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Defending Beef

The Ecological and Nutritional Case for Meat, 2nd Edition

By Nicolette Hahn Niman


We all need to understand the story behind our food. This is the strongest and most articulate case for understanding the central importance of grazing livestock in sustainable food systems that I’ve read. Patrick Holden, founder and chief executive, Sustainable Food Trust

With more public awareness of the connection between health and diet, food, climate and farming, Defending Beef – a modern classic on sustainable food culture – has never been more timely. As the meat industry – from small-scale ranchers and butchers to sprawling slaughterhouse operators – respond to climate threats, a pandemic and the rise of plant-based and lab-produced meats, environmental lawyer turned cattle farmer Nicolette Hahn Niman delivers a passionate argument for responsible grassfed, meat production and consumption in this updated and expanded new edition of her bestselling Defending Beef.

Hahn Niman dispels popular myths about how eating beef is bad for our bodies and the planet. The impact of grazing can be either negative or positive, depending on how livestock are managed. In fact, with proper oversight, livestock can play an essential role in maintaining grassland ecosystems by performing the same functions as the natural herbivores that once roamed and grazed there.Grounded in empirical scientific data and citing examples of regenerative agriculture from around the world, she illustrates how cattle can help build carbon-sequestering soils to mitigate climate change, enhance biodiversity, prevent desertification and provide essential nutrition.

Reviews and Praise

Defending Beef is a no-nonsense, scientific yet holistic look at the important role well-raised meat has in our food system and in ecosystem function. Nicolette Hahn Niman intelligently busts the common misperceptions about cattle and explains how, when managed properly, they can have a positive impact on the environment.”—Diana Rodgers, registered dietitian, filmmaker and coauthor of Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat

“With all the rhetoric we are hearing today about how cows are destroying the planet, it is enlightening to hear the truth.  Nicolette Hahn Niman delves deep into the science and sets the record straight: ‘It’s not the cow, it’s the how’!  Now, consumers can enjoy the health benefits of nutrient-dense beef while healing our ecosystems!  A must-read for consumers, ranchers, and policymakers.”—Gabe Brown, regenerative rancher and author of Dirt to Soil

“The original edition of Defending Beef offered a compendium of everything a person should know about the role of beef cattle on the landscape and in our diets. This brand-new edition is more like a meta-analysis, chock-full of references, that dismantles almost every argument made against the ecological and nutritional importance of beef. While Nicolette Hahn Niman decries the industrial beef model, she makes a clear and compelling case why well-managed cattle grazing is a critical tool for capturing carbon and turning nonedible plant material into protein, as well as for supporting regenerative farming methods. This book should be on the shelf of anyone who cares about our climate and food system.”—Rebecca Thistlethwaite, coauthor of The New Livestock Farmer

“In this exhaustive and well-documented treatise, Nicolette Hahn Niman manages to be both informative and engaging from cover to cover. I especially appreciate the long myth-busting section that debunks many oft-cited anti-beef studies. This is the perfect book to have at your fingertips when you’re in a dispute with someone who thinks meatless lab burgers are a great way to go.”—Ridge Shinn, founding CEO, Big Picture Beef

“In this remarkable book, Nicolette Hahn Niman proves herself to be a true environmentalist—one who is willing to dig deeply, challenge orthodoxies, and get to the truth. You should read Defending Beef not only for the compelling case she makes for sustainable meat production, but also as an example of critical thinking at its finest.”—Bo Burlingham, editor-at-large of Inc. magazine and author of Small Giants and Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top

“I have traveled to every state in the U.S. during both summer and winter and have seen the land in extensive rural areas.  There are huge land areas in this country that cannot be used for crops.  The only way to grow food on these lands is by grazing animals.  Grazing done properly will improve the land.  Defending Beef shows clearly that beef cattle are an important part of sustainable agriculture.”—Temple Grandin, author of Animals Make Us Human and professor of animal science, Colorado State University

“Anyone hesitating to eat beef due to environmental or nutritional concerns needs to learn the other side of the story.  Defending Beef is both scientifically accurate and highly readable. Kudos to Nicolette Hahn Niman for successfully engaging in one of the biggest environmental tensions of our day.”—Joel Salatin, farmer and author

“Creating healthful, delicious food in ecological balance is among humanity’s greatest challenges.  In this insightful book, Nicolette Hahn Niman shows why cattle on grass are an essential element.  Every chef in America should read this book.”—Alice Waters, founder/owner, Chez Panisse, and author of We Are What We Eat

“Anyone who doubts that beef can be part of a sustainable food system and healthy diet should read this book. Defending Beef proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that we can feel good about eating beef that’s raised the right way.”—Steve Ells, founder and CEO, Chipotle Mexican Grill

“Nicolette Hahn Niman just became beef’s most articulate advocate. In Defending Beef, she pivots gracefully between the personal and the scientific, the impassioned and the evenhanded. It’s a deeply compelling and delicious vision for the future of food.”—Dan Barber, author of The Third Plate

“Defending Beef is a brave, clear-headed, and necessary addition to the discussion about sustainable food systems. Using hard data and solid scientific research, Nicolette Hahn Niman, a lawyer turned rancher, presents a convincing case that everything we thought we knew about the environmental and human health damage caused by beef is just plain wrong.”—Barry Estabrook, author of Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit

“The prosecution will never rest after the case presented here by this unusually well-armed defense lawyer.  Exactly how much and in what ways cattle benefit our world—whether or not we eat beef—have never been more thoroughly explained. Cattle are lucky to have such a remarkable rancher gal come to their aid on our behalf.”—Betty Fussell, author of Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef

“Nicolette Hahn Niman’s Defending Beef is as timely as it is necessary. With patience and passion she separates truth from fiction in the emotional debate about the role of beef in our lives and the effect of its production on our planet. Far from being a bogeyman of climate change and other environmental concerns, she argues, cattle, when properly managed, can play an important role in local food systems, land health, and carbon sequestration. The key is treating cattle as an ally, not an enemy, and exploring opportunities instead of simply pointing fingers. In this exploration, Defending Beef leads the way!”—Courtney White, founder, Quivira Coalition, and author of Grass, Soil, Hope

“In our collective confusion and desperation about the environment, many zero in on cattle as an unlikely culprit for everything from water pollution to climate change. In Defending Beef, author, rancher, and environmental lawyer Nicolette Hahn Niman takes a nuanced look at the impact of livestock on land, water, the atmosphere, and human health. With clarity and eloquence, she puts research in context and shows that the raising of cattle can be destructive or restorative, depending on how the animals are managed. Cattle—and common sense—have found their champion.”—Judith D. Schwartz, author of Cows Save the Planet

“Issues related to the long-term health effects of red meat, saturated fat, sugar, and grains are complex and I see the jury as still out on many of them.  While waiting for the science to be resolved, Hahn Niman’s book is well worth reading for its forceful defense of the role of ruminant animals in sustainable food systems.”—Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and author of What to Eat

“I hope this book, which is more about the future of humanity, will be read by every citizen—not just those who feel the need to defend their meat-eating preferences. Biologist, environmental lawyer, and mother Nicolette Hahn Niman has provided a balanced report on the effects of cattle production on our environment, health, and climate change. Openly accepting the damage done by modern-day cattle production—on the land and in factory feedlots—she effectively argues that cattle themselves are not the problem; it is the way they are being managed that is endangering our health, environment, and economy. We can do something about that, and we must for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Key to our success will be an informed citizenry—for whom this book will be an invaluable tool.”—Allan Savory, founder and president, the Savory Institute

Defending Beef is an important book. Nicolette Hahn Niman had me at the chapter ‘All Food Is Grass,’ where she unpacks the complex clash of views over animal rights, ecology, and the legacy of human impact upon bioregions. The more I read, the more I came to value the passion and insight of someone who (like me) does not herself consume meat but recognizes that it rests at the center of what’s troubling with our food system and how we might set it right.

"At Slow Food, we believe that better, less meat should become a rallying cry for a shift in our relationship to animals and each other. Scale, biodiversity, and rural economies get ample attention in this comprehensive yet easy-to-digest manifesto. If we ever hope to challenge the prevailing culture of confinement that defines the industrial meat system today, then we need to make this book required reading for butchers, bakers, and policymakers.”—Richard McCarthy, executive director emeritus, Slow Food USA 

Defending Beef clearly and unequivocally connects the dots for us on how vitally important raising pastured beef is to humanity.  From increasing the glomalin in soil that helps create healthy grass, to sequestering carbon, battling desertification, enhancing the water supply, mitigating climate change, and promoting biodiversity, Nicolette Hahn Niman carefully draws a constellation for understanding just how our food production systems affect people, culture, and our ecosystem—for good or ill.  The case is airtight and the jury is in: Cattle on pasture are an integral part of the solution.”—Mary R. Cleaver, former owner/executive chef, The Cleaver Company and The Green Table

“A breakthrough book that reclaims our relationship with farm animals and nutritious food. Comprehensive and insightful, Defending Beef delivers a compelling description of a food system that works with nature and wildlife, supports humane animal husbandry, and builds strong local economies. With a keen mind and passionate love of life, Nicolette Hahn Niman provides an insightful solution to feeding our growing world population and shows us a way of life that is both beautiful and sustaining.”—Judy Wicks, founder of White Dog Café and the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and author of Good Morning, Beautiful Business

“It is so important that we free our minds of conventional beef wisdom and open up to the solution set that uses nature’s wisdom as well as the smart agricultural practices of the future.  In Defending Beef, Nicolette Hahn Niman gives us an exacting and compelling defense of land management that solves for environmental resiliency, human health, climate change mitigation, and prosperity.  How could we not listen?”—Kat Taylor, CEO and cofounder, Beneficial State Bank; cofounder and director, Tomkat Ranch Educational Foundation

“As a chef, I am concerned with not just the flavor of my ingredients, but also their ecological, economic, social, biodiversity, and health implications. In Defending Beef, Nicolette Hahn Niman delves deeply into the many impacts of beef production. Through both scholarly research and her own personal journey, she shows how, again and again, the ‘conventional wisdom’ has missed the mark, while making an extremely convincing case for well-raised cattle having a necessary place in our global agriculture system and on our plates.  Simply put, this book doesn’t just make me a better chef, but also a better person."—Michael Leviton, food activist and former chair, Chefs Collaborative

“Nicolette Hahn Niman, a lawyer, long-time vegetarian, and cattle rancher, serves up a well-argued defense of an American icon: the hamburger. Passionate and persuasive, Hahn Niman delivers a tough-minded critique of industrial animal operations along with an eloquent case on behalf of pasture-raised beef. The good news? It's safe to eat steak again—so long as you know where it comes from.”—Marc Gunther, editor-at-large, Guardian Sustainable Business US