If you’re past a certain age, you may remember how the cattle industry sued Oprah Winfrey for declaring on her talk show that she wouldn’t eat beef again.
Providing the ammo for that shot heard ‘round the ranch was Howard F. Lyman, author of the meat-industry exposé Mad Cowboy.
On the Oprah set that April day in 1996 was Dr. Gary Weber, representing the National Cattleman’s Beef Association. His job, Lyman writes, “… was to reassure the viewing public of the absolute safety of meat.”
Why was that an issue? Because in April of 1996, British farmers were battling an epidemic of mad cow disease. Earlier that year, the British government had announced that humans could contract a form of the mad cow virus from infected meat.
So when former cattle rancher and feedlot owner Lyman described what factory-farmed cows eat, Oprah’s audience had real cause for alarm. To save money, growers often feed them “rendered,” or ground up, remains of dead animals — including diseased cattle.
On learning of this cow cannibalism, Oprah responded: “It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger. I’m stopped!”
And then the cattle industry sued her — and Lyman — for $12 million.
Ironically, Lyman’s cattle-ranching background eventually pushed him into a plant-based lifestyle. After taking over the family’s dairy farm, he’d ignored his father’s advice about staying small and organic.
Instead, he turned to cutting-edge fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics to boost his crop and cattle production. The farm grew rapidly, but the cows got sick — and so did he!
After a spinal tumor nearly paralyzed him, Lyman began investigating the side effects of agricultural chemical use. He also became a vegan and began journeying down the path to Oprah’s stage.
Discard the fantasy of happy cows grazing in sunny green pastures. Today’s beef and dairy cattle are doomed to live out their lives on crowded, chemical-laden factory farms.
Mad Cowboy is Lyman’s frightening look at the U.S. beef and industries. It’s a sober discussion of the global devastation our American diet is causing — and he suggests that we ask ourselves:
“Have we done all that we could for the generations to come? Are there more trees now… Is the air fresher… water cleaner… more good, rich farmland… are people leading longer, healthier lives?”
Perhaps our generation can be the one to make “Yes!” the answer to these questions.