In hindsight, there were plenty of indications over the past decade that American politics were headed toward the partisan sniping and low-stakes media obsessions that crowd the news cycle today. Take Arugulagate. In 2007, Barack Obama was in Iowa, speaking as a presidential hopeful to a group of farmers who were worried about the stagnation of their crop prices while America’s grocery bills continued to rise.
In his speech, Obama referred to the inflated cost of arugula at Whole Foods, which was a small gaffe: Iowa didn’t have a Whole Foods, and the leafy vegetable wasn’t then familiar enough to be name-checked in a broad point about American grocery costs. But political media turned arugula into its own news cycle, with conservatives charging Obama with elitism. Around the same time, lattes were also being slandered. It was a big moment for food as proof of one’s true ability to govern.
Obama went on to win the 2008 election, but arugula never quite recovered. According to Google Trends data, kale and arugula were of similar popularity in America at the time, but shortly thereafter, kale gained a decisive lead over its counterpart in the competition for America’s Next Top Leaf. Today, arugula trails far behind both kale and spinach in popularity. Americans who heard about it for the first time via political gaffe apparently didn’t leap to give it a try, and it has also been usurped by more novel choices in the progressive corners of food culture that first embraced it as a European crossover. Arugula is neither enduringly trendy, like kale, nor so lame that Millennial irony breathes new life into it, as with iceberg-wedge salads.