THIS COWBOY IS MAD
by Keith Akers
Mad Cowboy. Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat. By
Howard F. Lyman, with Glen Merzer. Scribner, 1998. 223 pages, $23.00.
"Mad Cowboy"--a great title for a great new book. If you want the
plain truth, Howard Lyman, a cowboy turned vegetarian, will dish it out to you
as thick as you can take it. It is at the same time a personal story, a
political story, and a primer for the critical food issues of our time. More
like a political novel than a "how-to" book, the book takes on an
immediacy because Howard Lyman has been on the front lines of food issues all
his life. The book begins with an overview of health and environmental issues
surrounding meat consumption, but quickly switches to his own story. He tells of
his transition from organic foods to chemical pioneer back to organic foods, and
from cattle rancher to vegetarian activist, giving attention both to the mad cow
problem which propelled him to fame and to the "biotech bullies"
(bovine growth hormone, genetic engineering) before returning again to the
question of planetary and personal health.
A lot of people who have heard Howard Lyman speak about "mad cow"
disease, and have heard his warnings about the "prions" that cannot be
destroyed even by ultra-high temperatures, formaldehyde, or pretty much anything
else. (So even if you cook the meat thoroughly, or even incinerate it, you’re
still at risk for getting mad cow disease.) It’s really scary stuff, and even
if you have heard Howard speak about this before, you are going to be even more
scared after you finish his book.
But what is really scariest is not the destruction of tropical
forests, the deaths of millions due to heart disease, or even the spread of
"mad cow" disease to humans in the United States (something which may
have already occurred). What is scariest is that so many people in positions of
responsibility don’t care, even after the evidence is staring them in the
face. The tale of how the British government ignored warning after warning on
"mad cow" disease, until finally unquestionable proof emerged that
this disease had spread from cows to humans, will send shivers up anyone’s
spine. And then, just to show that this is not a British problem, he tells the
story of his own encounters with the USDA and the cattle industry in this
I had never heard of his collaborator, Glen Merzer, before this book
appeared, but if we can judge by the result the collaboration worked well.
Nothing of Howard’s style has been lost here; he tells that on one occasion in
Washington, D. C. "it was hot enough to make a mosquito sweat," one
characteristic phrase among many in the book which I recall from his speeches.
This book will make an impression on anyone who respects common sense and
experience. Those who are eating meat should be made aware of the realities of
this industry by someone who is certainly in a position to know. But vegetarians
will have something to gain from reading this book as well; if nothing else, it
should convince vegetarians that we can never write off any meat-eater as
hopeless. Some day, they could become a Howard Lyman.