The Cattle Rancher Who Won't Eat Meat 

Vegetarian Cattle Rancher? 




MAD COWBOY: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher who Won't Eat Meat

by Howard F. Lyman with Glen Merzer.  NY: Scribner, 1998. ISBN 0-684-84516-4.

Reviewed by Andrew W. Saul

Why should you call me to account for eating decently? (George Bernard Shaw, in The Vegetarian, 15 January 1898.)

Howard Lyman, a raised-to-graze, fourth-generation dairy farmer and cattle rancher, is that arch heretic of animal husbandry: he's a vegan. Lyman and his expert collaborator, Glen Merzer, have written Mad Cowboy, a concise, in-your-face book full of meat-busting facts. This book really homes in on the range. For example, Lyman writes that cattle are fed "ground-up dead horses, dogs, cats, pigs, chickens, and turkeys, as well as blood and fecal material of their own species." (p 12) Then he lets us in on a little cattle-raising trade secret: steers are regularly fattened on chicken feces. (p 13)

This is gross. And wonderful reading, too. Face it: the government is certainly not protecting you. Slaughterhouse quality control, such as it is, is simply not working. "About 80 per cent of food poisonings come from meat," Lyman says. (p 13) And he is no friend of Col. Sanders, either: "Approximately 30 percent of chicken consumed in America is contaminated with salmonella, and 70 to 90 percent with another deadly pathogen, campylobacter," which he cites as a cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome (1), a rapid-onset paralytic disease. (p 38)

Oversight and inspection by the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration is so lax because they "can generally be counted on to behave not like public servants but like hired hands of the meat and dairy industries." (p 20) Lyman says, "The government is going to inspect one out of every two hundred fifty thousand carcasses." (p 58)

Mr. Lyman is just warming up. "Nearly all meat in America is contaminated with such man-made carcinogens as dioxins, a family of chemicals related to Agent Orange, and DDT." (p 21) Cattle feed is higher in pesticides than crops grown directly for human consumption. A New England Journal of Medicine study (2) "found that the breast milk of vegetarian women had only 1 to 2 percent of the national average of pesticide contamination." (p 22)

"Meat kills," Lyman bluntly declares, citing the all-too-familiar coroner's equation: fat plus cholesterol equals cardiovascular deaths. We have all heard this before, but we often ignore two important facts: there is very little fat in plant foods, and plant foods contain zero cholesterol. Meat has plenty of both. "It kills us just as dead as tobacco kills us, but far more frequently." (p 23) "(W)e have to do all we can to keep our young people from getting hooked on those fat-and-cholesterol delivery systems know as hot dogs, hamburgers, scrambled eggs, and ice cream." It looks to Mr. Lyman that, supersized or not, those McArtery meals have got to go. To him, Ronald McDonald must seem to be little more than a badly-dressed Marlboro man.

And he's probably right.

In the one hundred years since Sinclair Lewis published The Jungle (3), practically nothing has changed. You had best put down those chicken fingers before reading this: "Slaughterhouses are efficient factories for spreading pathogens from one chicken to the next. . . covered with feces, bile and feed . . . (I)ndividual chicken inspectors examine about 12,000 chickens a day, each for about two seconds." (p 38) Lyman writes that, in America, contaminated chicken kills over one thousand people annually, and sickens perhaps 80 million more.

He does not allow eating fish, either. In addition to citing evidence of bacterial contamination in seafood that would make Captain Nemo blush (p 39), Lyman relentlessly adds that omega-3 fatty acids, considered to be one of the main benefits of eating seafood, "can just as easily be obtained" by eating seeds, vegetable oils, wheat germ and vegetables. Important though those sources be, I think that for many people, fish remains the surest way of consuming adequate amounts of omega-3's. But on the other hand, Mr. Lyman's relentless listing of pollutants now found in seafood (p 40) deserves renewed appreciation of vegetarian alternatives.

Many more of the most powerful vegetarian arguments ever made are compiled in Mad Cowboy, with supporting research ably summarized. For instance, studies of tens of thousands of Seventh Day Adventists "found the rate of heart disease mortality to be one-third as high for the lacto-ovo (egg and dairy) vegetarians as for the meat eaters. For the vegans, the rate was one-tenth as high." The massive Cornell University China Health Project (4) "determined that those who eat the least animal products have the lowest rates of cancer, heart disease and several other degenerative diseases." (p 26) Specifically, Lyman indicts osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity and hypertension as maladies due largely to our habitual feasting on dead animal muscle. And "feasting" is the correct word: Americans eat ten times the animal protein as do the Chinese. And the few Chinese that can afford to eat as much meat as we do get the same diseases as Americans already have. (p 45)

Wisely, Lyman backs up his statements, citing additional studies from around the world, and providing unobtrusive but exact footnotes for easy reference. An index, recommended reading list, and several pages of sources and bibliography complete the work.

Mad Cowboy is by no means the only well-written, concise book on the rationale for a meatless lifestyle. Twenty years back, I'd read a charmingly illustrated yet profound little paperback called, What's Wrong with Eating Meat? (5). Many readers have become familiar with the best selling Diet for a Small Planet from 1971 (6), and others know of the century-old vegetarian essays by Bernard Shaw or Gandhi. The writings of physicians such as Tilden, Jackson and Trall of the Natural Hygenic movement in the 19th century predate the lot. (7)

A young Mr. Lyman knew nothing of these. Doing farm chores at age five, castrating calves at age ten, and paying his way through agricultural college on his poker winnings, he was bound and determined to make a success of feedlot farming. And so he did, lacing his 7,000 steers' feed with antibiotics, diethylstilbesterol (DES) and an array of other "suspect" drugs purchased in quantity just before they were banned.

It was a rough life, especially for the cattle. "The flies can get so thick they actually threaten a cow's ability to breathe. . . Every morning I would fill up a fly fogger with insecticide and spray great clouds of it over the whole operation. . . (and) covering their backs with insecticide that was absorbed through the skin." (p 56-57) In following such practices, dangerous as they are to animals, farmer and the public, Lyman's cattle operation was not unusual.

His own particular claim to fame stems from 1996 when he, along with Oprah Winfrey, was sued for "food disparagement" by a group of Texas cattlemen. In 1998, he won. The result was Mad Cowboy (and What at first glance might pass for just another brief celebrity turn actually delivers far more. There is not a dull paragraph to be found in Mad Cowboy. I absolutely loved reading it, even though compared to the vegan Mr. Lyman, I am merely a moderate, or what I call a "near vegetarian." Unlike Mr. Lyman, I think fish and dairy products remain nutritionally important. Even Lyman acknowledges that Dr. Dean Ornish allows nonfat milk, nonfat yogurt, and egg whites in the diet he prescribes to reverse coronary disease. (p 30) But surely we over-consume protein foods in general and flesh foods in particular. And like Mr. Lyman, I once was a dairy farmer. I now advocate sharp reductions in meat intake, ones that will save human lives, along with saving literally ten billion animals each year, in America alone, from a walk onto the killing floor. And yes, ten "billion" is not a misprint. (8)

Of course, Mad Cowboy addresses Mad Cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), and does so in considerable detail in Chapter Five. Chapter Six discusses recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), given to cows to force higher milk production. The chapter is an attack on cow abuse (and on the Monsanto Chemical Corporation) that you have to read to believe. When I was a dairyman, I personally milking a hundred head twice daily. Since then, I have presented many a college lecture on rBGH. Lyman knows exactly what he is talking about. The hidden (and taxpayer-supported) costs of the meat industry, and livestock-caused environmental destruction are covered in Chapter Seven. Chapter Eight presents vegetarian diet as the ideal weight loss technique, which it is. Lyman and co-author Merzer literally rip into high-protein diets (such as Atkins or "The Zone") with such well-developed criticism as to show for all time why veggie dieting is the way to go.

For such a relatively short book (189 pages), Mad Cowboy contains meat-munching, myth-mangling facts by the trainload. But what draws you in most is Mr. Lyman's personal writing style. Lyman is talking directly to you, and he's one fine raconteur.  ("I came in with so much herbicide on my clothing that my mere presence killed off the houseplants." [p 60]) I wonder if this could serve as the chemical farmer's new twist to, "Hi, honey, I'm home." Hide the phycus, dear!

But there is no humor to be found in Mr. Lyman's account of his ever-increasing health problems that finally forced his reconsideration of the ethics and the consequences of his livelihood (Chapter Four). Even after serious spine surgery, a meat-fed Mr. Lyman says "I weighed 350 pounds, my cholesterol was over 300, my blood pressure was off the charts, and I was getting nosebleeds" in addition to eyesight problems. His response was to change his entire life: he became an organic farmer, ran for Congress in 1982 and very nearly made it, and became a vegetarian. "Within a year of eating no meat, my health problems all started to go away. . . Everything revolved around the fork." (p 80-1) Lyman asserts, "Since I became a vegetarian eight years ago, I have lost 130 pounds steadily, gradually, and without trying. I never gained any of the weight back, and never felt hungry. I never went on a diet, never counted my calories. . .I simply stopped eating animal products. . . My cholesterol count declined from 300 to 140, my blood pressure went from dangerously high levels to normal ones, and my energy levels increased." (p 167)

Having raised my children in an ovo-laco vegetarian household, I have observed and experienced many of the health benefits of which Mr. Lyman speaks. Though I may personally prefer near-vegetarian nutritional reform to vegan nutritional revolution, compromise is possible. Lyman presents transitional eating hints and insights in pages 174-8. They are practical and do-able in every way. This is a book does not require your agreement, just your action. From cover to cover, Mad Cowboy speaks with power, and that is the main reason you should read it. Lyman effectively says, to Hades with half measures: just stop eating meat. The benefits are many and significant, as any sane cow would likely agree.



1. "(T)here is no effective treatment" for Guillain-Barre syndrome. "Perhaps 50% of cases occur shortly after a microbial (viral or bacterial) infection." Vaccination may also be a cause.

2. Hergenrather J, Hlady G, Wallace B, Savage E. Pollutants in breast milk of vegetarians. 1981 Mar 26;304(13):792). "Nursing infants of vegetarian women whose diets are low on the food chain are exposed to less chemical pollution."

3. Sinclair U. The jungle. NY: New American Library, 1960. Originally published 1906. Reviewed at

4. ( and , with a comment by study lead author Dr. Colin Campbell of Cornell University)

5. Parham B. What's Wrong with Eating Meat? Denver, CO: Ananda Marga, 1979.


7. Natural Hygiene Society (of America),The Greatest Health Discovery, Natural Hygiene Press, Inc., 1972. (Reviewed at

8. That ten billion figure does not include fish, just birds and mammals.


Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )

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Andrew W. Saul


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