"We're running toward the edge of a cliff at 200 miles an hour," says Howard Lyman. "What we're doing; it's not sustainable." The former cattle rancher turned vegan activist should know. He took his family's farm from a small, organic operation to a $5-million-a-year agribusiness with seven thousand head of cattle. Having been schooled in "better living through chemistry," Howard made sure his cattle got fatter faster by confining them to a factory feedlot, feeding them grain instead of grass, and pumping them full of growth hormones and antibiotics. He used liberal doses of herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides on his crops.
Then, in 1979, he was paralyzed from the waist down by a tumor on his spinal cord. "I promised myself that, whatever the outcome of the surgery, I would dedicate the rest of my life to doing what I believed to be right -- no matter what changes that necessitated," said the Mad Cowboy. You may remember Howard's appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show back in 1996, when he announced that downer cows were being rendered and fed to other cows. Howard and Oprah were later sued by a group of Texas cattlemen for making disparaging comments about beef. Read the transcript of his interview.
Howard was in town for Grand Rapids' first ever Vegetarian Awakening Conference (which I regrettably was not able to attend), and graciously agreed to speak before a showing of Peaceable Kingdom, a documentary about Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York. If you have not seen this film, I highly recommend it. The film is alternately touching and disturbing, and scenes with former farmboy Harold Brown are a highlight.
After the film, Howard answered questions from the audience and reminded people not to be discouraged if change happens slowly. "Most Americans go through life nose to tail," he said. "And if you do that, you know what you're always looking at." Our job, he says, is not to change everyone, just to reach those people that are teachable.
Now I have a signed copy of Howard's latest book, No More Bull, which has over 100 vegan recipes in it. Huzzah! Many thanks to the sponsors of this event: Uniting for Justice, GRIID (Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy), Grand Rapids Community College’s Animal Advocacy and Interest Movement and Calvin College’s Students for Compassionate Living. They even had vegan desserts and fair trade coffee on hand!