Author and food activist Nina Planck was raised on a family farm in Virginia, where she learned to appreciate "real," traditional foods. She worked as a reporter for TIME Magazine and wrote speeches for the U.S. ambassador to London before opening the first farmers’ markets in London. Today her company, London Farmers’ Markets, runs fourteen markets. She is the author of two books: "Real Food: What to Eat and Why," and "Real Food for Mother and Baby: The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two, and Baby's First Foods."
Planck is a Big Think Delphi Fellow.
Question: Can eating more lard and butter really make you healthier?
Nina Planck: It’s about the
versus the industrial foods and therein lies the tale I put in real food
because when I started to eat all these foods I wondered will I feel
I’m thriving, but perhaps the nutritionists and the cardiologists are
soon my arteries will be clogged like a drain and I’ll be dead at 32. So
wanted to do some homework on real food. So I set out to find out
was true. Is it true that these
traditional foods, these meats and these fats are responsible for what
call the "diseases of civilization" – and those are generally the three
diet-related diseases that are crippling Americans right now – and they
diabetes and heart disease.
They’re known as the "diseases of civilization," but I came to
that was a misnomer. They are
truly the diseases on industrialization because the ancient Greeks and
were certainly civilized and they did not suffer from these diseases. We began to suffer from these three
diseases around the time we started to convert traditional foods into
industrial foods, so one-by-one I looked at each food and once again I
that wherever you come from, whatever part of the world, whether it’s
tropics where coconut oil is the norm, or its northern climes where
eating a lot of reindeer meat or seal blubber, or it’s the Scottish
where you have hardly any access to fruits and vegetables – wherever you look at traditional diets
you find a little list of traditional and what I came to call real foods
you do not find the diseases of industrialization. All
the foods are good, but I did look at each food and we
can talk about them. I looked at
saturated fat in particular. I
looked at cholesterol in particular.
I looked at red meat, which is accused of causing cancer. And
looked at the substitutes for these traditional foods that we’ve now
our diet: the industrial foods, soybean oil, corn oil, refined flour,
sugar, trans-fats, which are artificial man-made saturated fats and in
instance I found that these industrial foods were responsible for
diabetes and heart disease. And other conditions too, but these are the
that people are most concerned with. And just add these three conditions
definitely diet related. It
doesn’t mean the diet is their only cause. They
are famously multi-factorial conditions.
Question: Why do most of us eat foods that aren't good for us?
Nina Planck: Well we start with what traditional foods are and here is some principles: One is that they’re whole. They haven’t been broken down into their component parts or reassembled. And they haven’t had things added to them or removed, so they’re not engineered to be high in one thing or low in another, so real food is… Low-carb bread is not real food. Orange juice with added vitamin A and vitamin D is not real food. So that’s the first principle.
The second is that
traditional foods spoil and a good rule of thumb is to eat foods that do
but eat them before they do. There
are a few wonderful traditional foods that don’t spoil. Honey
is one that lasts forever. So
does wine. These are some of the
greatest foods on earth, but they are unusual. Traditional
foods spoil. And traditional foods work as whole foods,
so their component parts are all created by God or nature, as you
work together. So in egg for example the complete nutritional package
yolk and the white, not one or the other.
The same is true of milk, which is a highly complex food. You require, for example, the saturated
fats in particular in milk to absorb the calcium, so it’s no good for
bones to drink skim milk.
So if we look at those basic principles of traditional foods we begin to understand industrial foods, because what they’ve done with industrial foods is they’ve created foods that never spoil – and who does that serve but distributors and retailers? – and they’ve created foods which have had parts removed, which are often the valuable parts, so for example, when they remove the bran and the fiber from a whole grain and make white flour, the vitamin E, which is very valuable goes to industrial dairy cattle because without vitamin E in their diets, which they would get from grass, they would suffer poor health. And the fiber goes off to places that need… places, people and animals that need fiber. So they remove things of value. Industrial salt, very similar, comes with dozens and dozens of trace elements. They remove those and they’re quite useful for the chemical industry, leaving you with stripped-down salt, which they have to re-iodize. So that is one important principle, shelf life and also removing valuable items. But then by reengineering them and enhancing them – and I put that in quotation marks – they then add value to them again, but really only to the food manufacturer. So by putting vitamins A and D in orange juice they try to persuade the consumer that it’s a more nutritious product when in fact God or nature, again as you prefer, never put vitamin A and D in orange juice because it doesn’t belong there and the product isn’t enhanced by it because vitamin A and D are fat-soluble, so a little bit of synthetic vitamin A and D in a glass of orange juice doesn’t do anything for your body. You have to consume some fat to absorb those vitamins. If we look at animal production we also see that it’s just cheaper to feed animals on industrial animal food and produce an industrial animal than it is to feed them on a traditional diet. We’re now learning just how frugal and sensible in ecological and financial terms it is to raise animals on a traditional diet, but the industrial model of animal production at the moment is very much to make the food… fatten them quickly and make the food as cheap as possible and use as many drugs as possible to get the animal to market as quickly as possible. This is short-termism in the worst way for the animal, for the ecology and for human health, but that is their thinking.