He wasn't just a cattle rancher. He was a diehard fourth-generation Montana cattle rancher with a thousand animals on the range and thousands more in feedlots. On more than 10,000 acres of cropland, he grew grain to feed his livestock, which also included pigs, chickens, and turkeys.
Thirty years later and 130 pounds lighter, Howard Lyman is a changed man. First and foremost, he's a staunch vegetarian. "I would love to see feedlots close and factory farming end," Lyman wrote in his book The Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth From the Cattle Rancher That Won't Eat Meat. "I would love to see more families return to the land, grow crops for our own species, and raise them organically. I would love to see farm communities revive. I would love to know that I've wandered into my nation's heartland by the sweet smell of grain and not the forbidding smell of excrement."
That's his story — and he's sticking to it during a debate in the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center (2150 Allston Way, Berkeley) on Thursday, May 20, with Marin rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman, author of The Righteous Porkchop. Presented by VegNews Magazine and the Earth Island Institute, the debate will be moderated by Gather Restaurant cofounder Ari Derfel.
Lyman and Niman will debate whether it's possible to be a good environmentalist and still eat animals. Lyman's answer is no, unless "you have wealth like Bill Gates and are willing to spend what it would cost to eat environmental meat," said Lyman, who sold his ranch in 1983 and began lobbying in Washington, DC for financially troubled farmers. "The rest of us are kidding ourselves when we eat meat and consider ourselves environmentalists.
"About 10 percent of Americans do not eat meat and at the same time over 70 percent consider themselves environmentalists," said Lyman, who helms the environmentalist nonprofit Voice for a Viable Future. "When you see that the number-one cause of global greenhouse gas comes from livestock, it is clear that these positions are in direct opposition with each other.
While recovering from surgery to remove a debilitating spinal tumor in 1979, the then-rancher and ex-college football player — who weighed well over 300 pounds — began thinking seriously about the impacts of food and lifestyle on human health. "Animal protein is directly related to the amplification in heart disease, cancer, and obesity," Lyman said. "With half of Americans dying from heart disease and one-third being diagnosed with cancer ... and 70 percent of Americans overweight or obese, from the health standpoint eating meat is the kiss of death." His concerns about human health are magnified four billionfold when it comes to the health of the Earth. "The destruction of our pubic lands and waters is directly tied to animal production and this issue is not even in dispute," the former rancher avowed. "This is the land that we all have ownership in, and we are destroying it with our forks." 7 p.m., $10-$20 suggested donation. EarthIsland.org