Kristen Beddard’s recently released memoir, “Bonjour Kale,” is about an American expat’s journey to bring kale, a forgotten vegetable or légume oublié, back to France.
A Parisian expat myself, I am both familiar with Beddard’s Kale Project and an avid reader of this sort of expat memoir. I was keen to discover this book and see if it stood out amongst the myriad other titles in the genre.
There are several differences between this book and other books in the expat-in-France category: firstly, Beddard is not a dreamer, caught up in a France that doesn’t or no longer exists, but rather rowing — somewhat against her will — through the stream of bureaucracy that is life in modern-day Paris. This element of the book makes it far more relatable to many readers and explores the downsides (and yes, there are downsides) to ending up in the City of Light. This element of the memoir goes against the grain of the more traditional “the French can do no wrong” mentality in the genre; it’s utterly refreshing, and Beddard expertly walks the line between moments of exasperation, confusion, and sadness, and the surprisingly lovely discoveries she makes about her accidental home.
The second difference between this book and other expat memoirs was the driving force of Beddard’s passion for a project that seemed a little odd to some and utterly surreal to others. The Kale Project is at the heart and soul of this book, which expands and expounds upon the blog that Beddard started at the very beginning of her adventure introducing kale to France. This passion sets Beddard apart from other writers in the genre, not only for its novelty but also for the sense of purpose that it lends to the book.
Beddard’s journey to bring kale to France, a country with 350 cheeses but, until recently, a rather lackluster regard for vegetables, proves itself to be one that must overcome many obstacles. Beddard details her discovery of kale as a child and her surprise, as an adult, at learning that not everyone was as familiar with the vegetable as she, the daughter of a macrobiotic pioneer. Her surprise is clear when she realizes that France has not developed the same love of the vegetable as New York, and her navigation, not only of the language of her new country, but of its culture, is perfectly illustrated in her dealings with the various individuals who stand in her way, including but not limited to people who refuse to believe that the Americans have anything to teach the French about food.
What surfaces from this true struggle is a standout book in a genre that has been done to death: kale is both Beddard’s clear passion and a unique tool for telling what has become a somewhat rehashed story of love and culture-shock. Beddard’s story explores not only what Americans can learn from the French, but what the French can — and do — learn from Americans (and that includes a killer recipe for kale chips). Beddard tells her own moving-to-France story with such passion, wit, and attention to detail that it feels brand-new.
The delicious, veggie-heavy recipes — each of which is linked to a chapter and frequently pulled straight from a Parisian kitchen or from Beddard’s own trove of dishes — are a great reason to keep this book within easy reach of your kitchen.
The author of this article was offered a free advance review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Image by Jessie Kanelos-Weiner, The Francofly