Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mad Cowboy, by Howard Lyman

Mad Cowboy, by Howard F. Lyman. Scribner Books, 1998. 223 pp. 978-0684-84516-4.

... in which a man makes a radical life transformation, from cattle rancher to vegan activist.

A note about why I read this book: I was less interested in hearing why I should give up meat and animal products (I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian), and more interested to hear why a cattle rancher and meat lover would make such a huge change in their lifestyle.

Some might remember Howard Lyman as being a co-defendant with Oprah Winfrey. Lyman was a guest on Oprah's show, and told the audience why he felt that beef consumption contributed to an unhealthy lifestyle. Unfortunately for Lyman (and Oprah), Texas has a Food Disparagement Act, which states that disparaging certain foods is a punishable offense. Lyman and Oprah were the first people sued under that act. Luckily, they were victorious, but the lawsuit is really indicative of how pervasive the meat industry is in our culture. As a side note, the second group sued under the Texas Food Disparagement Act was the Honda Motor Company, because the emu ranchers felt that one of Honda's commercials poked fun at emus. No joke... true story.

As a defense for vegetarianism in general, this book doesn't really present much information that you can't find elsewhere. Its true value is in the descriptions of the things going through Lyman's mind as he came to the decision to become a vegan. His analysis of the mad cow panic in Europe, and its potential to spread to the US, was especially interesting, because he was exactly the type of cattle rancher who would have contributed to the propagation of that disease, if it should ever reach the US. It's really refreshing to see that someone so deeply entrenched in the industry can recognize that what they're doing is wrong, and then take such radical steps to change their lifestyle.

If you're looking for a book to pass along to your meat-eating friends, this might be a good choice. A book about vegetarianism written by a life-long vegetarian might lack the perspective needed to connect with a meat-eater; Lyman's history as a cattle rancher might make him easier to identify with, and therefore his words might have more impact on someone you're trying to convert to vegetarianism.

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