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: Why are you such a big fan of dairy?
Nina Planck: I’m a great fan of dairy products for humans, in general. But dairy is a very complex food socially and nutritionally and culturally and so it requires a little bit… that statement requires a little bit of unpacking. Many, many cultures thrive on dairy products of all kinds. The best dairy products are traditional, so they come from grass-fed cows. The milk is un-homogenized. The milk is ideally unpasteurized or raw because there are many heat-sensitive nutrients in milk and then those dairy products are often prepared in traditional ways, so usually fermented or cultured, made into cheese or yogurt or butter, which is really just removing everything but the fat, ghee, which is truly everything but the fat. So we start there. The best dairy is traditional and is often prepared in a way that makes it more digestible for people who are not accustomed to consuming fresh dairy products in adulthood.
it has been
suggested that many people are lactose-intolerant. This
isn’t really accurate. What we’re actually
describing is in adulthood we stop
producing lactase, the enzyme which helps us breakdown fresh milk. We’re all born producing lots and lots
of lactase because we are mammals and we’re breast-fed traditionally.
So in a
few cultures the adults carryon producing this enzyme, which allows them
digest fresh milk, but particularly if they lived in hot cultures they
able to keep fresh milk from spoiling hence, the production of yogurt
things to keep fresh milk around for more than a day or two. So if you
have a look
you can find actually the ability to continue to produce lactase in
has arisen as a genetic capacity, as a competence of the human body in
places in human history, so lots of people can produce the lactase to
fresh milk and a number of those genetic mutations, for that is what
have occurred in Africa as well.
So the idea that I’m Asian or I’m African, of African or Asian
and I can’t digest milk is simply untrue.
That said, there are cultures who thrive without dairy products
altogether. There are some in Asia. And it is
quite possibly to feed a human beautifully without consuming any
dairy products. So the question is where to get the nutrients dairy
contain. In the historic,
traditional fairly recent American diet dairy products are just flat-out
the best sources of fat-soluble vitamins A and D and of calcium. They’re a beautiful, beautiful,
beautiful balanced recipe for protein, fat and carbohydrates, which is
the reasons I love milk for children and pregnant women and nursing
mothers. And you can, if you need
to, get these nutrients somewhere else, so the place to get them if you
thrive on or care for dairy products in bone broth for the calcium and
minerals, so chicken soup, beef broth, veal stock. And the vitamins A
you’ll get from seafood and pork products, egg yolks too.
Question: Is it really safe to drink raw, unpasteurized milk?
Nina Planck: Well the first thing to understand about the FDA is that the USDA and FDA and other government institutions are very critical of traditional foods. Without actually applying objective standards to how those traditional foods might be prepared in a safe and healthy and hygienic manner and so all their numbers on raw milk are dubious. There are a number of food borne contaminants and illnesses, which are pose a much, much greater risk to you and me statistically than the consumption of raw milk.
That said, if you choose to consume traditional foods such as raw fish, which I eat, or raw milk, which I drink and my whole family drinks – including our children – you need to be absolutely sure of the source and find someone who cares a great deal about traditional methods of production and hygiene. So why do we drink raw milk even though there is a small chance we’ll get sick? Well I find first after doing all my research that I trust the traditional food chain more than I trust the industrial food chain. There are a number or risks from eating industrial food and I try to minimize and avoid those risks too. We drink raw milk simply because it’s got more good food in it, so there are a couple of heat-sensitive nutrients in raw milk, which are of interest. One is heat-sensitive vitamins. Some of the B vitamins are damaged by pasteurization. Another is that the fats are rather delicate in milk. The omega-3 fats are sensitive to heat and there will be omega-3 fats in grass-fed milk and so it’s nice to preserve those. Another is enzymes, which help you digest the other nutrients in milk, so here are some enzymes which are deactivated or otherwise somehow limited after pasteurization. Lipase, which helps you digest lipids or fats. Phosphatase, which helps you absorb calcium, a key nutrient in milk, which is why raw milk contains more available calcium. And our old friend lactase, the enzyme that helps you digest lactose, the basic carbohydrate in milk and there are tons of milk sugars, but lactose is the big one, is damaged by pasteurization. So I have met not a few people who say they were doubled over from gut pain when they drank milk and concluded they were so-called lactose-intolerant, who drank fresh, clean, raw milk without any trouble. Well, it contains plenty of lactase.
Question: What's so great about organic eggs?
is a lot to understand about real eggs and industrial eggs and there is a
difference between them. That said, I want my bumper sticker to be that
are real food and everyone should eat real food because they are also a
food. A whole fresh egg – that is
the yolk, the white inside the shell – they’re a great frugal real food.
you’re anywhere near the poverty line eat eggs anyway wherever you can
them, just don’t eat some kind of fake egg or re-engineered and
So now what is the best egg? An industrial egg comes from a chicken. She is in a little cage with some other chickens. There are… I have been on chicken farms where the farmer was boasting the he put only three hens in a cage, which actually permits nine. The chickens were still on top of each other. She never goes outdoors. Artificial light tells her little ovaries when to lay an egg and she is fed chickenfeed that may contain other animal parts. It may contain plate waste or parts of pigs or cattle or other chicken. And that is because the chicken is an omnivore. She can’t live on grass and plants alone. She needs some protein. She needs some bugs. She needs some corn and other grain and her eggs are – in addition to causing suffering to the laying hen herself – her eggs lack the rich vitamin A that she would get from eating the beta-carotene in grass and they lack the omega-3 fats, which she would get from eating worms and bugs if she were actually running around.So, then we have organic eggs, which are typically fed vegetarian feed. That is a good thing because they’re not eating other ground up animals. It’s a bad thing because chickens really do want to be outside and if they had been outside a little they would have eaten a worm. They wouldn’t be strictly vegetarian. You might find a free range on the label with or without the term organic. She’ll be eating organic feed, so there are no pesticides in her feed, which is a good thing. If you see the term "free-range" this merely means that she is not caged and there is a wide range of actual practices, which attach to the label "free-range." So "free-range" is better, but not necessarily great. It doesn’t mean necessarily that she goes outside and so the happiest hen with the healthiest eggs for you is a so-called "pastured hen" and it means that she goes outside and in the dead of the winter they can send them outside too. There is not a lot to eat out there in say upstate New York, which is my region in the dead of winter. I know farmers who throw alfalfa sprouts and other things over the side, so their chickens are getting some greenery. Scratching in the dirt is what chickens love most of all and they’ll do it even in the snow, so look for the term "pastured" if you can.