Nicolette Hahn Niman: Yes, definitely. The idea that it’s a contradiction to be a meat eater and an environmentalist is a misunderstanding of the most ecologically sound food production systems – which, in my view, definitely involve animals. There’s been a lot of media attention concerning the idea that meat production is environmentally damaging. That’s because of bad practices that are rampant, such as total confinement systems with liquefied manure, use of hormones and feeding of antibiotics. Most of the meat being consumed in the United States today is being produced in environmentally damaging ways. The evidence is now irrefutable: these practices endanger the environment and public health.
RL: If that’s so, are there ways to avoid industrially produced foods?
NHN: I wrote a thorough article in the Huffington Post on this topic back in November, which I’ll try to summarize in a few words. The most important thing is to get closer to the source of your food. Try to learn how and where your food was produced. The easiest ways to do this are to try to buy directly from farmers through farmers markets, community supported agriculture programs [CSAs], farm stands and any place where you can get food directly from a farmer. Even so, I still encourage people to talk with the farmer about how the food is being produced, don’t assume it’s being raised in the way you want it to be.
RL: What’s your advice for people who’d rather not eat industrially produced foods, but are limited either by higher costs or easy access?
NHN: Well, that’s challenging because the whole industrial model has been successful at creating food that’s cheap in terms of its cost at the grocery checkout. But our food is also cheap in the other sense of the word. It’s lacking in quality — these days it’s less nutritious, less safe and less healthful than ever before.
RL: Continuing with positive options, the Meatless Monday campaign of moderation, cutting back just one day a week, has erroneously come under attack for promoting the demise of all meat production. As a rancher yourself, what would you say to people — to farmers even — threatened by the campaign?
NHN: Bill and I are very supportive of the Meatless Monday campaign. Here’s why: we think that to really improve the way food is being produced, and the way people are eating in this country, people should eat less meat and also better meat. All food from animals — meat, dairy, fish, eggs — should be treated as something special. Anyone raising food animals in the traditional healthy way without relying on industrial methods, drugs and chemicals, is someone who will benefit from people embracing this approach.
RL: And finally, you’ve gained a great deal of praise for your book,“Righteous Porkchop, Finding A Life And Good Food Beyond Factory Farms.” Michael Pollan is quoted as saying your book is, ‘A searing, and utterly convincing, indictment of modern meat production. But the book brims with hope, too, and charts a practical (and even beautiful) path out of the jungle.’ Instead of focusing on the indictment part, could you tell me more about the hope he mentioned?
NHN: Yes, I like focusing on the hope, too. A lot of my book is about farmers doing things the right way from the standpoint of the environment, animal welfare and human health. I firmly believe that it’s a myth that this country cannot feed itself with traditional, non-industrialized farming. A lot of my book is dedicated to disproving that myth, and proving that traditional, sustainable farms are economically viable.
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