As Program Director for Animal Welfare Approved, a free third-party food label that certifies family farms raising their animals outdoors using high-welfare practices, I generally sit out ballot box battles over farm animal welfare. Our efforts at Animal Welfare Approved focus on supporting sustainable family farms, high-welfare production and consumer education. So the fact that I’m going to ask Ohioans to vote against Issue 2 this coming Tuesday will seem unusual to those who know me and my organization. But the case is clear. Our farmers are telling me that Issue 2 is not what it seems and attention should be paid. The basic problem with Issue 2 is summed up by Animal Welfare Approved farmer Dennis Adams of Cota Farms in Cardington. He says: “Issue 2 is not about farm animals, it’s about control. The measure is a fake, a sham.”
In the changing agricultural landscape of the 21st century, Americans are rediscovering their connection to food and how it’s produced. In the process, they are also discovering a desire to hear the stories of the visionaries, farmers and ordinary people guiding how food is produced so that it better reflects our values and ideals.
The stories are out there—books and films that chronicle the people and events vital to ensuring safe, humane, nutritious food reaches every table. Animal Welfare Approved is pleased to be launching a new section of its website dedicated to finding and reviewing the books and films that inform, educate and inspire.
We’re kicking off our reviews with a look at Nicolette Hahn Niman’s Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms. Published last year, it’s already a classic in the field.
Pigs, Love and Factory Farming Feature in Nicolette Hahn Niman’s Book
In the mid-20th century, the United States underwent an agricultural revolution that was largely unnoticed by the general public. Led by a few industry “creative thinkers,” farm animals were moved out of the pastures and into the warehouse, creating the cruel and disastrous system that is now known as factory farming. Nicolette Hahn Niman’s new book, Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms (Harper Collins/Collins Living), is part memoir and part expose, taking the reader through the perils of factory farming and how it rose to dominance in American agriculture.
Hahn Niman was on the vanguard of the movement to shift livestock farming away from industrialized concentrated animal feeding operations—with all their attendant cruelties and harmful environmental effects—and back to the pasture. Her legal experience, solid history of working on behalf of environmental concerns and ability to view the issue with level-headed rationality give the book a sound foundation. She doesn’t engage in sentimental excesses or a narcissistic viewpoint—her credentials as reformer who will fight battles because it’s the right thing to do are solid.
Hahn Niman was an environmental lawyer when she went to work for Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s Waterkeeper organization, where he asked her to take on the issue of pig manure pollution in waterways. Initially unenthusiastic about taking on “poop,” Hahn Niman traveled to North Carolina and entered the shadowy world of factory pig farming. And she didn’t like what she found: manure lagoons, thousands of ill-treated pigs crammed into warehouses, polluted waterways and neighborhoods spoiled by foul odors. Far from being an unsavory and somewhat dull topic, Hahn Niman found battling “poop” and factory farming to be her calling.
Not just a history of factory farming, Righteous Porkchop details the fight by farmers and others to return livestock farming to its traditional values of honoring the animals and the land. It makes the case that consumer awareness and action is integral to the farm animal welfare movement. As a vegetarian and a rancher Hahn Niman rarely strays into the philosophical questions that surround meat as a food source, choosing instead to focus her attention on shifting farming-gone-bad back to a holistic and ethical approach.
A thoroughly engaging read, Righteous Porkchop details how we got where we are and what we can do to support the farmers who are doing it the right way. It serves as a wake-up call to the uninitiated and a call to action for those ready to challenge the harmful status quo that industrialized agriculture has imposed on us all. Humane farming has a powerful and compelling spokesperson in Hahn Niman, who remains one of the leaders in the movement, and her book belongs on the bookshelf of everyone who cares about the impact of their food choices. We haven’t heard the last from her and that’s to everyone’s benefit.
About the author: Nicolette Hahn Niman, an attorney and regular blogger for the food section of the online version of The Atlantic Monthly and has blogged for Huffington Post and CHOW. Previously, she was the Senior Attorney for the environmental organization Waterkeeper Alliance where she was in charge of the organization’s campaign to reform the concentrated livestock and poultry industry. She lives in Bolinas, California with her son, Miles Robert, and husband, Bill Niman, founder of Niman Ranch.