Nicolette Hahn Niman was a vegetarian for 33 years. She is an environmental lawyer and has had experience of the dire conditions in factory farms, often campaigning against pollution caused by industrial meat production in the U.S. Then she married a farmer.
Her husband, Bill Niman, is a rancher. She began working on their 1000 acre ranch, where they refuse to use chemicals on the land or animals.
Niman began to question current beliefs crucifying meat eating, attributing cow farming as the cause of soil erosion and air pollution, identifying red meat eating as the source for chronic diet problems and obesity.
Beyond the rhetoric, fuelled by films like Cowspiracy, she wanted to get to the truth. How do we get to solutions? We want to eat healthily and ethically- what choices do we make?
A cow she proposes is not an innate eco-devil, but how they are farmed is often damaging. If cows are freed from cramped pens and allowed to eat diverse grasses, as in the past, they can engineer healthier ecosystems. Healthy grass fed animals provide meat with measurable health benefits over factory farmed stuff.
In her book, Defending Beef, Niman explains how naturalistic cattle grazing adds manure and organic matter to the soil and encourages plants that help draw down carbon. She joins other influential writers such as Gabe Brown, Charles Massy, Simon Fairlie and the controversial ecologist Allan Savory, in proposing a better kind of cattle farming.
If the world switched to eating only grass fed beef, people would have to eat much less and pay much more. To this Niman says that naturalistic grazing doesn’t mean meat for the rich. “we need to have food bear its full cost” she says “cheap food isnt the answer. We need to make good food available to everyone”
Let us not forget that the true cost of cheap food includes: water and air pollution, soil erosion, animal cruelty and poor human health.
America’s obesity problem is caused not by grass fed burgers she points out but from ultra processed foods, including the new generation of lab-made meats.
Niman realizes that moving to a healthier, low carbon food system when global capitalism is pushing production in the opposite direction is a challenge. It requires government legislation as well as consumers choosing to eat locally produced food.