This month we feature a book that exposes the government's inability to cope with the threat of Mad Cow disease.
No More Bull!
The Mad Cowboy Targets
America's Worst Enemy: Our Diet
By Howard F. Lyman
With Glen Merzer and Joanna Samorow-Merzer
Howard Lyman was right. When he appeared on Oprah Winfrey's show in April 1996, he described unimaginable practices prevalent in factory farming. "A hundred thousand cows per year in the United States are fine one night, then dead the next morning," he announced. " The majority of these cows are ground up and fed back to other cows. If only one of them has Mad Cow disease, it has the potential to affect thousands."
Lyman described cows unable to walk when they reach the slaughterhouse ("downer cows") that were likely to harbor bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a brain-wasting disease commonly known as Mad Cow disease. These animals were being ground up and fed to other cows. In disgust, Oprah exclaimed, "That stops me cold from eating another burger."
Neither Winfrey nor Lyman knew it, but they had violated Texas's Food Disparagement Law, according to a group of Texas cattlemen who sued both of them for making slanderous statements about cattle and beef. At that time Lyman warned that the United States would face a mad cow epidemic unless the meat industry discontinued dangerous feed practices and agreed to test cows for the disease.
Lyman and Winfrey were vindicated after a four-year courtroom battle. Lyman's efforts to bring the issue before the public in his book Mad Cowboy led to the regulation that cows could not be ground up and fed back to other cows but did not prevent ground up cows from being fed to chickens and pigs.
Seven years after Lyman's Mad Cow announcement on Oprah's show the first cow harboring the disease was discovered in Yakima, Washington. The USDA reaction to the discovery was to reassure the public that the meat supply was safe. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman declared, "I plan to serve beef for my Christmas dinner."
Instead of requiring or urging the beef industry to test every cow, the government agency allowed sporadic testing. The fewer cows tested, the fewer cases of BSE were uncovered in a virtual "don't look, don't find" policy. The USDA even acted to prevent companies from voluntarily testing all their animals for BSE. Creekstone Farms, a company that markets Black Angus beef free of hormones and antibiotics and no animal products in their feed, was denied permission to check each cow for BSE.
According to Lyman, the only way to avoid a health catastrophe is to institute two measures:
"But I believe that, like heart disease, it [dementia] is a distinctly abnormal condition brought about by an abnormal diet," he writes. In the coming decades, science will probably be able to ascribe a cause to Alzheimer's with the same certainty that it can now ascribe to heart disease. And I firmly believe that it will be the exact same cause: meat."
Studies have revealed that up to 14% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's are really victims of Creutzfeld Jacob Disease that occurs when humans eat flesh infected with BSE. Other research reveals that people eating diets rich in fruit and vegetables reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
In the chapter "Message for My Meat-Eating Friends," Lyman points out that vegetarians live longer "because we do not consume the filthy, fatty disease-ridden, decaying flesh of animals." He faults parents who feed their children meat, milk, and cheese. And equates this practice to exposing them to second hand smoke or a mother smoking while she is pregnant.
Like so many vegetarian activists, Lyman talks about the harm factory farming is wreaking on the environment in polluting both air and water. Some of the blame is leveled at the Republican Party that has been in opposition to "excessive government regulation." He sums it up by saying, "Vegetarians and vegans are not morally superior to everyone else. We're simply healthier, and a hell of a lot better for the environment around us."
In a message to vegetarians and vegans, Lyman warns them not to become complacent. Many vegetarians eat a poor diet loaded with refined sugar, white flour, salt, and oil. He tells vegetarians who are still eating dairy products that they are consuming "liquid meat." Both vegetarians and vegans need to be aware of the importance of Vitamin B12 and omega 3 in their diets and the foods and supplements that offer them.
Lyman handily disposes of two "dumb myths" prevalent in our society:
To counter the myths, he explains that protein deficiency does not exist in the US. He cites the Chinese, who do not eat dairy products, as an example of a large population with a low incidence of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
For those who want to eat a healthy diet, he offers "Seven Simple Rules" that reinforce what health authorities have been saying for years.
To assist people in following a vegetarian path, Lyman devotes more than half of the book to over 100 recipes from notable chefs, cookbook authors, nutritionists, restaurants, and prominent vegetarians. Many of the recipes were originals created by his co-author's wife, Joanna Samorow-Merzer. Categories covered include appetizers, beverages, breads, breakfast dishes, entrees, desserts, grains, pasta, salads and salad dressings, sauces, side dishes, soups, spreads, stews, and vegetable dishes. To guide new vegetarians, he provides a helpful Two-Week Meal Plan in a concise format.
The book concludes with brief biographies of the recipe contributors, endnotes, and a resource list that includes books, DVD's, and websites.
Anyone who has never heard Howard Lyman speak is missing one of the best vegan speakers on the circuit. Reading No More Bull is almost as good hearing him in person. Lyman is fortunate to have co-author Glen Merzer assisting him in presenting the prose with the same energy and passion he displays in a speaking engagement. The shocking facts, the folksy humor, and the plain talk are all here.
Howard Lyman was right. And he still is right. He is to be commended for his persistence in informing the American public of this potential Mad Cow health catastrophe. Now it's time for all of America to start listening to the Mad Cowboy.
Reviewed January 2006