Lately, as we’ve been enjoying a fairly comfortable existence, at least compared to most of the world, and all of history, there’s been sort of a nutritional nostalgia for eating old food, the old way, whether that means slow food, pesticide free farming, or the Neanderthal diet.
The latest entry to this line is the book Real Food. I thought it would be the typical argument for eating unprocessed food. It kind of is, but it’s also a whitewashed promotion of life on a small farm run by farmers rich enough not to depend on it for their livelihood. In Nina Planck’s mind, life was better and healthier when we ate from medieval farms, where the farm animals and planting fields lived in a wonderful symbiotic harmony. Pigs were free to root about, thus doing the plowing for you; chickens gobbled up the bugs and worms; and cows provided the manure, which you didn’t even have to move, because they put in right in the ground for you. She says when you live on a family farm, as she did, you get into the habit of eating loads of vegetables every day and at every meal. And she particularly abhors pasteurization and homogenization in milk, and her anecdote about what gets homogenized into homogenized milk makes me gag a little if I think about it. Not unexpectedly, she says we were all healthier and suffered from less heart disease back when we ate more cholesterol and saturated fat, like eggs, butter, lard, and coconut oil, without worrying about it. She thinks vegetable oil and margarine are evil food empire Frankensteinian foods that explain modern surge in cancers, and don’t even get her started on genetically modified food.
Hey, some of the ideas I liked. I do think butter and lard do make tastier food than margarine. I love eggs, and don’t know from cholesterol, since it’s never been a factor in my health or anyone in my family. I really think the organic milk sold in my local grocery tastes better than ordinary milk, even though I still buy the cheaper ordinary milk most of the time. I do think fake food, like fake vegan cheese and hot dogs, is disgusting. And when I visited my homesteader friends, I thought the roasted lamb they served was the most delicious meat I’d had in ages. Then I thought it was hiking around in the fresh air all day that made it so fabulous, but after reading Real Food, I thought it was the fact that it came from one of their neighbors, whose livestock undoubtedly rambled through the hills all day.
So I had a little Real Food experiment while Neil and Peter were gone at the San Diego Comic-Con. I went to Whole Foods and bought raw, unhomogenized milk for myself, and organic whole milk for Kelly. I also bought some liver, though that was a lot harder to get than raw milk. The first Whole Foods associate I spoke to had never heard of anyone eating calves’ liver, and thought it was weird (at a store that sells tempeh, ostrich burgers, and honeycombs no less.). The Whole Foods butcher did have the liver, but he had to go into the back to get some for me, where apparently the foods too strange to offer publicly are kept.
I thought the liver was great, so maybe the fact that it came from an animals not pumped full of antibiotics had something to do with it. But again, I’m apparently the last person in America who eats liver, and I know I’m the only person in my family who does. Even Kelly didn’t like it.
And as for the raw milk, it didn’t taste any differently from regular milk. According to to raw milk advocates and Nina Planck, raw milk is a panacea that will cure everything from acne to gallstones. I had had gyppy tummy for a few days before I had the raw milk, and a few days later, it went away. But I often have gyppy tummy, and it always goes away in a few days, so I wouldn’t say the raw milk cured it. Otherwise, it made no difference. Besides, I enjoy hot cocoa, so I had to wonder if heating up the raw milk myself would destroy all its immunological magic, and if so, what was the point of getting raw milk? (For the record, I never heated up my raw milk, but I was worried about just this.)
Nina Planck also waxed on how much better whole milk is and said skim milk was made from powder, but Peter later told me the whole milk is the one that’s reconstituted with additional fats. So I wasn’t convinced with the raw milk argument, and I’m still paranoid enough about milk that I wouldn’t give raw milk to my children.
And Nina Planck’s holistic dream, is well, just a dream. For instance, I was surprised at the county fairs that chickens needed to always be in covered cages, and farmed in a covered area: apparently, those wonderfully “healthy” roaming chickens are also very subject to getting horrible diseases from the poop and feathers of wild birds flying over. The company that provides raw milk to Whole Foods is scrupulously clean and permits unannounced public visits to examine their business, but their milk is also twice as expensive as more commercial milk. And, on the other hand, every year, we have an E. Coli scare from Mexican raw milk cheese. I have my own garden, but it’s a long way from giving me the bounty other gardeners complain about: my peppers are the size of plums, and the one tomato I got was nibbled by a squirrel first. And working a full-out subsistence farm is far more difficult and irregular than Nina Planck paints for starry-eyed urbanites buying her book. My homesteader friends are busy from dawn to dusk working the land, caring the animals, putting up food, fixing broken equipment, and yes, pumping their own water. Once in a while a fire or a flood tears through their canyon, and it’s all gone.
Considering all that, I’m grateful for Safeway with its eggs and meat from chickens who’ve lived a short, miserable life; vegetables from far-away lands powdered with pesticides; and my parboiled milk. You can’t convince me that margarine or vegetable oil is going to give me cancer, even if I don’t like them. I have to cynically wonder if Planck is just proposing another food fad that would make her rich selling more books.