McDonald's and Chick-fil-A are making iceberg lettuce cooler than kale

Turkey and the WolfTurkey and the Wolf’s wedge salad.
  • Over-saturation has finally killed kale as it arrives on McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A’s menus.
  • The much-besmirched iceberg lettuce is poised to take its place as the new trendy green of choice.
  • Iceberg is already popping up on trendy restaurants’ menus – which makes sense because it is delicious and a perfect fit for this cultural and political moment.

The reign of kale is over – thank god.

And, there’s a new green back to retake its rightful place on the top of the heap: iceberg lettuce.

Kale is still on menus, it’s true. But, over the last two years, it has gone the way of arugula, edging back from edginess to join comrades like romaine or baby spinach as one option of many. It tastes like a worn-down flip flop if you don’t prepare it properly, but enough people apparently like kale that it can stay nestled on menus, out of the spotlight.

When one green falls, another must rise to take its place. And, the replacement for kale can only be iceberg lettuce.

For proof, one only needs to turn to fast-food menus.

The McDonald’s factor

McDonald's kale breakfast bowlsMcDonald’s via The TelegraphMcDonald’s kale breakfast bowl, a limited-time test item.

Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s announced their bans on iceberg lettuce in 2016.

“It’s at the bottom of the salad food chain,” David Farmer, Chick-fil-A vice president of menu strategy and development, told Business Insider in April. “There is no nutritional value in iceberg lettuce.”

Instead, chains are adding more kale to the menu, with options like Chick-fil-A’s kale-based superfood side and several McDonald’s kale-filled test items, including a kale burger.

Chains like McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A can only afford to adopt a trend once it goes truly mainstream. Fast-food menu acceptance is the surest indication that a trend has died.

Meanwhile, the rejection of iceberg lettuce across the spectrum from fine dining to fast food has made way for its renaissance on trendy restaurants’ menus, as they begin to once again embrace the once-taboo leafy green.

Iceberg on the rise

Steakhouses – long a refuge for the wedge – are on the rise. The New York Times, an elite food institution as any, is publishing iceberg salad recipes and other pro-iceberg content. Bon App├ętit’s best new restaurant of the year, Turkey and the Wolf, serves an incredible iceberg wedge salad topped with everything bagel crunch, on a menu stuffed with ’90s-nostalgia.

The return of the wedge – and iceberg more generally – is part of a wider culinary movement starting to pop up at trend-making restaurants across the US. Turkey and the Wolf isn’t the only top new restaurant cashing in on a sense of customers’ nostalgia for a certain type of American childhood.

Momofuku Milk Bar NYCFacebook/Momofuku Milk BarMilk Bar has become famous for serving fanciful versions of childhood cookie classics.

Milk Bar is making cereal milk cool. “BraveTart,” one of the top cookbooks of 2017, is packed with deep dives into homemade Middle America classics like Hostess Cupcakes. Celebrity chef’s Wylie Dufresne’s “wd~50: The Cookbook,” published in October, has both a recipe for fried mayonnaise and an entire section dedicated to foie gras.

And, after Cheetos sold out its fine-dining pop-up, The Boston Globe was able to do an entire roundup of restaurants serving gussied-up junk food classics like Twinkies and Hot Pockets.

The restaurant industry has long praised chefs for their ability to “elevate” food, and labelled entire countries’ cuisines as the “trend” of the year. Now, instead of the nebulous “New American” cuisine, or Mexican street food, or Asian fusion, American nostalgia is in – and it’s being treated in a similar manner.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that chefs and food media are turning to Middle America nostalgia at a time when flyover states have become an obsession of the coastal elite. Other cultures’ food has been “elevated” and exoticized for years by chefs who jack up prices on foreign street food classics and culinary staples.

Now, as many people living in cities find themselves grappling with a new political reality, Middle America has become the exotic culture to adapt and sell at inflated prices.

The return of a legend

Turkey and the wolf saladKate Taylor

Armchair sociology aside, the real reason for the return of iceberg lettuce is because it’s time. It is just good.

You know it in your heart to be true. I’m not saying every meal needs to be accompanied by iceberg lettuce. I’m just saying – it’s time for iceberg’s moment in the sun.

Imagine you’re ordering a rich, delicious main course, whether that’s a plate of wings, filet mignon, or Peking duck. You don’t want to waste your time chomping through a bunch of kale. Instead, you need a crisp, clean leaf that can cut through the meal; an adaptable utility player that can take on the characteristics of whatever dressing you pair it with. You need iceberg lettuce.

But, you say, iceberg lettuce is nutritionally void! Guess what: I don’t care!

I’m done with suffering through torn-up pieces of green cardboard as I choke down a poorly massaged kale Caesar salad. In fact, I’m done with encouraging any form of greenery that needs to be massaged to be edible.

Instead, I’m ready to die on the hill that some meals require the light touch that only iceberg lettuce can bring – and that the restaurant industry is on the cusp of remembering this indelible fact.

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