Posted by: beyonddinner | December 3, 2008

Mad Cowboy

My first commenter on the blog recommended that I read the book Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman (thanks foodbubbles!). I love a good read so I got it from my library right away and read it in three days (even during Thanksgiving with houseguests!).

Howard Lyman’s story is very compelling. This is a guy who was deeply involved in the industrial meat racket and lived through enormous pressure on his family farm due to destructive industrial farming practices. It took a major health threat to shake him up to change his world view on what he eats and how he earned his living. His journey back to health is amazing.

It feels like to me that if he can see the writing on the wall and do a complete about face from his life-long horrible eating habits, anyone can do it. It caused me to reflect on and appreciate my own journey, as someone who was deeply entrenched in the American junk food culture who flipped old habits to make wholesale changes to a plant-based diet. What is it that makes some people make drastic changes like this where others faced with similar situations can’t make the shift? Howard Lyman was faced with a major health threat. I’m facing a high probability of cancer in my future and have been staring in the face of the immense suffering (on the victim and their loved ones) that cancer causes. Several members in my family that have had cancer still carry on many unhealthy habits in the face of so much knowledge out there about how to give yourself the best odds for avoiding recurrence. Still others in my family (hi Pat!) never developed poor eating habits in the first place and don’t struggle with it at all. Ah, the diversity of humanity. I may never know the answer to my question, but I guess I can learn something from all of them on my own journey to health and sustainable living.

Anyway, back to Mad Cowboy…

I knew a lot already about how industrial farms work and the environmental impact of industrial meat farming, but I was reminded afresh how our government doesn’t really have the best interests of the American people at heart when Howard Lyman talks about how government agencies are in cahoots with big agribusinesses – how enforcement of regulations is a charade, how farmers stock up on pesticides and still use them long after bans are in place, how the FDA and Monsanto worked together to squash the ability for farmers to label their milk as bovine-growth-hormone-free, how people’s first amendment rights are suppressed in order to keep citizens quiet about the truth about food in America, and on and on. I learned quite a bit of new stuff in his chapters on Mad Cow Disease and bovine growth hormone.

Note to self: I need to go find out what Monsanto produces and figure out how to never, ever support any product in which they are involved. Their business practices are absolutely shameful particularly around the promotion of bovine growth hormone.

I was also saddened to be reminded of how over-grazing is affecting the western states’ natural resources, especially the Ogallala Aquifer. Also, it was a good reminder to remember that in Iowa a cow needs 1 acre of grazing space per year to survive and fatten, where on western land it takes 185 acres per cow! Why can’t we see that our current practices are moving us towards creating a vast desert in our country?

During this holiday season I’m truly thankful that people like Howard Lyman are effective advocates for good policy and government when it comes to food and farmers.

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