Weekend reading: in defense of eating beef

Nicolette Hahn Niman. Defending Beef: The Ecological and Nutritional Case for Meat (revised and expanded second edition). Chelsea Green, 2021.

Weekend reading: in defense of eating beef

This is an updated edition of Hahn Niman’s book from 2014, which I wrote about in October of that year. Then it got the title Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production.

I made a blurb for the book when it first came out and it still sticks to this new edition:

Issues related to the long-term health effects of red meat, saturated fat, sugar and grains are complex, and I see the jury as still out on many of them. While waiting for science to be solved, Hahn Niman’s book is worth reading for its powerful defense of the role of ruminants in sustainable food systems.

In my post from 2014, I said:

The subtitle says it all: “The Manifesto of an Environmental Lawyer and Vegetarian Who Became a Cattle Farmer.”


Really. She’s not kidding.

As [my blurb] perhaps suggesting I have a more cautious interpretation of the science she summarizes, but there are plenty of reasons why eating meat can help improve human nutrition, especially when animals are raised as humanely and sustainably as possible, which Nimans definitely does their beautiful Bolina ranch. [Photos are here]

Vegetarians: does she convince you?

Let the debates begin.

Well, 7 years later, the new edition focuses much more on arguments about the effect of beef production on climate change, and whether plant-based meat alternatives are worth the effort.

The big news: Hahn Niman is no longer a vegetarian.

I may have once thought that if I followed a vegetarian diet, nothing would die for my meals. I can now see how wrong I was … My primary mission for the last two decades has been to help, in every way I can, build a more environmentally friendly, nutritious and humane food system. We have a long way to go again. I do not encourage people to eat meat. But I certainly do not urge to abstain from it either. I encourage omnivores to seek out grated meats. Giving up meat will not positively affect the food system and can impair one’s health. The biggest consumer impact will come from people who actually eat meat to buy it from good sources. (p.244)

I’m with her in all that.

That meat has nutritional and ecological benefits is without a doubt. These books present her view on the causes of these benefits in a particularly thought-provoking way that carefully considers the counter-arguments.

Whether you agree with her views or not, this is it that book to read about these issues.

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