Let 'em Eat Kale
by Jan Baughman

It was the year 2030, and demographers, analyzing data from the recent census, noted an unusual rise in the birth of mixed-race children to parents recorded as "Caucasian." Further sampling and interviews with a subset of the discordant families revealed that the children were not, in fact, mulatto, but rather slightly purple. The top guns from the National Institutes of Health were quietly called in to investigate this strange phenomenon, and confirmed through extensive tests that America was, indeed, producing a new generation of purplish babies. Meanwhile, a team at the Department of Education was puzzling over data showing that American children had, for the first time, ranked second in the world in math and science scores. Before releasing this news to the public, they had to check and recheck the figures to make sure they were correct, because this was totally unexpected, and heretofore unheard of.

An epidemiologist from the NIH was assigned to investigate the purple baby syndrome (PBS). She collected extensive data from the parents -- everything from their eating habits to possible environmental exposures to their finances. An odd commonality began to appear: all had been major investors in a 1998 IPO for "Y2Kale," a survivalist company producing canned rations of kale, marketed aggressively through a fear campaign recommending stockpiling in preparation for the impending Y2K catastrophe. Of course, Armageddon never materialized, and the investors lost everything. Their class action suit brought them nothing from the bankrupt company but a lifetime supply of canned kale.

It was when a woman in Sausalito, California gave birth to an eight-pound head of kale that both investigations began to take a strange twist.

The news of the kale baby, which normally would have been buried in the National Enquirer, made real national headlines. The baby was the subject of exhaustive biological, neurological and psychological testing, and it (its gender was indeterminate) was noted to have an IQ of 174, and was found to carry two dominant genius genes. During extensive genetic counseling, the parents were dismayed to learn that the genius genes did not come from them; rather, they were oddly attributed to the "smart mouse" developed decades before.

The NIH researchers, on a whim, decided to test the PBS children, and their worst fear was confirmed: Each carried a recessive kale gene. In the meantime, a leader at the Department of Education requested from the NIH authority to conduct genetic tests on a sampling of students who had performed exceptionally well on national tests. As one would predict, these children carried both the smart mouse gene and the kale gene. Investigators were not able to determine just how the smart mouse gene made its way into humans, but they hypothesized that it may have been inserted into a genetically altered tomato in the late 1990s.

After heated deliberation, debate and consultation, the government decided to keep the results quiet and let this new generation grow and learn and reproduce without meddling. The odds of another kale baby were infinitesimal. And, after all, if people were more intelligent and of one color, wouldn't the world be a better place? The Public Broadcasters were happy, because now the country associated the acronym "PBS" with a smarter generation, even though it came about thanks to a mouse, a vegetable, an IPO and false predictions about Y2K mayhem, and not to watching television.


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Published November 21, 1999
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