The meat of the matter

  • Henrik5000, Okea, Istock
 

Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms
Nicolette Hahn Niman
278 pages,
hardcover: $23.99.
HarperCollins, 2009.

When lawyer Nicolette Hahn was first assigned to sue gigantic polluting hog farms, she didn't care for the idea. It sounded like an "immersion in poop," she writes in her first book, Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms. And that's exactly what it turned out to be. In one day, certain hog farms generate more pig manure than New York City produces human waste, the lawyer learned. The fumes are so great that confined hogs sometimes die of asphyxiation, and the lagoons where the waste is funneled often leak, contaminating groundwater.

Once the self-described "city girl" took charge of the hog-farm campaign for the nonprofit Waterkeeper, she quickly developed a zeal for fighting factory farming. Touring industrial animal operations, talking with environmentalists and visiting old-fashioned family farms, she came to despise the "mono-genetic identically formed mass-produced widgets" that most Americans call meat. Righteous Porkchop describes her journey from ingenue to activist. The book is neither as objective nor as thoroughly reported as some other recent factory-farming exposes, such as Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. But it is both passionate and personal.

Interpersed with graphic depictions of animal slaughter, there's even a love story. In one breath, the author describes how hens past their egg-laying prime are thrown alive into rotating choppers. In another, she gives a starry-eyed description of Bill Niman, a California cattle rancher who runs a humane beef operation. Before the book's end, he has become her husband and she has become Nicolette Hahn Niman -- and a cattle rancher.

And here the author's emotional approach begins to chafe. While her appraisal of other industrial farming operations is damning, she largely gives cattle ranching a pass. She says that cattle are "essential to maintaining grasslands," but gives scant attention to the soil erosion and desertification intensive grazing can cause. She claims that cattle feed can be grown with fewer environmental impacts than fruits and vegetables, ignoring the other environmental benefits of eating low on the food chain.    

Niman's refusal to consider the downsides of cattle ranching comes off as self-serving. This is a shame, because the underlying message of the book remains a good one: It is immoral to ignore the origins of our meat. As conscientious consumers, she says, we have a responsibility to find a good food source and "vote with our forks."

High Country News Classifieds
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.