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Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production Paperback – October 31, 2014
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"I have long wished for a single compilation with all the scientific evidence that counters the charges of the anti-beef propagandists. Well, now we have it. It’s Defending Beef, The Case for Sustainable Meat Production by Nicolette Hahn Niman.”--Allan Nation, The Stockman Grass Farmer
"Defending Beef is full of important insights and information, things anyone who cares about food and agriculture, including vegetarians, ought to know.”--Edward Behr, editor and publisher of The Art of Eating
The Art of Eating-
"Serious thinking about food and agriculture fills Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production (Chelsea Green, softcover, $19.95).The beef Nicolette Hahn Niman defends is unprocessed, raised outdoors using humane methods on pasture or range. A lawyer, married to a rancher, she started with an anti-meat bias and remains a vegetarian (seemingly from habit). She answers criticism that cattle-raising contributes to desertification, world hunger, and global warming. She presents the ecological importance of trampling by hooves ― natural grasslands are a product of wild-animal grazing. The key for ranchers is well-timed pauses to let plants regrow. Problems come when grazing land is left to “rest” too long. Real environmental damage, she argues, comes from plowing up grasslands to plant crops. … Most of her assertions come with references to scientific studies pro and con. Niman believes red meat is healthful, taking an Atkins-esque view that animal fat is not responsible for making people fat. In contrast to her own diet, she tentatively proposes: “We should eat what our bodies evolved to eat” ― mainly meat and wild plants. And she ties benign methods to the highest quality beef, giving her rancher husband’s view that the best taste comes from the meat of British breeds; the cattle are at least two years old and fattened on the year’s best grass. Beef is ideally a seasonal meat, she argues, although she doesn’t believe it harms cattle to feed them some grain.”
"In response to the ecological objection that cattle production produces more harm than good, biologist, environmental lawyer, long-time vegetarian and rancher, Nicolette Hahn Niman presents the case that raising cattle can in fact have many environmental benefits. These benefits, she argues, include helping to sustain grassland as well as producing nutrient efficient products for human consumption. Using scientific data, Niman argues how small-scale, grass-fed cattle operations are actually part of a long-term sustainability solution.”--Food Tank, "Top 10 Books About Food in 2014"
"A longtime critic of industrial agriculture and a lawyer by training, Niman mounts a lawyerly case for pasture-based beef production. She does so from an interested position. She's the wife of Bill Niman, one of the nation's most celebrated grass-based ranchers. But critics who want to dismiss Niman's advocacy on economic-interest grounds have to grapple with the mountains of evidence she brings to bear. The main ecological question that haunts grass-fed beef involves climate change. Cows emit methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon, when they burp, which is often. But by grazing, they also promote healthy, flourishing grasslands, which suck carbon from the atmosphere and store it in soil. In doing so, they convert a wild vegetation that people can't digest into a highly nourishing foodstuff. So on balance, do cows contribute to or mitigate climate change? The conventional view holds that the burps win. Niman casts more than reasonable doubt on that verdict. Citing loads of research, she argues that enteric emissions (methane from burps) are likely overstated and can be curtailed by breeding and techniques like abundant salt licks, and more than offset by the carbon-gulping capacity of intensive grazing (where farmers run dense herds through a pasture for a short time, and then give the land plenty of time to recover). She also shows that healthy pastures also provide plenty of other benefits, including habitat for pollinating insects and birds, which are declining rapidly as industrial grain farming―mostly for grain to feed confined animals―expands.”--Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, Best Food Books of 2014
“[T]he former environmental lawyer and now rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman … has now collected her thoughts in the elegant, strongly argued Defending Beef.”--Corby Kummer, The Atlantic, Best Food Books of 2014
The Los Angeles Times-
“If you are looking for a book to inspire fisticuffs at the Thanksgiving table, you've found it. Her "manifesto" calls for a revolutionized food system ― one that requires cows. … One after another, Hahn Niman skewers the, ahem, sacred cows of the anti-meat orthodoxy. Eating meat causes world hunger? No, livestock are critical food (and cash) for 1 billion global poor, many living where plant crops cannot be grown. Deforestation? Forests are cleared primarily for soy, almost none of which goes to feed cows. Red meat and animal fat are the cause of the current epidemic of cardiovascular disease? The 1953 Keys study that spawned this belief actually showed no causation between the two and pushed us into the deadly grip of trans-fats and the true killer: sugar. Overgrazing ruined the American West? No, it was improper grazing and, in some cases, not enough cattle. … She's not trying to change your mind; she's trying to save your world. And if you're an eater trying to pick your way through this divisive debate, you're cheering the information on every page.”
The Wall Street Journal-
“Using a potent mix of scientific data and neoteric theories about health and environment, Ms. Niman makes a convincing case that grass-fed cattle should be a part of a sustainable food culture. If I were not already a consumer of grass-fed beef (I buy it frozen), I would be upon reading this book. … The problems with beef today ‘are problems of land management, water resources, pollution, animal welfare, and food safety,’ Ms. Niman writes. She honors the cattleman culture, hoping the industry will self-correct, and to that end she shares the techniques that her husband developed to produce great-tasting grass-fed beef. Some of the author’s observations touch on larger topics, like the gross amount of food waste in this country (a whopping 50% of all food produced) and how our system of food subsidies ‘leads us to eat an abundance of unhealthy foods.’ These problems actually suggest pathways by which you and I might drive change, but they are not explored here. That may be because ‘Defending Beef’ is true to its title: It seeks to persuade, not inflame.”
"After learning from her rancher husband the benefits of raising and eating beef, Niman (Righteous Porkchop) delivers a head-on attack against everything negative that has been said about the cattle industry. An environmental lawyer and vegetarian, Niman is a force of nature when it comes to debunking the untruths about how raising beef effects global warming, the connection between eating beef and heart disease, and that eating beef is the reason Americans are fatter than ever. Reading Niman's pointed and convincing prose, like when she states: 'compared with other ways of producing food, the keeping of grazing livestock, when done appropriately, is the most environmentally benign,’ one can only imagine challenging her combination of intelligence, passion, and thoroughness. Despite the title, Niman isn't always on the defensive. In fact, she continually proposes ideas how to make meat production better by promoting the land- and animal-friendly practices of free-range, grass-fed ranching as a safer, more ecological, and healthier alternative to BigAg and industrial meat farming. Niman saves some of her most convincing and damning criticisms for her own vegetarianism as she demonstrates how raising livestock is not only a better option for the world's hungry masses, but also a better option for the planet's health. It sounds hard to believe, but Niman is almost impossible to disagree with.”
"The irony could not be more acute, for this vegetarian makes as forceful and compelling a case for rational livestock husbandry as could be imagined. … A wealth of personal experience percolates through her case, giving it detail, color and emotional logic. … The trick to telling this kind of story has to do with rendering reams of data into a relatively swift narrative without oversimplifying it. Whether telling the story of Allan Savory and mob grazing or recapping the findings of the late John Yudkin―author of Pure, White and Deadly that fingered sugar for crimes against health 40 years ago―Hahn Niman never misses a step. … Defending Beef gives advocates of sustainable livestock a powerful weapon.”
"Niman (Righteous Porkchop), previously a senior attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance, has a simple premise: 'We should eat what our bodies evolved to eat.' This title lays out her arguments in two sections. The first deals with cattle and how intensive factory farming has had a deleterious effect on certain environmental aspects of raising beef, but the author contends that these have been overstated. The link to climate change has been exaggerated, according to Niman, who claims that if cattle were permitted to graze on grass as they were evolutionarily designed to do, alteration to the earth’s temperature might be mitigated, as this would promote carbon sequestration. Traditional cattle farming has other benefits, such as connecting people to the land and to the rhythms of the seasons. The book’s second part enumerates the health benefits of beef. Niman contends that bad science from the 1960s has led us to believe that fat and cholesterol should be avoided. We have switched to a diet that is heavy in sugars and carbohydrates and this has resulted in an increase in many chronic health conditions. The author maintains that a switch to less-processed foods and meats would reverse this trend. VERDICT As a vegetarian, Niman is an intriguing spokesperson for the beef industry. Her arguments seem sound and well researched. Recommended reading for those interested in the links between diet and health.”
"I hope this book, which is more about the future of humanity, will be read by every citizen―not just those who feel the need to defend their meat-eating preferences. Biologist, environmental lawyer, and mother Nicolette Hahn Niman has provided a balanced report on the effects of cattle production on our environment, health, and climate change. Openly accepting the damage done by modern-day cattle production―on the land and in factory feedlots―she effectively argues that cattle themselves are not the problem; it is the way they are being managed that is endangering our health, environment, and economy. We can do something about that, and we must for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Key to our success will be an informed citizenry―for whom this book will be an invaluable tool."--Allan Savory, founder and president, the Savory Institute
"Creating healthful, delicious food in ecological balance is among humanity's greatest challenges. In this insightful book, Nicolette Hahn Niman shows why cattle on grass are an essential element. Every chef in America should read this book."--Alice Waters, executive chef, founder/owner, Chez Panisse, Berkeley, CA
“Anyone who doubts that beef can be part of a sustainable food system and healthy diet should read this book. Defending Beef proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that we can feel good about eating beef that's raised the right way.”--Steve Ells, founder and CEO, Chipotle Mexican Grill
"Defending Beef is a brave, clear-headed, and necessary addition to the discussion about sustainable food systems. Using hard data and solid scientific research, Nicolette Hahn Niman, a lawyer turned rancher, presents a convincing case that everything we thought we knew about the environmental and human health damage caused by beef is just plain wrong."--Barry Estabrook, author, Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed our Most Alluring Fruit
“In this remarkable book, Nicolette Hahn Niman proves herself to be a true environmentalist―one who is willing to dig deeply, challenge orthodoxies, and get to the truth. You should read Defending Beef not only for the compelling case she makes for sustainable meat production but also as an example of critical thinking at its finest.”--Bo Burlingham, Editor-at-Large of Inc. magazine and author of Small Giants and Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top
“I have traveled to every state in the U.S. during both summer and winter and have seen the land in extensive rural areas. There are huge land areas in this country that cannot be used for crops. The only way to grow food on these lands is grazing animals. Grazing done properly will improve the land. Defending Beef shows clearly that beef cattle are an important part of sustainable agriculture.”--Temple Grandin, author of Animals Make Us Human and Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University
"Anyone hesitating to eat beef due to environmental or nutritional concerns needs to learn the other side of the story. Defending Beef is both scientifically accurate and highly readable. Kudos to Nicolette Hahn Niman for successfully engaging in one of the biggest environmental tensions of our day."--Joel Salatin, farmer and author
"Nicolette Hahn Niman just became beef's most articulate advocate. In Defending Beef, she pivots gracefully between the personal and the scientific, the impassioned and the evenhanded. It's a deeply compelling and delicious vision for the future of food."--Dan Barber, chef/co-owner, Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns
"The prosecution will never rest after the case presented here by this unusually well-armed defense lawyer. Exactly how much and in what ways cattle benefit our world―whether or not we eat beef―have never been more thoroughly explained. Cattle are lucky to have such a remarkable rancher gal come to their aid on our behalf."--Betty Fussell, author, Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef
“Nicolette Hahn Niman’s Defending Beef is as timely as it is necessary. With patience and passion she separates truth from fiction in the emotional debate about the role of beef in our lives and the effect of its production on our planet. Far from being a bogeyman of climate change and other environmental concerns, she argues, cattle, when properly managed, can play an important role in local food systems, land health, and carbon sequestration. The key is treating cattle as an ally, not an enemy, and exploring opportunities instead of simply pointing fingers. In this exploration, Defending Beef leads the way!”--Courtney White, founder and creative director, Quivira Coalition, and author, Grass, Soil, Hope
“In our collective confusion and desperation about the environment, many zero in on cattle as an unlikely culprit for everything from water pollution to climate change. In Defending Beef, author, rancher and environmental lawyer Nicolette Hahn Niman takes a nuanced look at the impact of livestock on land, water, the atmosphere, and human health. With clarity and eloquence, she puts research in context and shows that the raising of cattle can be destructive or restorative depending on how the animals are managed. Cattle―and common sense―have found their champion.”--Judith D. Schwartz, author, Cows Save the Planet
“Issues related to the long-term health effects of red meat, saturated fat, sugar, and grains are complex and I see the jury as still out on many of them. While waiting for the science to be resolved, Hahn Niman’s book is well worth reading for its forceful defense of the role of ruminant animals in sustainable food systems.”--Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and author of What to Eat
“Defending Beef is an important book. Nicolette Hahn Niman had me at the chapter, ‘All Food Is Grass,’ where she unpacks the complex clash of views over animal rights, ecology, and the legacy of human impact upon bioregions. The more I read, the more I came to value the passion and insight of someone who (like me) does not herself consume meat but recognizes that it rests at the center of what’s troubling with our food system and how we might set it right.
At Slow Food, we believe that better, less meat should become a rallying cry for a shift in our relationship to animals and each other. Scale, biodiversity, and rural economies get ample attention in this comprehensive yet easy-to-digest manifesto. If we ever hope to challenge the prevailing culture of confinement that defines the industrial meat system today then we need to make this book required reading for butchers, bakers and policymakers.”--Richard McCarthy, executive director, Slow Food USA
“Defending Beef clearly and unequivocally connects the dots for us on how vitally important raising pastured beef is to humanity. From increasing the glomalin in soil that helps create healthy grass, to sequestering carbon, battling desertification, enhancing the water supply, mitigating climate change, and promoting biodiversity, Nicolette Hahn Niman carefully draws a constellation for understanding just how our food production systems affect people, culture and our ecosystem―for good or ill. The case is airtight and the jury is in: Cattle on pasture are an integral part of the solution.”--Mary R. Cleaver, owner/executive chef, The Cleaver Company and The Green Table, New York City
"A breakthrough book that reclaims our relationship with farm animals and nutritious food. Comprehensive and insightful, Defending Beef delivers a compelling description of a food system that works with nature and wildlife, supports humane animal husbandry, and builds strong local economies. With a keen mind and passionate love of life, Nicolette Hahn Niman provides an insightful solution to feeding our growing world population and shows us a way of life that is both beautiful and sustaining."--Judy Wicks, founder of White Dog Cafe and the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and author of Good Morning, Beautiful Business
"It is so important that we free our minds of conventional beef wisdom and open up to the solution set that uses nature's wisdom as well as the smart agricultural practices of the future. In Defending Beef, Nicolette Hahn Niman gives us an exacting and compelling defense of land management that solves for environmental resiliency, human health, climate change mitigation, and prosperity. How could we not listen?"--Kat Taylor, CEO and co-founder, Beneficial State Bank; co-founder and director, Tomkat Ranch Educational Foundation
"As a chef, I am concerned with not just the flavor of my ingredients, but also their ecological, economic, social, biodiversity, and health implications. In Defending Beef, Nicolette Hahn Niman delves deeply into the many impacts of beef production. Through both scholarly research and her own personal journey, she shows how, again and again, the ‘conventional wisdom’ has missed the mark, while making an extremely convincing case for well-raised cattle having a necessary place in our global agriculture system and on our plates. Simply put, this book doesn't just make me a better chef, but also a better person."--Michael Leviton, chef/owner, Lumiere; chair, Chefs Collaborative
“Nicolette Hahn Niman, a lawyer, vegetarian and cattle rancher, serves up a well-argued defense of an American icon: the hamburger. Passionate and persuasive, Hahn Niman delivers a tough-minded critique of industrial animal operations along with an eloquent case on behalf of pasture-raised beef. The good news? It's safe to eat steak again--so long as you know where it comes from.”--Marc Gunther, editor-at-large, Guardian Sustainable Business US
About the Author
Nicolette Hahn Niman is the author of Defending Beef. She previously served as senior attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance, running their campaign to reform the concentrated production of livestock and poultry. In recent years she has gained a national reputation as an advocate for sustainable food production and improved farm-animal welfare. She is the author of Righteous Porkchop (HarperCollins, 2009) and has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, and The Atlantic online. She lives on a ranch in Northern California, with her husband, Bill Niman, and their two sons.
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During my first reading of Defending Beef, two words repeatedly came to mind: comprehensive and balanced. Comprehensive, because in less than 250 readable pages, Defending Beef manages to effectively describe nearly all of the many perspectives by which one can approach this debate, alone making it an indispensable resource for anyone wishing to review the latest findings or investigate further. Balanced, because it presents the prevailing positions on each perspective, chapter by chapter offering the most up-to-date evidence of how and why these positions either hold up or break down under scrutiny.
Chapter 1, "The Climate Change Case Against Cattle", reviews the latest data on the effects of cattle on climate and reveals that, historically, the degree to which greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to cattle farming has been miscalculated and usually overstated. Rather, citing the most recent studies, the author explains exactly how properly managed cattle farming restores soil and grasslands, which stems erosion and sequesters carbon. The net effect is that cattle farming can (and actually should) be a "climate change mitigator."
Chapter 2, "All Food is Grass", reacquaints the reader with the commonsensical concept that "grass is, in fact, the base layer of the global food system" and further elaborates on the crucial role that grazing animals have always served to maintain this base layer, which co-evolved along with all large mammals, including our pre-human ancestors. When managed in a manner that approximately mimics how prehistoric ruminants naturally lived, modern-day livestock is our best resource for fulfilling their necessary life-sustaining functions to which the entire ecosphere is accustomed.
Chapter 3, "Water", presents the case that cattle farming is a polluter and heavy user of water, and then refutes it. While it's true that large animal confinement operations produce concentrated waste that pollutes water, farms that put cattle on pastures help to cultivate healthy soil for the benefit of the earth, in addition to eschewing the use of ecologically harmful man-made chemicals. As for water usage, oft-cited calculations that ostensibly prove beef to be a heavy water user are shown to be flawed, usually because of over-simplification. Taking into account the water sequestration capacity of healthy grass, the case is made that beef production uses far less water than other forms of agriculture. Indeed, the "net effect of cattle in the food system is a benefit to the world's waters."
Chapter 4, "Biodiversity", references evidence, books, and studies that put forth the argument that the pasture/livestock combination leads to greater biodiversity wherever it is allowed to occur, and to less biodiversity when the cattle are removed - just as nature operated before man embarked on the endeavor of large scale mono-crop agriculture.
Chapter 5, "Overgrazing", is another well-documented section dedicated to debunking a popular myth: that today's crises of desertification and loss of topsoil is the result of overgrazing. Acknowledging the truth of harm caused by early 20th century mismanaged grazing (as opposed to overgrazing), today the reality is that these deleterious environmental effects are more likely the result of large scale agriculture practices and can actually be reversed, instead of worsened, through properly managed livestock.
Chapter 6, "People", imparts to the reader another, more subtle benefit of raising beef: Living on grass-based farms and ranches provides opportunities for people, especially children, to reap the many psychological rewards and physical/emotional health benefits of exposure to animals and nature - opportunities that are being rapidly replaced by modern indoor living.
Chapter 7, "Health Claims Against Beef", starts with an overview of the myriad of health problems that afflicts the Western World, of which beef consumption has been implicated in recent decades as a prime cause. Upon closer examination, the overwhelming evidence from nearly every discipline related to nutrition (biochemistry, endocrinology, neurology, epidemiology, anthropology, evolution, history, politics, etc.) points to sugar, not beef, as the more likely prime culprit. This chapter is the longest of the book, and the topic is complex. Fortunately, as is the case with the entire book, the explanations are very well written, and the documentation is broad and extensive (143 citations) for anyone who wants to investigate the matter further.
Chapter 8, "Beef is Good Food", takes the theme of Chapter 7 one step further. Not only is beef not bad for you, it's good for you, especially when raised naturally (on grass). Again, the evidence across multiple disciplines is yielding some controversial results: that consumption of animal fat and protein promotes physical and psychological health. Beef in particular provides essential nutrients that can be very difficult to obtain from other sources without taking measures which are costly and unnatural.
The next to last section, "What's the Matter with Beef", the author presents her criticisms for how beef is currently produced, mainly regarding "problems of land management, wasted resources, pollution, animal welfare, and food safety." Then she gives her "call to action" to the rest of the cattle industry on what specifically needs to be done to address each of these problems.
I found the last section, "Why Eat Animals", to be the best of the book. It is an absolutely brilliant moral and philosophical discussion on raising and eating beef. If you had to choose only one chapter to read, then this is it. The author begins by assessing the commonly parroted claim that livestock farming is immoral because it is too resource intensive if we expect to feed the global human population, in addition to being cruel to animals. As usual, Defending Beef argues that the conventional thinking is flawed, and exactly the opposite is true. In many areas across the globe where crops won't grow, or where crop cultivation is prohibitively costly, livestock are uniquely capable of converting plants that are inedible to humans into densely nutritious meat and milk which is stored in self-propelled containers that provide the owner with hide, fiber, and other high quality materials when their lives are done - and all of this is available on the owner's timetable, not restricted by seasonal harvest times. For the purpose of feeding and clothing the world's poorest people, livestock has always been, and continues to be, an indispensable resource.
At this point in the final section, Defending Beef reaches its culmination and makes what I believe to be its most valuable contribution: It speaks to the state of discourse on the topics of the book. The author leads by example, beckoning the reader to look inward with humility and reflect on what is most important:
"What has really fostered my interest in the debate over meat eating is not a desire to encourage meat consumption but a longing for some nuance in the discussion. The issue is far from black-and-white, and polarized camps lobbing accusations at each other only hinder movement toward a better system. Building a food system that is more ecological and more humane is far more important to me that whether so-and-so is eating meat." (p. 230)
Regarding animal cruelty/death, a very strong case is made that death and suffering are consequences of ALL agriculture, in particular crop farming, while grass-based cattle farming sits at the benevolent end of the spectrum of animal treatment. Following this line of thinking and the corroborating evidence to their logical conclusions, Defending Beef arrives at this one particularly remarkable, simple, and brilliant piece of wisdom:
"What I'm looking for is agriculture that respects all life and follow nature's model. Answering the question: Am I eating food derived from an animal? tells you very little about the impact production of that food has had on nearby animals and plants. All farming, and especially crop farming, necessarily kills a lot of animals of all shapes and sizes. The more meaningful question is Has this food been produced as nature functions?" (p.236)
As many thinkers over the centuries have warned us, the central cause of our problems is our own pride, not our ignorance, not the wrong method or ideology; these are merely symptoms. Pride in man - what he thinks, feels, creates, and does apart from natural processes - divides us and blinds us from seeing the wisdom of Mother Nature. For the strong and open-minded, Defending Beef is a challenge to conquer pride, to take nature seriously, and to help save the planet in the process.
It is pleasant to read of the awakening of someone from the slumber of the Bambi mantra. She does so quite well and eloquently as far as cattle ranching is concerned. Her treatise of both good and bad is wide ranging, insightful and salient. I particularly harmonized with her views on people, with particular emphasis on the state of our children’s upbringing. This could not have been more insightful and to the point.
Of course her preferred rotational grazing cattle management and local style farming is a sanity that must and will return particularly as our synthetic economic bubble dwindles in our engaging world market.
Where I find the book disheartening somewhat is in the various exposures of residual dogma that the author has not winnowed out but rather clings to as her foundational life raft. Meaning she has grander oxes to gore before arriving at full clarity. We as a society, country and world are so corrupted by the greenism parade that few can find the sobriety to clear the glaze before their eyes.
Yet this book and author offers hope. It is a well written, and a sound science based rational foray dispelling the myths and revealing the truths regarding domestic beef production and consumption.
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