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
  • FIGHTING FOR WILDLIFE
    Position Type: Community organizer; full-time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT. Compensation: $50,000 Benefits: Medical stipend, vacation time, flexibility. Application Deadline: June 15th. Starting Date: July 1...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION PLAN COORDINATOR
    The Coeur d'Alene Tribe is hiring an Environmental Programs Manager in the Natural Resources Department. This position manages work in wetlands, brownfields, climate change, energy...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR - YELLOWSTONE TO YUKON CONSERVATION INITIATIVE
    About the Organization The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) is a joint Canada-U.S. not-for-profit organization with a mission to connect and protect wildlife habitat...
  • COMMUNICATIONS & DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT Compensation: $42,000 - $47,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k, PTO, flexible...
  • PARTNERSHIP & COLLABORATION DIRECTOR
    WEST REGION WILDFIRE COUNCIL- RIDGWAY, CO The partnership & collaboration director will provide leadership and/or assistance with all initiatives that create and enhance connections between...
  • 2 FIELD PROJECT SPECIALISTS (POSITION FORMERLY TITLED TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISOR)
    Are you passionate about environmental conservation and connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with outdoor leadership...
  • WATER STEWARD
    The Blackfoot Challenge is seeking a full-time Water Steward to coordinate and deliver a variety of partnerships and projects aimed at conserving and enhancing water...
  • SMALL FARM AT BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
    Fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm in the mountain town of Mount Shasta. Small home, 2 barns (one with apartment), and more. Famously pure air and water.
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • POLICY & PLANNING SPECIALIST
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT highly preferred, remote negotiable Compensation: $50,000-54,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Illinois Valley SWCD is offering an incredible career opportunity in beautiful SW Oregon. .8+ FTE, plus benefits. Visit our website for full details.
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Formed in 1980, Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action brings people together to build grassroots power through community organizing and leadership development. The Alliance works...
  • LITIGATION ASSISTANT, NORTHERN ROCKIES OFFICE - FULL-TIME BOZEMAN | REMOTE OPTION
    Visit our website to apply: earthjustice.org/about/jobs
  • BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE SEEKING AN ASSESSMENT CONSULTANT
    ASSESSMENT OF THE SCOPE OF CONSERVATION PLANNING AND ACTIVITIES IN NATIVE NATIONS IN THE NORTHERN GREAT PLAINS Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Rural Community Assistance Corporation seeks experienced CFO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, the official philanthropic non-profit partner with the National Park Service Southeast Utah Group, is seeking an Executive Director....
  • GRAND CANYON MANAGER
    Application deadline: May 9, 2022 Anticipated start date: June 15, 2022 About the position Are you passionate about building authentic relationships, supporting tribally led initiatives,...
  • LAND CONSERVATION PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT) is seeking a Land Conservation Program Director to join our nationally accredited land trust. This is a full-time position based...
  • OUTREACH AND COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    Reports to: Communications and Outreach Director Location: Ashton, Idaho (partial remote schedule possible) Status: Full-time, 40 hours per week Timing and Duration: Position open until...
  • CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
    The Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) was founded in 2012 by landowners and managers to increase the wellbeing of working lands in the American West and...