Book Review: Righteous Porkchop by Nicolette Hahn Niman
Everyone eats. So perhaps almost everyone could benefit from reading Righteous Porkchop which is both a well-researched and highly readable hands-on primer about factory farming, and Nicolette Hahn Niman’s highly personal memoir of her personal journey of activism on behalf of farm animals. Ms. Niman was an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation when she elected to take a position with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Waterkeeper Alliance. Ms. Niman (at that time Ms. Hahn) was a longtime vegetarian and was deeply committed to animal welfare when she was hired to organize and lead a campaign against factory farming.
As Ms. Niman soon learned Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s) have over the past twenty to forty years quite changed the face of rural America. Those who have read books such as Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation (my review here) probably do have some idea of the horrific conditions under which food animals are raised these days, although one point which I know I did not learn in that volume is that corporate factory farms very routinely violate environmental laws and are one of the largest sources of pollution. Ms. Niman takes her readers along on her many trips to CAFO’s where the excrement of hundreds or sometimes even thousands of animals is simply pumped untreated into “lagoons” which are basically just lakes of liquefied shit.
Readers will get a crash course in pork, poultry, beef and fish factory farming and learn just why these farms are so bad both for the animals produced there and for the humans who work there as well as those unfortunate enough to live nearby. The stench is horrific, and the “lagoons” almost inevitably leak into and contaminate ground water and often lakes and rivers as well. What was most shocking for me to learn is that while this pollution is very definitely illegal, it is nonetheless rampant pretty much in every state with significant agriculture.
While the facts Niman educates her readers on are indeed horrifying, Righteous Porkchop is nonetheless a very uplifting and positive read. While Niman is herself a vegetarian, her husband– Bill Niman founder of the well-known Niman Ranch meat company is not. And unlike some hardcore vegans, Niman, who enjoys cheese, butter, milk and other dairy products is by no means opposed to the use of animals for food. Her concerns are that animals be treated humanely and that large factory farms not be allowed to externalize the costs of their pollution, which would allow independent and smaller farmers to compete. Niman eloquently shoots down many of the myths perpetuated by the large corporate producers and their political supporters. She also provides some advice for consumers who wish to stop supporting and perpetuating factory farms.
If you eat, Righteous Porkchop is Very Highly Recommended.