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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[…]

The author describes how growing up on the farm taught her to love “real foods” and how much healthier she became when she stopped being a vegetarian.

Question: How did your rnupbringing affectrnyour ideas about food?rnrnrnrn

Nina Planck: rnMyrnmother raised us on real food and she was a fan of Adelle Davis who was rnthernpioneering slightly out of the mainstream nutritionist, but a laywoman, rnrightrnand so then a lot of people attacked her for not knowing enough, who rncame outrnof California.  In the ‘60s andrn‘70s she had a pretty big following and Adelle Davis had very simple rnprinciplesrnall of which have been pretty much borne out by the subsequent science, rnwholernfood, B vitamins, real meat, real milk, traditional fats. rn She has a few clunkers that don’trnsurvive the test of time, which you come across in her books, but on thern wholerneverything she said proved to be true and so my mother raised us on rnwhole wheatrnbread and the proverbial blackstrap molasses.  We rnmade granola once a week.  The children had an rnassignment to make granola.  We also ate all the rnmeats.  It was not a vegan, hippie commune, ourrnlittle farm, so we had very traditional simple American meals like friedrn chicken,rnmeatloaf.  I remember a food Irnregarded as one of our super frugal meals was macaroni with tuna and rncreamrnsauce, which I loved.  My motherrnused to dip her toast in the bacon fat and nothing was off limits exceptrn whiternsugar and white flour.  Those wouldrnhave been my mother’s standards and she used to say no matter how littlern moneyrnwe have we’ll always have real maple syrup, real olive oil and realrnbutter.  We also had a cow andrnchickens in addition to the vegetables we were growing on our vegetable rnfarm,rnso we drank raw milk.  We didn’trnmake any cheese or dairy products. rnThat would have been more homesteady than we were and we were rnreallyrnbusy as commercial vegetable farmers, but we did have fresh eggs and rnfresh milkrnand then what we couldn’t raise ourselves we bought or bartered for at rnthernfarmers markets and in the dead of winter we shopped at the rnsupermarkets.


Question: What is "real food?"rn


Nina Planck: My concept of "real rnfood"rnwas grounded in my mother’s lessons for us, which were that it should bernwhole.  It should bernnutritional.  It should bernsimple.  It shouldn’t be processed,rna small number of ingredients.  Andrnthen I sort of went off track and in my teens and twenties became a rnvegan and arnvegetarian and tried low fat diets and low saturated fat diets and lowrncholesterol diets and the reason I did that was not so much a thumb in rnthe facernof my mother, although perhaps we’re all acting against our parents in rnsomernways, but more because it was the conventional wisdom of the time in thern late ‘80srnand the early 1990s that less fat was good.  Less rnsaturated fat was good.  Less animal fat, less rncholesterol, more plant foods, so Irnassumed that if all those things were true that a nonfat vegan diet wasrnprobably the best of all and that’s what I tried. And things went alongrnfine.  No one would have called mernsick, but on vegan and low fat diets in fact, my health suffered and I rnwas 25rnpounds heavier than I am now and I had a host of minor complaints and norn onernreally would have ever called me ill or certainly they wouldn’t have rnsuspectedrnmy perfect diet because I was not a junk food vegan or vegetarian.  I ate brown rice and beans.  I rnate olive oil.  I ate fruits and vegetables.  I just didn’t eat many traditionalrnfoods, how I now understand it.

rnrnrnrnrnrnSorn what broughtrnme back to real food was a wonderful serendipity.  Irn was living in London and I had started the first Americanrnstyle farmers' markets in London in 1999 and when I grew up in the rnWashington D.C.rnarea at the farmers markets there were the vegetable people like and thern fruitrnguys and then there was the plant lady and the honey man and the baker, rnatrnfarmers' markets.  When I started myrnfirst little farmers' market in London I had farmers even at my first rnlittle marketrnwith only 16 producers selling grass-fed and pastured beef and lamb and rnporkrnand chicken.  They were selling rawrnmilk cheeses and cream and sausages and meat pies and fish and all sortsrn ofrnwonderful things.  So then I got arnbook contract and that was to write the farmers' market cookbook and I rnhad justrnbeen dabbling around with eggs and with fish and I was no longer vegan rnand nornlonger a vegetarian, but I wasn’t eating… rnI was not yet a carnivore or an omnivore even, and so I didn’t rnwant tornwrite a vegetarian or even a fish-and-eggs farmers’ market cookbook.  I felt I had to honor all the foodrnproducers at the markets and all the eaters as well, so I looked around rnand Irnsaw the farmers of these wonderful traditional foods – the meat, the rneggs, therndairy, the fats – were healthy and happy people and seemed to enjoy rntheir foodrnand the eaters were healthy and happy people and certainly enjoyed all rnthosernfoods and I began to wonder whether I shouldn’t try these foods. So for rnmyrncookbook I tried every food at our markets and wrote recipes and ate allrn thernrecipes. And it was along the way that I slowly became an omnivore rnagain. Andrnwith each food I ate, with each fat, with each rich thing, with each redrn meat,rnwith each forbidden and taboo thing, with each item that the rncardiologists werernbanning in the U.S. – and in Britain as well – my health improved quiterndramatically.  I lost 25rnpounds.  I didn’t have to exercisernas much.  I used to run six miles,rnsix times a week.  I had colds andrnflu in flu season.  My nails andrnhair and skin were dry.  Myrndigestion was terrible.  All ofrnthose problems melted away when I became an omnivore again.