Can You Be a “Good Environmentalist” and Still Eat Meat? Care2 Weighs In On the Lyman vs. Niman Debate
Last week, an event called Lyman vs. Niman brought folks to the David Brower Center in Berkeley, Calif., to watch a debate between Howard Lyman, former cattle rancher and current vegan, and Nicolette Niman, wife of Niman Ranch founder Bill Niman.
The debate focused on the question: Can you be a “good environmentalist” and still eat meat?
Both Lyman and Niman have become outspoken advocates for their causes, as well as authors. Nyman is the co-author of Mad Cowboy and No More Bull, and Niman of Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms. The books are completely fascinating, and their characters in themselves could insight debate.
Remember when Oprah was sued by the National Cattleman’s Beef Association for saying she’d never eat another hamburger? That was after her interview with Howard Lyman, the “mad cowboy,” discussing mad cow disease. This fourth-generation rancher worked in animal production until 1983. In 1979 he was diagnosed with a spine tumor and changed his ways. He began fighting chemical-based farming and became vegetarian, and then vegan. In addition to co-authoring his books, he became a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., president of EarthSave, and then founder/president of Voice for a Viable Future, a program to educate people about vegetarianism, environmentalism and organic farming. In the current debate, Lyman argued no, you can’t be a good environmentalist and still eat meat.
Nicolette Hahn Niman is the wife of Bill Niman, founder of Bay Area-based Niman Ranch. Their ranch is all about grass-fed beef, humane treatment for their animals and small farming. Their story is highly chronicled in the recent Jonathan Safran Foer book Eating Animals. In 2007, Bill Niman left his ranch because of conflicts between the economics of the farming business and the desire to humanely produce meat. Nicolette, herself a vegetarian, even convinced Bill to spare one of their farms cows she bonded with. The cow then became their pet. Niman sees nothing wrong with killing animals, as long as they have a “good life” prior to slaughter. She argued yes, you can be a good environmentalist and still eat meat.
According to one blogger’s account of the debate, Lyman kept the upper-hand when it came to the ethical argument against meat-eating. This is believable, since Niman seems to be a walking contradiction on that front. Vegetarianism might be a “personal choice,” but it is puzzling how someone can advocate so strongly for humanely raising animals for meat, sell it to others and still choose not to eat it herself.
But the environmental question is a different ballgame. A small farm can essentially be self-sustaining, with the cows eating grass, fertilizing the grass and growing more grass to eat. But what about the land needed for this kind of operation? The money (since this kind of farm would inevitably need to charge higher prices for their meat due to producing less than the concentrated animal feeding operations)? The small, though still present, pollution? We’ve told you about the environmental impacts of factory farms, the vast majority of farms in America. But what if small farming was the norm? Is that even a plausible scenario considering how many Americans like to eat meat? Maybe, like Lyman advocates, vegetarianism would do our planet a bigger favor?
The Lyman vs. Niman debate reportedly got pretty heated, and we’re sure the Care2 community has some thoughts on the issue, as well. So, Care2, what do you say? Can you be a “good environmentalist” and still eat meat?
photo credit: istock