Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.
We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.
We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.
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Welcome to the seventeenth episode of Third Paradigm entitled Love ‘Em & Eat ‘Em: the Art of Animal Husbandry: The Art of Animal Husbandry. This week I had the opportunity to interview Nicolette Hahn Niman, the author of Righteous Porkchop and the environmental lawyer who led the charge against factory livestock farming under Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. She organized a national reform movement that laid the groundwork for the fight against inhumane animal confinement, industrial breeding, and the devastating pollution caused by manure lagoons. To make the point that it doesn't have to be that way, she toured the ranches that were using the best of practices, where she could still find them. One name stood out – Bill Niman of Niman Ranch. Two years into her job at Waterkeeper, however, a new boss curtailed the campaign and cut the budget in half. She decided to leave after organizing the second Hog Summit. In the process of starting over, this vegetarian East Coast lawyer fell in love with Niman, the West Coast cattle rancher. Even more surprising, especially to him, was her decision to become a rancher herself.
After today's Third Paradigm, we'll be broadcasting my interview with Nicolette. But my interview reflects my own agenda. I've been experimenting with backyard chickens and rabbits, and a few of us are looking to start a dairy co-op and hog farm. In my interview, I jump right into the practical details of raising animals for food, which may make some squeamish. In this episode, I'll balance that out by relating the facts that should make us squeamish. It's an ugly world out there in Big Agriculture, both for humans and animals. So for vegetarians who claim the moral high ground, be prepared to defend your territory.
First, however, I'll read a medley of farming poems:
Those were poems by Wendall Barry, Miguel de Unamuno, and William Stafford. These are all poems that I received courtesy of Joe Riley's daily yahoogroup Panhala.net.
With the last poem was an adorable photo of a baby mole, all blind and pink and shovel-pawed. I'm sure that if we looked, we could also find a picture of a cute baby gopher. But no farmer can afford to be soft-hearted and sentimental about gophers. Even our crunchier-than-thou UCSC farm has a go-to gopher guy. I'm certain they do their best to dispatch them humanely. But I'm equally certain that some students would object to killing them at all. With the help of a cute photo, I'm sure we could gather a gopher rescue crew, who would meet for tofu burgers and plot anarchist acts to subvert the gopher traps and liberate the gophers.
Mass consumerism has given us the luxury of anthropomorphizing animals, giving them a right to life rather than a right to a good life. No creature, which I believe includes humans, should be subjected to pain, fear, or a miserable existence. But our food does all of these things to people, as do our computers, energy, clothing, cell phones, and bike tires. So why does the humane killing of animals for food come under such scrutiny? And why do the same people who'll do anything for animals have so little interest in the inhumane conditions we impose on people, especially immigrant workers and those in other countries?
In my opinion, animal activists are the right-to-lifers of the left. With animals and fetuses, both have found an issue on which they can be perfectly innocent, and blame the problem on someone else. On the animal side, they can be vegans who eschew leather and animal testing. On the fetus side, they can be men. Or women who want more adoptable babies. My listener in Bangladesh says that our culture fetishizes children to distract us from our darker deeds. But only our own children, he clarifies. Street children killed in Rio don't bother us, or the kids who stitch the soccer balls that our kids play with.
But Nicolette Hahn Niman walks this line between extremists – industrial ag on one side and vegan extremists on the other, in which category she certainly doesn't include all vegans. Both sides perpetuate the extreme inhumanity to animals of factory farms, by radicalizing the debate. Big Agriculture paints those fighting for compassionate treatment as anti-meat animal liberationists, and the vegan extremists reserve their most vicious attacks for those they consider hypocrites.
Yesterday, I was talking to some of the farmers at the market about the drum circle, which has led customers like me and vendors like them to avoid the Weds market if they can help it. I started to wonder if those who fight for the drummers, including some of our pirate programmers, are getting kickbacks from Safeway. And what about the vitriol with which they attack downtown shopowners who don't want their customers to wade through a sea of panhandlers? Every customer intimidated away from the independent vendors is another plus for the Big Box retailers and malls. I'm sure there's money to be made here, like the paid agitators who infiltrate peaceful protests. Radical vegans are providing a valuable service to factory farms by attacking compassionate ranchers, farmers, and advocates. They should collect for their PR services, if they're not already.
But these are my words, not Nicolette's. Her more balanced approach has been to attract a community of riverkeepers, environmental activists, politicians, farmers, and ranchers. There's a sense of proportion in her work that shines a spotlight on the most egregious practices and finds the best of the alternatives to celebrate. After reading Righteous Porkchop, I think there's no greater symbol of our indifference than factory farms, and I wish there were more Nicolettes to bring us back to sanity. We'll take a break, and when we return, we'll give some examples in Nicolette's own words.
[Cowboy Junkies – Angel Mine]
The cover of Righteous Porkchop features a pig with a halo glowing above it. However, after reading the book, it's Nicolette who is the guardian angel to the pigs, chickens, turkeys, fish, and meat and dairy cows. This really gives a new meaning to the song when I imagine it being crooned by millions of animals spending their lives trapped in narrow crates. Another angel that Nicolette writes about is Gail Eisnitz, courageous author of Slaughterhouse, in which she documents widespread abuses. Gail's question, after they watch heartbreaking video footage, is "where is God for these sows?"
But even retired Marines can be swine and poultry angels. Rick Dove became a Riverkeeper for the Neuse River after the North Carolina fisheries collapsed. With military precision, he organized battalions of volunteers to document river contamination. They found that hog and poultry containment operations were spraying liquefied manure over fields with giant water cannons. Rick is the person who first focuses Bobby Kennedy's attention on industrial animal operations. But he doesn't stop with the pollution aspect. He accompanies the author in tour after grueling tour of confinement facilities. After one particular day of dank, putrid buildings crammed with thousands of suffering animals, Rick turns to her and says, "Nicolette, this has been one of the most depressing days of my life." Yet he goes on.
The history of the poultry business is both hopeful and dismal. The hopeful part is that it hasn't been that long ago that each house had its own chickens. In the middle of the nineteenth century, there were over 500 breeds with birds and eggs in a rainbow of colors, shapes, and sizes. Poultry shows were so competitive that hardly an exhibition escaped charges of bribery and favoritism. More than 350 periodicals dealt with raising and breeding poultry. I just looked online to order some fertile eggs for my own incubator. Even the rarest of the rare assortment lists no more than 30 breeds.
But incubators, of which mine is a miniature replica, set poultry farming "on an unerring industrial course." By the start of the 1930's, a single incubating machine could hatch 52,000 chicks at once. They started being bred for specialization. For the egg-laying breeds, males were worthless, and hatcheries at our neighboring Petaluma would drown 2 million male chicks a year. The meat chickens were bred for overdeveloped breasts – the Mae Wests of the poultry pin-up girls. But then, as now, double-D has its price. The birds are unable to walk, even if they weren't in battery cages.
For the egg-laying hens, the battery cages keep them in artificial light to lay year-round, since chickens only lay 9 months of the year. They stand on wire mesh with no nesting materials. And after a year, they're past their prime. At this point, they're vacuumed up into trucks and dumped into a rotating blade chopper at a rendering plant, all while still alive and conscious.
It's hard to imagine this for Little Lucy, Lily, and Gladiola, my three hens. I got my hens from Christopher, the guy who built my chicken coop, who got them from Brandon Faria at the Santa Cruz Farmers' Market. Along with Gardner, my bread guy, the four of us are starting a "food in the hood" program here on the Westside. When Brandon was over recently, he met my chickens and recognized them. I said, you must mean the breed, and he said no, he knew the individual chickens because he'd only had 20 at the time. My chickens are in their third year and still laying at the maximum, which is two eggs every three days. Brandon's managed to do chicken outplacement for his post-prime birds, sending them to chicken rest homes like orchards. He'll dispatch the occasional chicken for dinner, but hundreds at a time doesn't seem right to him. Done on a backyard scale, it's a remarkably efficient system. Christopher tells me that our neighborhood is doing its part to bring back chickens, and every other house has a few. He's giving a presentation to the Miles St. neighborhood next week. If you'd like to know more about Food in the 'Hood or animal husbandry co-ops, send me an email.
When I googled "songs about livestock" for our final song, I came across one site that said,
"Cattle have been getting some bad press lately. Western editorials report the consumption of too much fatty red meat leading to increased heart disease, the inefficient use of grain as feed for livestock, the generation of 'milk lakes' by subsidized dairy producers, [and] the production of methane gases by cattle, a factor in the greenhouse effect.
"Elsewhere in the world, cattle receive songs of praise. The songs are as old as civilization, when women and men first began to husband resources against the dry season, against winter, against unpredictable floods and drought. Farmers in the tropics and subtropics, where agricultural resources are scarce, face special hardships. Cattle help them survive those hardships. In the vast arid and semi-arid regions of the tropics, livestock offers people their only livelihood.
"For most people in the Third World, cattle are not a product. They are life supporting. The numbers of cattle kept are impressive. Asia has more than 500 million cattle, Africa some 160 million. Latin America has about 280 million cattle - a quarter of the world's population - which graze on natural pastureland that makes up 80 per cent of the agricultural area."
But alas, our culture writes no songs of praise to cows, or pigs or chickens that I could find. So for our final song, I'm continuing with the livestock guardian angel theme for Nicolette, who's gone from being a New York City angel to a Northern California angel, like the band Thriving Ivory. And, as it says, this is for all of us. All of us who are struggling to look our food choices in the eye, whether literally or metaphorically. Angels on the Moon is also dedicated to my daughter Olivia who loves the song. Stay tuned for my interview with Nicolette Hahn Niman, rancher, lawyer, and author of Righteous Porkchop. If your station doesn't have the time slot to play the interview, it can be found with all our archived shows at radio4all.net. Just search alphabetically by series. This has been Tereza Coraggio with Third Paradigm. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for production and editing.
[Thriving Ivory – Angels on the Moon]
This is Tereza Coraggio with Third Paradigm presenting an interview with Nicolette Hahn Niman.
She was the environmental lawyer under Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. who headed up his hog campaign to take on Big Agriculture and factory farming.
She's a regular speaker at environmental conferences and food events. She's now married to the founder of Niman Ranch and has become a rancher in Northern California. Her informative and highly-readable book, Righteous Porkchop, shows her intrepid investigation into big business animal farms and the devastating effect on both the animals and on water and air pollution. The following interview, however, focuses on her new role, where she's directly involved in animal husbandry, and picks up in some places where the book leaves off.
Thank you for listening.