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Defending Beef

de Nicolette Hahn Niman

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"For decades it has been nearly universal dogma among environmentalists that many forms of livestock-goats, sheep, and others, but especially cattle-are Public Enemy Number One. They erode soils, pollute air and water, damage riparian areas, and decimate wildlife populations. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations bolstered the credibility of this notion with its 2007 report that declared livestock to be the single largest contributor to human-generated greenhouse-gas emissions. But is the matter really so clear-cut? Hardly. In Defending Beef, Second Edition, environmental lawyer turned rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman argues that cattle are not inherently bad for the earth. The impact of grazing can be either negative or positive, depending on how livestock are managed. In fact, with proper oversight, livestock can play an essential role in maintaining grassland ecosystems by performing the same functions as the natural herbivores that once roamed and grazed there. The ideas and information covered in the first edition of Defending Beef are even more timely than when the book was originally published in 2014. In public discussions and media, more attention than ever is being paid to connections between health and diet, food and climate, and climate and farming-especially cattle farming. A wealth of new resources, studies, and analyses-along with a great deal of mainstream media coverage-is now devoted to these important topics. But it's not all good news, because the vast majority of such media coverage is devoid of essential details, holistic thinking, or even the slightest hint of nuance. It is reductionist and simplistic, with facile descriptions of problems and overly simplified solutions. As H. L. Mencken said so well, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." For instance, Niman exposes the widespread fallacy that changing your diet and eating far less meat is in fact the best thing an individual can do to combat climate change. After thirty-plus years as a vegetarian, she has recently become an omnivore for nutritional and health reasons. In this newly revised and updated edition, the author addresses the explosion in popularity of "fake meat" (both highly processed "plant-based foods" and meat grown from cells in a lab, rather than on the hoof). Defending Beef, Second Edition is simultaneously a book about big issues and ideas and the personal tale of the author, who continues to fight for animal welfare and good science. She shows how dispersed, grass-based, smaller-scale farms can and should become the basis of American food production"--… (mais)
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In recent years, a discordant narrative surrounding meat-eating and its impact on the ecology and our health has sprung up seemingly out of nowhere. The narrative goes something like this: (a) eating meat is ecologically damaging and a major contributor to climate change, (b) eating meat is unhealthy, (c) we can't feed the world if everyone includes meat in their diet.

The environmental and health aspects of this narrative are so very obviously fallacious (the third point is fallacious as well, but less obviously), but they have come to be repeated as some sort of truism by the mainstream press, more than a few experts in environmental circles, and sometimes even by respectable people in the scientific community.

The real truth is, of course, the opposite: That livestock production is our most ecologically sound—and, in fact, ecologically necessary—method of food production. And not only is meat healthful, it is our most nutritionally efficient food and, ultimately, the only nutrient-dense food readily available the world over. We (humans) know all this already, of course, and yet a ridiculous opposing narrative has been percolating and has become readily accepted by a population who is largely out of tune with the natural world and therefore can't discern fact from obvious fiction.

I have about 5 half-written blog posts on this topic, but I never finished any of them because a complete response would require a book. I figured, surely someone somewhere has rebutted all this BS flowing throughout our media. And someone has!

Niman has written the definitive response to this misinformation campaign. She writes with clarity and rigor and professionalism. Also, she thoroughly explains how such ignorance gains a foothold—a very helpful addition.

So, are you tired of hearing the crazy claims about methane and cows? About land degradation and livestock? Water waste? Cruelty? That for a healthy diet one must eschew meat? Assuredly all of you have been hearing these claims. Do you tire of them? Or even don't fully understand the science surrounding these topics? Then this book is for you. It's well-written and fascinating. I recommend this book with enthusiasm. ( )
  ErrantRuminant | Feb 14, 2022 |
The case for sustainable meat production. The manifesto of an environmental lawyer and vegetarian turned cattle rancher
  jhawn | Jul 31, 2017 |
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"For decades it has been nearly universal dogma among environmentalists that many forms of livestock-goats, sheep, and others, but especially cattle-are Public Enemy Number One. They erode soils, pollute air and water, damage riparian areas, and decimate wildlife populations. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations bolstered the credibility of this notion with its 2007 report that declared livestock to be the single largest contributor to human-generated greenhouse-gas emissions. But is the matter really so clear-cut? Hardly. In Defending Beef, Second Edition, environmental lawyer turned rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman argues that cattle are not inherently bad for the earth. The impact of grazing can be either negative or positive, depending on how livestock are managed. In fact, with proper oversight, livestock can play an essential role in maintaining grassland ecosystems by performing the same functions as the natural herbivores that once roamed and grazed there. The ideas and information covered in the first edition of Defending Beef are even more timely than when the book was originally published in 2014. In public discussions and media, more attention than ever is being paid to connections between health and diet, food and climate, and climate and farming-especially cattle farming. A wealth of new resources, studies, and analyses-along with a great deal of mainstream media coverage-is now devoted to these important topics. But it's not all good news, because the vast majority of such media coverage is devoid of essential details, holistic thinking, or even the slightest hint of nuance. It is reductionist and simplistic, with facile descriptions of problems and overly simplified solutions. As H. L. Mencken said so well, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." For instance, Niman exposes the widespread fallacy that changing your diet and eating far less meat is in fact the best thing an individual can do to combat climate change. After thirty-plus years as a vegetarian, she has recently become an omnivore for nutritional and health reasons. In this newly revised and updated edition, the author addresses the explosion in popularity of "fake meat" (both highly processed "plant-based foods" and meat grown from cells in a lab, rather than on the hoof). Defending Beef, Second Edition is simultaneously a book about big issues and ideas and the personal tale of the author, who continues to fight for animal welfare and good science. She shows how dispersed, grass-based, smaller-scale farms can and should become the basis of American food production"--

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