For some reason, Nina Planck's 2007 book Real Food: What to Eat and Why never appeared on my radar screen until earlier this year when my Partner In Culinary Crime picked up a copy and started reading passages to me. I recently commandeered her copy and have pretty much been devouring Real Food the past few days. Real Food is a seminal piece on why American's are overweight, unhealthy, prone to diabetes, prone to heart disease and so much more. And guess what? The problem with our health has everything to do with the fat-free, vegetable-oil, industrialized cheap food craze that completely overtook our country in the middle part of the last century.
Far from being a bandwagon breast-beater, Planck offers a rigorous and brave analysis that pretty much calls into question everything you ever learned from mainstream Extension Service dieticians, university agriculture experts, vegetarian and vegan diet proponents, the American Medical Association and so many other pundits of proper eating. Planck’s thesis goes something like this: If all the so-called experts are right about diet and the nutritional value of cheap, industrial food, then why are we growing less healthy by the day? And in a delightfully refreshing, non-combative, non-incendiary, matter-of-fact voice, Planck leads us through a concise analysis of mainstream science (both old and new), anecdotal evidence and obscure dietary studies and leaves us with a most compelling conclusion. If we eat more traditionally, we will lose weight, lower our risk of heart disease, feel better and raise thriving children.
Did you know that the human brain needs fats to work right and that unprocessed animal fats are among the most important fats the brain needs? That’s right, fats like lard and tallow supply things that we need to keep our brains in tip-top shape, while plant and processed fats, especially processed vegetable fats (oils) do not. Consuming lean grassfed meats and pastured eggs actually reduce your likelihood for developing heart disease, while consuming processed vegetable fat does not. Did you ever consider that cholesterol levels in some native cultures are naturally and healthfully higher than the level recommended by our very own FDA? Did you ever wonder why we weigh more than ever before even though we are consuming more low fat and fat-free foods than ever before? Did you know that some unadulterated animal oils are as effective at treating depression as many pharmaceuticals?
In Real Food: What to Eat and Why, Nina Planck makes a lovely and logical case for reconsidering our relationships with food. Fat is not necessarily bad, red meat isn’t your ticket to an early grave, cheese won’t make you gain weight, whole-grain breads are good, eating a diet consisting of only vegetable matter will starve your brain, wild fish may well be the most important protein and fat sources that allowed our species to develop such huge brains.
I won’t give it all away here, but I would encourage everyone who cares about the relationships among health and diet to read Real Food: What to Eat and Why. It’s time to rethink our entire food system, if for no other reason than it isn’t working terribly well the way it is.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.