Book Review: Mad Cowboy

Consider this: Rendering plants accept road kill, and their end product is used in cosmetics and pet food additives. Feedlot cattle are cannibals, insofar as they eat remnants of cow parts that aren’t saleable. Fully 15% of that non-saleable cattle food contains fecal matter. E-Coli bacterial infection from eating tainted meat kills nine thousand Americans every year. In a USDA study, 99% of broiler chickens tested contained E-Coli. (Note: The USDA is not consumer oriented. USDA takes its direction from the food industry)

It takes 16 pounds of grain to create 1 pound of beef, and fifty gallons of water to create that same pound of beef. Fully 80% of the grain grown in the U.S. is used to feed cattle. Cows fart. A lot. Worldwide, each year 150 trillion (with a T) quarts of methane are released from feedlot cattle. This methane accounts for 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. The rainforests lose 1 acre of land every second, and that removes a vital source of CO2 capture and O2 production from our ecosystem.

It takes one gallon of gasoline to make 1 pound of beef. A family of four uses 260 gallons of gasoline each year consuming the average amount of beef they eat. That burning hydrocarbon releases 2.5 tons of CO2, the equivalent of driving a car for six months.

Mr. Lyman, the Mad Cowboy, knows his stuff. He was a Montana cattle rancher for many years, until he had an epiphany following a medical crisis that nearly killed him, a cancerous spinal growth that was successfully removed. The medical issue forced him, as near-death experiences are wont to do, to examine his overall life and values, particularly what was on his plate. Almost overnight he abandoned his corporate, pesticide and herbicide-enhanced 4,000 head cattle ranch, a business that had been in the Lyman family for four generations, to find a way back to his roots, and to return the farm to the way it had been when his ‘Grampa Dad,’ first tended it.

It was not a pleasant, nor was it a successful endeavor. Lyman found himself—like every other cattleman in Montana, and indeed everywhere else in America, running faster and faster to stay in one place. Trying to outsmart nature at every turn, he spent thousands on herbicides, which made cattle sick, then thousands more on vet bills and pesticides to kill the flies that swarm around cow flop, then even more money treating the feed to discourage the flies, and as Seinfeld used to say, yadda, yadda, yadda. Still, he was losing money. He eventually lost his farm.

But the real heartache for Lyman was seeing his once pristine family farm evolving into a corporate behemoth that he no longer recognized, and certainly couldn’t control. He wasn’t alone. As he states, in 1983 there were 1,260,000 family farms in the U.S. When he wrote Mad Cowboy in 1998 there were 400,000, and most of those farms were near bankruptcy.

The reason is the proliferation of factory farms, and the ills they present, from overuse of grain products, to degradation of the land, disposal of waste products that foul streams and rivers, to greenhouse gas emissions from feedlots and their farting cattle, to overuse of chemical additives which end up in our food chain, to exposure from chemicals that leads to cancer, heart disease, obesity, and various autoimmune diseases that are killing us faster, and driving up national health care spending which is now nearly 20% of our GDP.

Lyman mentions the animal cruelty factor, a part of the equation he says his great grandfather would be particularly appalled to see. Family farms have long had a dedication to humane treatment of animals. Modern killing floors, and the animal abuse they engender have dismissed all that humane treatment in the frantic race for more profit, and more product.

Lyman also writes about the legislative purchasing power of current corporate farming interests. Together with Oprah Winfrey, he was sued after giving some of the above facts and figures about meat on her show, after which Ms Winfrey announced that she’d no longer eat hamburger. Evidently stung by Winfrey’s exercise of her first amendment rights, the beef cartel sued, using a so called ‘food disparagement’ law, a law that’s on the books in several U.S. states. In another illustration of corporate power over our legislature, Monsanto (successfully) sued certain milk manufacturers who’d placed ‘No BGH’ labels on their product. BGH is Bovine Growth Hormone. Monsanto didn’t like those milk producers calling attention to BGH, even though a study Monsanto paid for found no evidence of its danger to humans. BGH is, in fact, a Monsanto product used to increase milk production.

Further, Lyman writes of corporate-friendly government oversight of public lands, and the laughably inexpensive rental fees the behemoths of the food industry such as Cargill and others pay to use land that belongs to all of us. U.S. taxpayers and citizens are subsidizing our own ill health, the ravaging of our public lands, and the long-term health of the climate for the enrichment of a few corporations and their shareholders. Those corporate interests are never required to assume the externalities of their actions. Instead, they pass those costs along to us, their customers in the form of tax breaks. Adding insult to legislative injury, of 109 so called protected areas in the American west, 103 are cattle grazing lands.

If a reader manages to wade through Mad Cowboy and decides to continue eating meat, it won’t be because of repugnance at the data the author presents. It will be because of long-standing tradition, and the simple resistance to changing ones diet. The bottom line, for all of us, thanks to the Mad Cowboy, is very simple: Eating meat from cows is not sustainable.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Mad Cowboy

  1. Bertina M Povenmire

    I read this blog while eating lunch, and it was a sandwich with plant-based sausage meat! It was actually pretty good. It isn’t easy changing one’s habits, but it is possible, and the more we fight it the more costly it will be in the end. Between those macho guys who refuse to wear a mask and the ones who refuse to get vaccinated and the ones who have to have everything stay the way it always was, the next 10, 20, 30 years will show whether humans are smart enough to stay alive in a changing environment.


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