Nina Planck describes herself as the daughter of farmers, and a former vegetarian and home cook. With her 2007 book, “Real Food: What to Eat and Why,” Planck also became an advocate for eating a diet of traditionally prepared foods. Plank’s approach eschews popular restrictions on meat and fats, includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, and grains, and integrates butter and lard. She is back with another volume, “The Real Food Cookbook: Traditional Dishes for Modern Cooks.”
“This cookbook is the real food primer that I needed when I was quitting my low-fat, vegan, vegetarian ways and becoming a reformed omnivore,” Planck says. The 150 recipes reflect her familiarity with farmers’ market fare. Planck, 43, grew up in Virginia and in 1980 left behind her parents’ struggling farmstand business for burgeoning northern Virginia farmers’ markets. “My parents put my brother and me through expensive four-year colleges exclusively through farmers’ market income,” Planck says. She went on to found the first modern farmers’ market in London in 1999. Planck lives New York City with her husband, Rob Kaufelt, proprietor of Murray’s Cheese, and their three children, one age 7 and twins who are 5.
Q. Did you work at farmers’ markets when you were growing up?
A. Farmers’ markets saved our family’s farm. I sold at roadside stands from the age of 8 and 9 and farmers’ markets from 9 and 10. A worker used to drive me to the markets before I had my license, even though I was nominally and practically in charge of the markets. And, yes, it was a lot of fun.
Q. How did that experience influence your approach to food?
A. I buy, cook, serve, eat, and compost huge volumes of fruits and vegetables. Even though I’m famous for praising lard and butter, I still eat more vegetables than anyone I know, including vegans. Also I like to eat seasonally, so I’m happy to eat in a glut and I’m happy to do without when it’s out of season. Having a husband and children has changed that somewhat, but my basic personality in the kitchen has not changed. My mother taught us to eat diverse, real foods in moderation. She used to say, “No matter how little money we have, we’ll always have real butter, real maple syrup, and real olive oil.”
Q. How do you define real food?
A. Real food is what humans ate, no matter where they come from — Poland, Argentina, Scandinavia — before industrial food took over. It’s whole, not fractured. It’s raised, processed, and prepared in a traditional fashion. It’s unadulterated. It’s not engineered to be high in one thing or low in another, like orange juice with added calcium or vitamin D, or low-carb bagels.
Q. Why are real foods so important to you?
A. It’s for health, flavor, and the social life around food. It’s important that children know where food comes from, that they can handle food, shop for food, cook food. It’s a basic skill. It has cultural significance at the family level and the social level.
Q. What kind of recipes are in your book?
A. This cookbook represents three years in the life of my young family, cooking all the foods that are now part of our regular repertoire. But I sorely needed this cookbook in my 20s when I thought butter would give you a heart attack and I didn’t know how to roast a chicken.
Q. Talk about how you changed the way you eat.
A. I was overweight, my digestion was poor, my skin was dry, my nails were brittle. I was moody. But when I opened these farmers’ markets in London, I noticed everyone seemed to be eating everything under the sun, all the foods that nature gave us from land, sea, and sky. They appeared be having a great time, in fine health, and trim to boot. I began to taste the foods at my farmers’ market and I found my health improved. I would never return to a restricted diet of any kind. The basic sin of the industrial diet and monoculture is that we don’t eat a wide range of foods. We’re down to three major grain staples — corn, rice, and wheat — from dozens. A meadow is filled with countless botanicals, but people just eat broccoli and peaches. We reduce the diversity in our diet, on our farms, and in our guts at our peril.
Q. Butter seems to be having its comeback moment. Are you happy to see that?
A. I think it’s great news. Butter is a pleasure to so many people and I want them to enjoy it with freedom. I also think it’s great because it means that sound science will finally triumph. They looked at the data and they discovered that the consumption of butter is not associated with unhealthy levels of cholesterol or heart disease or death. It is another signal that we’re meant to eat whole foods and traditional foods.