The Farm Girl’s Paradox

Photo: Donald Bowers

Revenge is a dish best served cold—unless, that is, you’re launching a new pair of farmers’ markets outside the jurisdiction of the agency that unceremoniously fired you two and a half years ago, in which case it looks more like a bowl of guacamole. That particular dip, heretofore unavailable at local farmers’ markets (avocados, after all, aren’t exactly local), is only one of the eyebrow-raising foodstuffs that will appear at the two pocket-size Real Food Markets opening in downtown Manhattan (at Petrosino Square at Lafayette and Spring Streets, and at Sixth Avenue near Bleecker Street) on June 17. The markets are run by Nina Planck, the Virginia farm girl and market maven whose brief tenure as Greenmarket director was marked by resistance to the stricter rules she’d tried to enforce on peevish farmers. It’s ironic, then, that her new venture takes a more lenient approach, permitting such Greenmarket taboos as farmer co-ops and items made with ingredients grown elsewhere. The markets’ name ties in to Planck’s equally controversial new book, Real Food: What to Eat and Why, an ode to the nutritional glory of animal fat, raw milk and eggs, butter and cheese—everything, basically, we’ve been told to avoid for years (catastrophically, according to Planck). Here, she explains herself and makes a strong case for lard.

What’s Real Food?
Food we’ve been eating for thousands of years. Not industrial food. I grew up on chicken and liver and eggs and whole milk—and then I became a vegan and a vegetarian and my health suffered. I started eating beef and crème fraîche, eggs and raw-milk cheese, and my health improved. I thought, Hmmm, this is interesting. I wonder if I’m going to get a heart attack. So I started to do some homework. The book is the result, and I concluded that Real Food isn’t going give you a heart attack, despite what they say.

You avoided cardiac arrest, but how did your health improve?
I’m 25 pounds thinner, my cholesterol and lipids are off-the-charts healthy, I’m less depressed. My digestion is better. And I exercise half as much as I used to—instead of six miles a day, I run three.

Does Real Food have the potential to become the next fad diet?
The book is not written for weight loss—but I think you can be fit and healthy eating this way.

Lard—you can’t seem to get enough of it. How can you get more lard into your diet?
Well, I bake with lard—biscuits and pie crusts. Mostly, I think one shouldn’t be afraid of the lard that’s in bacon and sausages. The thing about lard is that it’s mostly unsaturated fat, which nobody knows, and the monounsaturated fat in it is the same one in olive oil.

What did you have for dinner last night?
Braised pork belly in some red wine and beef stock.

What would you do if you were invited to a vegan restaurant?
That’d be fun; I used to go to so many. The thing that I think is funny is the raw-food people. They have it exactly right—nutrients are destroyed when you cook food. But they have the foods upside down. We should be cooking broccoli and carrots to make them more nutritious. And we should be eating raw beef, raw fish, raw egg yolks in Caesar salads, and raw milk.

Do you ever order in?

What’s always in your refrigerator?
My own pickled hot peppers. And there’s always buttermilk, yogurt, stone-ground grits and eggs, and always greens. Right now I have beet tops.

What vegetable do you hate?
White asparagus. Totally overrated.

What will people find at Real Food Markets they won’t find at Greenmarket?
Farmers who can’t get to Greenmarket for one reason or another. We’re going to add to the variety and diversity of local and traditional farm foods. We’ll have pastured pork, beef, and chicken from a co-op in the Hudson Valley. Trout and wild New York landed fish from Eden Brook Fish Co. Artisan pickles. And Murray’s Rob Kaufelt is doing a line of buttercream and eggs and raw-milk cheeses, called Cowfelt’s, that come from all over the Northeast.

You’ve said some farmers are not being served by Greenmarket. How so?
In the farmers’-market world, we say no a lot. At Real Food, we’re lengthening the food chain a tiny bit. We’re adding co-ops and people repping other farmers and even purveyors. Meat, poultry, produce, and dairy have to be from the region because we raise all those things, but we allow you to buy minor ingredients and spices from outside the region.

Some might consider these markets your idea of revenge.
Oh no, I love Greenmarket. I buy tons of food there. I have nothing but the best wishes for Greenmarket. I just want to serve another niche.

The Farm Girl’s Paradox