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25.8.2015 | 13:31

Rainbow-DragonDispatches from the Divine Dragon

Defending Beef

I just finished a fascinating book called Defending Beef, by Nicolette Hahn Niman, a vegetarian who is also a cattle rancher.

Ms. Niman was an attorney working with Robert Kennedy, Jr.’s Waterkeeper organization.  During the process of learning about the pollution caused by industrial farming practices, she also discovered many benefits to small-scale animal husbandry.

Along the way, she married a cattle rancher, and while still vegetarian herself, became a staunch advocate for sustainable meat production.

While her personal story is ironic and intriguing, what I really liked about the book was all the information on the ecological and nutritional benefits of grazing animals, cattle in particular.

This isn’t the first book I’ve read discussing the ecological necessity of grasslands, but it has some of the most detailed and comprehensible information I’ve come across.

The perennial grasses — and the ruminants who eat them — are much better for the health of the soil than the annual crops we grow for food.

Joel Salatin’s book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal, discussed this in detail also, but his book is much more wide-ranging in subject matter, and occasionally more strident politically.

(Although it’s also a wildly entertaining read, containing a heaping amount of good old-fashioned common sense.)

Ms. Niman’s book focuses mainly on the ecological arguments used against cattle, which she addresses and refutes one by one, and the health problems often associated with eating beef and saturated fat (as well as other animal products, but the focus is on red meat).

She uses a wide variety of sources to back up her defense of cattle raising and beef consumption.  She puts the information together into a tidy, rational argument.

She also points out a great many flaws in the studies alleging cattle/beef’s harmful effects, on both health and environment.

Some of her arguments dovetail with the information in Lierre Keith’s book, The Vegetarian Myth, which I discussed in an earlier blog post.  (Keith’s book is one of her many sources.)

Unlike Keith, however, who is a former vegan who returned to eating meat, Ms. Niman is still an ovo-lacto vegetarian.

Although Niman’s book mainly focuses on the environmental and health aspects, she does also address the moral issues involved with the consumption of animals.

If her interpretation of the available information is correct, there is no overall benefit to humans, animals or the planet created by avoiding humanely raised animal products.

Ms. Niman’s argument is less emotional than Keith’s, but she makes the same point.

We can’t remove ourselves from the Earth’s “Circle of Life” without causing more harm than good to ourselves and the planet.  For anything to live, something else must die; and out of that death, life begins anew.

Defending Beef is a well-thought out, well-argued book, written from a unique perspective.   Ms. Niman has first-hand experience with and knowledge of cattle ranching and factory farming.  She’s a vegetarian who raises cattle and defends the benefits of raising — and consuming — beef.  And she does this while acknowledging the problems of industrial-scale agriculture.  She doesn’t dismiss or gloss over these issues, but rather addresses them head on.

Her book is educational, enlightening and entertaining.  I enjoyed it and learned quite a bit.  It’s written in a very accessible style — easy to read, but also logically and reasonably argued — and I recommend it highly.

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