Nicolette Hahn Niman – Eating less and better meat is not the solution

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A wide ranging conversation with Nicolette Hahn Niman who has been in the food system for a while, starting as a lawyer working with Robert F Kennedy jr, lobbying against pollution from the meat industry to finally become a rancher and write the book Defending Beef, The Ecological and Nutritional Case for Meat (Chelsea Green Publishing). Nicole joins us to discuss the critical role of meat in regeneration and why we should shift our focus on patronizing healthy and sustainable practices of meat production. 

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Nicolette Hahn Niman is the author of Righteous Porkchop and Defending Beef, and has written for numerous publications, including the New York TimesLos Angeles TimesHuffPost, and The Atlantic online. She lives on a ranch in Northern California with her husband, Bill Niman, and their two sons.

What is the role animals play in the ecosystem? Why are animals an indispensable part of regeneration? How should we measure the health of an ecosystem? How should we approach the issue of affordability as a society? 

The Role of Meat in Regeneration

Strongly based on various research, Nicolette wishes to rethink the idea that the key towards regeneration is less and better meat. For Nicolette, it is absolutely unnecessary to lessen our meat consumption as studies show that there hasn’t been a significant increase of meat consumption in the U.S. from a hundred years ago. Instead, what she pointed out is that if we could reassess the industrialized meat production, where animals can be treated fairly and not be considered as ‘mine’, then we can shift to a high-quality meat production that is safe, healthy and regenerative. 

“What I’ve seen myself with my own eyes, as well as the research I’ve seen, is that if we are managing things from this holistic perspective, and thinking about regeneration as the goal, animals are extremely valuable.” – Nicolette Hahn Niman

Approaching the Issue of Affordability Head-on

When we talk about improving farming practices that results in higher pricing, the issue of affordability automatically comes up. However, the being ‘unable to afford’ issue turns out to be just a matter of non-preference, rather than an inability to pay as according to research, in the 1950s, people used 30% of their salary to pay for food, unlike now where people only spend about 9%. By shifting to premium-priced and traceable meat, consumers can be rewarded with unmatchable flavours as well as long-term health benefits. Besides, if everyone starts thinking the same and this becomes the norm, prices would eventually come down. 

“There’s a lot to say about affordability. I think the most important thing is just to recognize that it should not be a barrier, trying to create regenerative agriculture, because there’s always a cost and things have to change in order for things to improve.” – Nicolette Hahn Niman

How Nature Balances Everything Out Alone

As there is a lot of support in incentivizing carbon in soil and therefore putting significant money into it, we should also focus on supporting agricultural systems that will create diversity and balance, as well as metrics that will actually measure ecological health. We should approach system health holistically and rely on nature and how the natural process balances everything out alone. More importantly, looking at it holistically should help us come up with long-term and natural solutions with minimized downstream effects. 

“Carbon is just a kind of a biomarker for soil health for life and how healthy an ecosystem is. It’s really not the end goal.” – Nicolette Hahn Niman

Nutritional Value of the Food Produced

Because of the lack of metrics, the industry commonly measures an area’s biodiversity through carbon or diversity of predators. However, one way of measuring the health of a system that is often overlooked is the products’ nutritive value. Modern industrial food is ‘biologically dead’ compared to food produced regeneratively. Hence, referencing the words of Dr. Provenza, Nicolette urges the industry to look not only at the simple nutritional components (e.g. Vitamin E, calcium) of food, but also at the secondary compounds that truly make the food biologically vibrant. 

“There are real impacts. Not just this ecological health of the system, but of the nutritive value of the food that is produced.” – Nicolette Hahn Niman

Other Points Discussed 

Koen and Nicolette also talked about the following: 

  • Creating more regional food systems so that the smaller independent farmers and ranchers can get their animals to consumers;
  • How the United States is lacking in slaughter and processing capacity for animals;
  • Animal welfare concerns in transporting animals;
  • Measuring the ecological impact of different foods: how much emission versus how much nourishment;
  • The tremendous power of well-managed animals to regenerate landscapes and to regenerate soils and ecosystem.

To know more about Nicolette Han Niman and her book Defending Beef: The Ecological and Nutritional Case for Meat, download and listen to this episode. 

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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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