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Topic: Politics & Policy     Department: Letters

Righteous steak, too

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Your review of my book Righteous Porkchop had a serious flaw (HCN, 8/3/09). The reviewer suggested that I intentionally avoid criticizing cattle ranching because of my own involvement in it. This fundamentally misses the argument the book is making about modern industrialized food production, namely that today's confinement poultry, hog, and dairy operations, which keep animals continually confined in metal buildings, are inherently polluting and cruel to animals. In contrast, grazing ranches, including those raising cattle, provide animals a high quality of life and, when well managed, produce food with minimal negative and even some beneficial environmental impacts. Ironically, negative media attention has focused for decades on beef production while largely ignoring the horrors of industrial confinement animal production. That is the material point.

Nicolette Hahn Niman, author
Bolinas, California

Andrea Appleton responds:
I share Niman's disdain for animal confinement operations. I do not, however, believe that cattle ranching is therefore flawless. The environmental drawbacks of overgrazing are well documented, particularly in the arid West. They include degraded water quality, soil erosion and the proliferation of invasive species. While Niman's ranch may be "well managed" and perhaps even environmentally beneficial, not all ranches are so. Throughout her book Niman helpfully provides both positive and negative models of how we ought to raise our poultry, hogs and dairy cows. Yet when it comes to cattle ranches, her tone is rosy and uncritical. And as someone who would like my steak to be as righteous as my porkchop, I found that disappointing.

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