Real Food: What to Eat and Why

Nina Planck, Author , Bloomsbury $23.95 (343p) ISBN 978-1-59691-144-4

Nina Planck is a good, stylish writer and a dogged researcher who writes directly, forthrightly and with an edge. She isn't afraid to make the occasional wisecrack ("No doubt, for some people, cracking open an egg is one chore too many") while taking unpopular positions. Her chosen field—she is a champion of "real" (as opposed to industrialized) food—is one in which unpopular positions are easy to find.

As Planck reveals, in her compellingly smart Real Food: What to Eat and Why , much of what we have learned about nutrition in the past generation or so is either misinformed or dead wrong, and almost all of the food invented in the last century, and especially since the Second World War, is worse than almost all of the food that we've been eating since we developed agriculture.

This means, she says, that butter is better than margarine (so, for that matter, is lard); that whole eggs (especially those laid by hens who scratch around in the dirt) are better than egg whites, and that eggs in general are an integral part of a sound diet; that full-fat milk is preferable to skim, raw preferable to pasteurized, au naturel preferable to homogenized. She goes so far as to maintain—horror of horrors—that chopped liver mixed with real schmaltz and hard-boiled eggs is, in a very real way, a form of health food.

Like those who've paved the way before her, she urges us to eat in a natural, old-fashioned way. But unlike many of them, and unlike her sometimes overbearing compatriots in the Slow Food movement, she is far from dogmatic, making her case casually, gently, persuasively.

And personally, Planck's philosophy grows directly out of her life history, which included a pair of well-educated parents who decided, when the author was two, to pull up stakes in Buffalo, N.Y., and take up farming in northern Virginia. Planck, therefore, grew up among that odd combination of rural farming intellectuals who not only wanted to raise food for a living but could explain why it made sense.

Planck, who is now an author and a creator and manager of farmers' markets, has a message that can be—and is—summed up in straightforward and simple fashion in her first couple of chapters. She then goes on to build her case elaborately, citing both recent and venerable studies, concluding in the end that the only sensible path for eating, the one that maintains and even improves health, the one that maintains stable weight and avoids obesity, happens to be the one that we all crave: not modern food, but traditional food, and not industrial food, but real food. (June)

Mark Bittman's latest book is The Best Recipes in the World (Broadway); he is also the author of How to Cook Everything (Wiley).

Reviewed on: 04/10/2006
Release date: 06/01/2006
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 343 pages - 978-1-59691-342-4
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-59691-951-8
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-1-63286-458-1
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