Thursday, April 23, 2015

How does a vegetarian defend beef?

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
April 23, 2015

Nicolette Hahn Niman on the BN Ranch

One doesn’t usually think of eating as a political act, let alone a revolutionary one, but for many, what lands on the dinner plate not only provides nourishment, but also has become a means for saving the planet. What should and should not land on that plate and how it gets there is where the controversy, and the politics, begin. 

Kalamazoo native Nicolette Hahn Niman is an environmental lawyer, rancher, food activist, and vegetarian. She stirs up something of a revolution in her controversial new book, Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production, The Manifesto of an Environmental Lawyer and Vegetarian Turned Cattle Rancher, published by Chelsea Green in October 2014.

Hahn Niman’s first book, Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms (William Morrow, 2009), paves the path to her current work. Porkchop is an exposé of what ails BigAg, or big agriculture, the factory farms that Hahn Niman points out as major polluters across the planet, contributing to climate change, to the detriment of everyone’s health. It is also her love story, as vegetarian meets cattle rancher, Bill Niman, joining forces in marriage and business.

Defending Beef takes the next step. As Hahn Niman began her new life on the Bolinas, Calif., cattle ranch, she found herself drawn deeper and deeper into the lifestyle and the business.

"Environmentalists and health advocates have long blamed beef and cattle ranching, but it’s just not that simple," she says.

With meticulous research, Hahn Niman addresses every concern commonly associated with beef: health issues, climate change, water supply, biodiversity, overgrazing, world hunger, the morality of eating meat. 

"Meat, especially red meat, has been perceived as elitist," she says. "It’s a strange way to view beef when about a billion of the world’s poorest people are dependent on livestock."

Hahn Niman served two terms on the Kalamazoo City Commission, worked as an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, and later became senior attorney for Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental organization. There she was in charge of the organization’s campaign to reform the concentrated livestock and poultry industry. 

"We’ve been told that beef isn’t good for us for decades," Hahn Niman says. "But in fact ..."


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