest, it may also have been a way to contest the allegation that we’re not cosmopolitan without really thinking about it too much. “We do have kale here, so the article must be wrong about everything!” said the straw man I have constructed for this blog post.

But what the woman who saw no kale said is true, isn’t it? We’re not particularly cosmopolitan when compared with cities like New York, London or Tokyo. That’s OK by me and, I suspect, you. No, we’re not as seedy and rundown and impoverished as depicted in that story, but if those characterizations are what’s needed to keep us becoming “Brooklyn South,” then so be it. 

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Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene


Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived in New Orleans his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.




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