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RHR: Improving Our Food System with Animals, with Nicolette Hahn Niman


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There’s no doubt that concentrated animal feeding operation meat is harmful for the environment, but the same can’t be said for animals that are raised on pasture. In fact, the argument can be made that grazing animals are critical for healing ecosystems and human health. In this episode of Revolution Health Radio, I talk with environmental lawyer, livestock rancher, and writer Nicolette Hahn Niman about some of the most common misconceptions regarding meat production, consumption, and global warming. We discuss how ruminants are beneficial to biodiversity and restoring the environment, how regenerative agriculture can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and why an ecologically optimal food system contains animals.

Revolution Health Radio podcast, Chris Kresser

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Nicolette’s background
  • Misconception 1: Deforestation is caused by the meat industry
  • Misconception 2: Grazing animals are disturbing valuable land
  • Farmland research: Is there a hidden agenda?
  • Misconception 3: Beef has the largest water footprint
  • Why removing animals from the food system is not the answer to climate change
  • Misconception 4: Methane is the main cause of global warming

Show notes:

Hey, everybody, Chris Kresser [here]. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. Even though meat and other animal products have been part of our diet and our hominid ancestors’ diet for at least 2 million years, they have been largely vilified over the past 50-plus years, at least in the industrialized world.

And they’ve been vilified, not just from the perspective of their nutritional impact, but also from the perspective of their environmental impact. And this second issue is primarily what I’m going to focus on today in my conversation with my guest, Nicolette Hahn Niman. She’s a writer, attorney, and a livestock rancher and is the author of the books Defending Beef, which was published in 2014, and Righteous Porkchop, which has to be one of my favorite book titles, [which was published] back in 2009. She’s also written several essays for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, and other popular media outlets.

The interesting thing about Nicolette or one of the many interesting things is she was a vegetarian for 33 years. She’s actually recently started eating meat again. But even during the time that she was a vegetarian, she was an advocate for including animals in our food system. Because, as you’ll hear, she makes a pretty compelling argument that animals have to be included in our food system in order to have a healthy ecosystem. So that’s primarily what we’re going to focus on today.

We’ll talk about how ruminants are beneficial to biodiversity and restoring the environment, how regenerative agriculture can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and replenish soils, how farmers and ranchers can lead the effort to healing ecosystems and human health, and why an ecologically optimal food system contains animals. But we’ll also touch a little bit on the nutritional impacts of animal products in the diet, which is, of course, a subject that I’ve covered in depth on numerous occasions. We’ll talk about why animal fats and proteins are nutritious and provide vital nutrients for optimal health, and why a balanced healthy diet should generally include some animal products for most people. So this was a fascinating conversation for me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Let’s dive in.

Chris Kresser:  Nicolette, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. Welcome to the show.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.

Nicolette’s Background

Chris Kresser:  So, I’m just going to dive right in. I think, one of the most interesting parts of your background and experience in this topic as an entry point, which is [that] you, until fairly recently, I think, almost over 30 years, were a vegetarian and yet, one of the most vocal advocates for including animals in our food system. I think, when a lot of people hear that, it doesn’t fully compute. So maybe that’s a good starting point for this conversation.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yeah.

Chris Kresser:  What is it about animals being a part of the food system that led you even as a vegetarian to be such a vocal advocate for that to happen?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Well, I should say I was raised as an omnivore by my parents, and they were very focused on eating good real food. And my mom did a lot of cooking and gardening, and we used to go out to the farms in the community in Michigan, where I grew up and get a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits.

But when I entered college, I was a biology major; I had already been really involved in environmental causes as a child, and then got very involved in the environmental community in the college I went to in Kalamazoo, Michigan. And it was just everywhere, this idea that if you really cared about the environment, you wouldn’t be eating meat. And I remember at that time, especially, the focus was on this idea that hamburgers were destroying the rainforests of Latin America. And I was already, I had always really felt connected with animals, and so it just made sense to me that I should probably not be doing it, as well, as a responsible environmentalist.

And there was also, of course, this idea out there that saturated fat was killing us and, therefore, we should not be eating beef because it contains saturated fat. And I became a vegetarian the summer after my freshman year of college, but I had already stopped eating beef, like six months before that because beef was the worst, right?

Chris Kresser:  Certainly.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  This was absolute[ly] the environmental orthodoxy, and I was kind of buying into it. And I became an environmental lawyer years later, and was working for [the] National Wildlife Federation. But when I was hired by Bobby Kennedy, Jr., as an environmental lawyer, he wanted me specifically to work on meat industry-related pollution. And I thought at first, well, this is fitting because I’m a vegetarian and I already think meat is bad. I mean, I never accepted the idea that it was totally morally wrong to eat meat. That was not part of my thinking. But I just had this idea that there was this bundle of problems associated with meat production, and that it was inherently part of meat production.

And so, when I began doing the work for Bobby Kennedy, it reinforced my thinking at first. And what we were really focused on was the pollution from large concentrated hog operations and large concentrated poultry operations, and also dairies. And there’s tremendous pollution and all kinds of other issues associated with that. So initially, it kind of reinforced what I had already been doing for 10 years as a vegetarian at that point. But the more that I was studying it, and learning and talking to people and visiting farms, I was seeing that there was this really dramatic difference between different production systems. And I had been on small farms in Michigan growing up, so I knew there were other ways to do things.

And then I started visiting a lot of the Niman Ranch farms, which were in a network of several hundred farms that were all doing things in a more traditional way, basically grass-based. And I not only started thinking, well, this is very different, and we need to be making distinctions. But I got more and more intrigued by what I was seeing, that good animal farming was actually environmentally beneficial and was producing a very different kind of food, and the lives of the animals were very different; the lives of the people were very different. The neighbors of the, what I’ll just call the good farms for purposes of simplicity.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  The neighbors loved the farms. In contrast to the big, concentrated industrial operations I’d been on in Missouri and North Carolina, where the neighbors were all, it was an embattled community because of the presence of these industrial operations. So the impacts were so different. And so, even in that job at Waterkeeper, working for Bobby Kennedy, I started to advocate within our group that we should be essentially meat advocates for the good form of production. And two years later, I got married to Bill Niman. I met him through work, and he’s the founder of the Niman Ranch network and lived out in California already at that time. And when we got married, I moved out to this ranch. For about 16 years, I lived and worked on this ranch, where I’m talking to you from right now, and continued to be a vegetarian.

Chris Kresser:  So just to reiterate, you were living on a beef ranch, a ranch that produces beef and pork and a bunch of other animal products, and you’re still vegetarian.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yeah. And increasingly, that started to feel almost like a disconnect to me. Because even though I was basically continuing eating as I had done, so I hadn’t made a change, it felt more and more inconsistent to me. Because I was more and more persuaded, not just that animal farming doesn’t have to be bad for the environment, but I was more and more persuaded that it’s actually an essential part of ecologically optimal food production. And I was also more and more persuaded that it’s really beneficial for human health to eat good animal products.

And when I reached 50 years old, which was a couple of years ago, I decided to really try to evaluate my health and make sure that, I didn’t want to, I was already realizing that as part of Kaiser Permanente network, that when you [turn] 50, they start suggesting you should be on statins and blood pressure medication.

Chris Kresser:  Right.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  I literally had that said to me by a doctor there. “Well, you’re about 50, so we should be looking at the possibility of putting you on statins.” Literally, that was the mindset, and you know all about that, obviously. You’ve written books about this. But it was just so shocking to me, and I started thinking, jeez, if I want to make sure that I’m advancing through life in this, hopefully, the second half of my life, not just okay, where you’re not just limping into older years, but really being vibrantly healthy as I’ve tried to be my whole life. I’d better make sure I’m eating an optimal diet. And so I felt like it was no longer going to be okay to just say, “Well, I once believed that it was bad for the environment. I don’t believe that anymore, but I’m just gonna stick with my diet.” So it was time for me to reassess. And when I had my bone density tested, and I was told I had osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis, that was one of those key moments where I thought, okay, I have to make sure I’m eating the best possible diet with real foods that are providing lots of nutrition.

Then, shortly after I met with you and talked with you about this in person a couple of years ago, I decided to begin eating meat again. So it was something that I did with, I started with our own beef, and it was just delicious. And I felt not just physically fine, but really good. But I also felt this incredible relief, because I realized I’d been following a diet that was somewhat inconsistent with what I thought I should be eating.

Chris Kresser:  Right.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  You know what I mean? I was worried I would feel some regret about starting to eat meat again, or something. And it was almost the opposite. It was like this tremendous sense of relief, like a burden had been lifted from my shoulders, because I was no longer eating out of sync with what I thought my body should have.

Chris Kresser:  Right. And your beliefs about the food system and what’s important there.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Exactly.

Chris Kresser:  I was, as many of my listeners know, a vegetarian, even a vegan and raw food vegan for a period of time before I switched back to eating meat, and that transition was pretty seamless for me physically.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yeah.

Chris Kresser:  But that wasn’t 33 years.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yeah.

Chris Kresser:  So I’m just curious, and I imagine some of the listeners are, too, how was that transition for you going from no meat for all that time to meat? Was it difficult? Was it easy?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  It was shockingly easy. I was just talking with someone over the weekend who was a vegetarian for 10 years, and she said she had absolutely no ill effects from returning to meat. And I said, that’s my experience, as well. I know it is something of an adjustment for your microbiome and so forth. So I decided not to start eating, like, two pounds of meat a day or something.

Chris Kresser:  Right.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  I just had one piece of meat a day or I’m not sure in terms of the quantities, but it was certainly less than a few ounces. It was not a large amount at first, but I did have a little bit of meat every day. And to be completely candid, I did not notice any ill effects. But in contrast to that, I did notice some really interesting positive effects.

One of the things that led me to believe that I should try eating meat again was because for 33 years as a vegetarian, I’ve always been super physically active, like [an] avid runner, I was a really avid triathlete for many years, I’m still an avid cyclist and swimmer, and all these things. And I was always hungry for almost 33 years. I was kind of hungry all the time. And I noticed in that first week that I started eating meat again that I was not hungry anymore. There’s this immediate satiation that I had not felt since childhood. And then the other really interesting thing is that I’ve always struggled with craving sweets. And I’ve noticed, especially if I eat sweets, that I want to eat more sweets.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Sort of a self-perpetuating cycle. But I noticed, even just that first day when I ate the beef, it was the first time in I couldn’t remember how long, when I didn’t want to immediately have a dessert as soon as I was done eating. You know what I mean? And I have noticed a really noticeable difference in how much sweets I am craving, how strongly I’m craving sweets, and how often I crave sweets, etc. And I used to feel like if I had a piece of fruit for a dessert, I felt that was inadequate. It was like, “Well, this was okay, but I really would much prefer something a lot sweeter.”

Chris Kresser:  Yeah.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  And now, it’s kind of the opposite. I almost always will have, sometimes I’ll have half of an apple and a date or two and some nuts. That’s often like what I do for a dessert. And dates are very sweet, so I usually just eat really small quantities of it. But I’ll just eat [it] like with a fruit, and it feels really satisfying as a dessert to me now. And I often just don’t have anything sweet after I eat a meal, which is super interesting to me, because I did that for so many years. And it was this incredibly, it was almost like [I] felt like a drug addict. Okay, I have to have something sweet now, and I don’t have that anymore. So that’s been really interesting to me.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah. I experienced something similar, lots of my patients, as well. I have a lot of patients who were vegetarian or vegan and then started to eat meat again. And I think a lot of that comes down to protein, and I think particularly animal protein being the most satiating of the macronutrients. And when our body needs something, sometimes that need gets expressed in an indirect way.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yeah.

Chris Kresser:  Or in other words, if we’re missing certain micronutrients, we might crave some, not necessarily, and that particular choice is closed down to us for various reasons. But we might try to compensate in other ways. And I think that’s what’s going on with the sugar.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  And you’re just feeling that you’re not quite done eating. You’re not satiated.

Chris Kresser:  Right. Yeah, there’s something missing.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  So you’re kind of like opening the cupboard and going, well, there [are] some cookies up there.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  So yeah, you’re trying to fill in for something that’s not satisfied. And so, that’s been a fascinating thing for me, because I did have this nagging feeling for years that my diet could be better, even though I make tremendous efforts, and I have for many years, to try to eat real whole foods. But without meat, it was still, something I believe was lacking. And it now seems to have been largely fulfilled. So that makes me feel really good just knowing that, and then I’ve just felt physically really good.

And I do weightlifting and Pilates and all that stuff. And I didn’t do any Pilates during the lockdown, because that was stopped. Actually, my Pilates class just started up again a couple [of] weeks ago. But I started doing more weightlifting at home and all this stuff. And now that I’m eating meat, I’m not measuring it scientifically. So it would be, I can’t prove this, but it feels to me like it’s easier for me to build muscle and so forth. I can see the improvement in my, the things I’m working on pretty dramatically. And I’m convinced that having, again, the meat is making a difference for me in terms of I’ve got everything I need to build muscles. And as you, Chris, you’re obviously extremely aware of this, but for me, I was increasingly accepting this idea that after the age [of] 50, I needed to work harder to keep that muscle mass because it was going to naturally start being tougher to build and to keep. And then bone density, of course, is closely related to that muscle mass issue.

So, I just wanted to make sure I had the strong muscles, strong teeth, strong bones, have my framework all in good condition and keep it there, and maybe even improve it, not just view it as okay, I’m 50, so it’s a downhill slide for the rest of my life. I really didn’t want to do that. And so I personally am feeling like having meat in my diet again is really helping me chart a different path.

Chris Kresser:  Great. Yeah, that’s fascinating, and like I said, really in line with my own experience and so many patients that I’ve treated. And also with the scientific literature, I think.

Meat and other animal products have been largely vilified, yet they’ve been part of the human diet for at least 2 million years. In this episode of RHR, I talk with Nicolette Hahn Niman about why an ecologically optimal food system contains animals. #chriskresser

Misconception 1: Deforestation Is Caused by the Meat Industry

Chris Kresser:  I want to switch gears and go back to something you said, which as a segue into talking about the environmental impacts, you said you stopped eating meat for environmental reasons. And at the time where you did that, there was this pervasive idea that beef is killing the rainforests in the Amazon. So let’s talk about that, whether that’s actually true. And then let’s talk about some of the other common reasons that you hear from advocates of plant-based diets for not eating meat, like methane, and then land and water resources. And then let’s move into an exploration of why animals are not only not harmful when they’re raised in the proper way, but they are actually necessary and optimal for a food system.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  That’s a lot of ground to cover, but yes.

Chris Kresser:  That’s a lot of ground. We’re going to do our best, and let’s start with some of the misconceptions, or the ideas that have been most promoted as part of the argument for switching to a completely plant-based diet.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yeah, well, I just want to quickly address the deforestation issue to start, because that’s what you asked about first.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  One of the most important things, you do a great job in your writing and your speaking; you’re always making important distinctions in health research. And it’s kind of the same thing [on] the environmental side. All of these studies about agriculture, one thing, I’ve been on this ranch here in Northern California, north of San Francisco, where we’re located. I’ve been here now for about 18 years, and I continue to be amazed at how site-specific everything is and how everything changes from year to year, and even from day to day. And things are incredibly different on one part of the ranch from a different part of the ranch, let alone the ranch down the road, right?

So one of the big problems with the research that’s being used on all these big splashy movies and reports that come out, is they always take very specific situations and then they generalize. So the deforestation issue is one of those examples. The Livestock’s Long Shadow report, which came out from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 2006, erroneously made the claim that, they retracted it later and said this wasn’t correct, but they originally in their press release when they released the report said that the livestock industry actually caused more emissions than the transportation sector. And so that was, for global warming, and that was later admitted by them to be false. But it attracted a lot of attention.

And the main reason why their figure was so much higher than any previous estimates was, they said 18 percent at that time, 18 percent of global warming emissions in the world were due to the livestock sector. But the main portion, the biggest chunk of that, 40 percent actually was from deforestation and clearing and burning that was taking place in a couple of very specific locations in the world. Brazil was one of those places, and a few other countries around in parts, some parts of Asia and Africa, as well, but especially in the Amazon. And what they were doing is they were taking the figures of how much emissions were caused by the specific deforestation in those particular countries and then they were generalizing it for the whole industry.

The absurdity of that in and of itself, I mean, I wrote an op ed, actually, that was in the New York Times specifically in response to this at the time. If anyone’s interested in looking at it, it’s called “The Carnivore’s Dilemma.” But what I did is I said, you really can’t do that. It’s not factually correct and it’s unfair. Because if someone is raising cattle in, let’s say Montana, first of all, they’re not in any way contributing to deforestation. Their cattle aren’t contributing to deforestation. But in fact, the United States as a whole is reforesting. There’s an increase in forested acres in the [United States]. So there’s really no connection. And there’s also very, very little beef that comes into the [United States] from the deforested parts of the world.

And, specifically, a lot of people, like that thing that happened in my freshman year in college when I was like hearing that, “Oh, your hamburger is deforesting the Amazon.” That was actually never true. Because that beef actually doesn’t come to the [United States]. And even the soy that’s grown, and this is another footnote here is that most of that land is actually being cleared primarily for the purpose ultimately of growing soy. And so there’s a bit of irony there, because if you’re eating soy, you may well be contributing to the deforestation more than if you’re eating beef.

Chris Kresser:  Right.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  But in the original edition of Defending Beef, I went through and very specifically traced where the beef comes from that’s in the [United States] and where it’s going that’s raised in the Amazon in the deforested areas, and where the soy is going. And I basically showed that there’s no actual physical connection between those places. And the argument I make is that you’re not going to be driving the deforestation by consuming beef if you’re buying American. Especially well-raised American beef. Because you’re actually bolstering the domestic supply chain by doing that. And so you’re actually, I would argue, diminishing the pressure on the Amazon when you do that. But more importantly, so basically, you’re taking this very specific situation, and you’re generalizing it, and you’re telling people that anyone who’s eating beef is causing deforestation. And as just a matter of fact, that is not correct. So that’s on that deforestation issue.

Misconception 2: Grazing Animals Are Disturbing Valuable Land

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Now similarly, on land (you asked about the land and the water), the land issue is also another one that gets into the absurdities. The way people talk about it is absurd. You often hear that like 70 percent of the agricultural land in the world is being used by grazing animals, and that’s always said as this horrific figure. But the irony of that is that the vast majority of that is actually on what’s referred to as marginal land or non-arable, non-tillable land. Land, in other words, where you cannot raise crops. You can’t do it. It’s either too hilly, too rocky, too windy, too cool, not enough topsoil, [or] too dry. And actually, we happen to be on a ranch, where I’m sitting right now talking to you, that’s a good example of this. Because we’re right on the coast. It’s very cool, very windy; in fact, today is a very windy day, and we’re part of this Mediterranean climate where we only get moisture in the winter.

So there isn’t adequate heat at the time that you have moisture here. And the topography is very hilly and rocky. So it’s really an extremely poor place to grow any kind of food crops here. But since prehistoric times, this region that I’m in has had huge swaths of grassland. And the reason it’s had huge swaths of grassland is this was created by these ancient roaming grazing herds. Going way back to prehistoric times, there were somewhere between 17 and 19 large mega fauna roaming in this area. So you had these large grazing animals, and then you had large predators, and a lot of people know about the elk that were here. But there were many other large grazing animals in these areas. And there were many large predators pursuing them. And these created these large grassy areas in Northern California where I am, but also in many parts of the world. And so you always had areas that were large grassland areas that were created and maintained by grazing animals.

The places where the domesticated grazing animals are, so the cattle, but also the sheep and the goats and the bison and the other things that are being raised domestically for food around the world, [are] almost entirely on those marginal grassland areas that do not really support farming per, crop production. And we know from the Dust Bowl what happened in the United States in the early 20th century. When people did go into those, the Great Plains areas and started plowing, we had these, literally an ecological disaster, and that’s actually what caused the creation of the Soil Conservation Service, [from] the federal government after that happened. But that’s because the large grazing herds had been on those areas for thousands of years and had created deep topsoil and deeply rooted, diverse grasslands and pastures, or I should say meadows, because pasture is more a term that’s used when you’re talking about agriculture. But essentially open areas that were created by grazing animals. And then, when farming was brought there and the land was plowed, everything that had been built up there was very quickly destroyed.

Chris Kresser:  Top soil just blew away. Yeah.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Exactly. And all the roots, especially all the plant species that populate grasslands, are mostly below ground. The majority of the plant matter is underground. So there’s a tremendous disruption that happens. All of those roots, those tiny root filaments, there’s a whole subterranean ecosystem down there. And a lot of it is on a microscopic level. And so all of those roots are not just holding on to, physically holding on to the soil, but they’re creating little channels where water is contained and there’s a whole substrate for interactions between the soil and the plant world that takes place on a microscopic level where carbon is brought in from the process of photosynthesis. And nutrients are given to the plant in exchange for carbon that the plant gives to the soils.

So there’s an amazing subterranean, very bustling economy down there is how I always think of it. And when you plow, you destroy all that. So you have these amazing grassland ecosystems around the world; that’s where the grazing animals are. It’s not where I’m farming. In some cases, you literally can’t do farming, like on our ranch here. And another place is in the Great Plains. It’s a place where you probably shouldn’t have been doing farming.

Chris Kresser:  Right.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  So there’s this myth, this idea that grazing animals are taking up all this valuable land where you should be growing plants, like lentils, and soybeans that we could eat, and it’s much more efficient. Well, I think that whole thing is very upside down; it’s a very upside down way of thinking about it. Because what they’re doing [is] these animals are actually taking sunlight and rainfall and naturally occurring vegetation, and they’re converting it.

Chris Kresser:  Which we can’t eat.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  We can’t eat those things. And if we tried, we would die. If we tried to subsist on the (crosstalk).

Chris Kresser:  Grass.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  They’re highly cellulosic, grass especially. It’s just basically cellulose; there’s very little nutrition in it. But because the ruminant animals have these miraculous digestive systems that allow them with this tremendous host of microflora that they have in their digestive tracts, they’re able to convert it into nutrition. And that’s an extraordinary thing that they can do this. And because they can do that, they can exist on these marginal lands, where we cannot or should not be raising other types of food crops. So that’s just a total misunderstanding, in my view, of land use and agriculture and ecology.

Farmland Research: Is There a Hidden Agenda?

Chris Kresser:  Here’s the question about that. So, the example you gave earlier of the [Food and Agriculture Organization] (FAO) report, which I’m very familiar with, which extrapolated from a couple of areas in terms of the level of deforestation that was happening, and then assume that that same level of deforestation is happening everywhere that beef is produced. And then you have this situation where this statistic is thrown around about what percentage of farmland animals take up, which is totally misleading, because it’s not arable farmland that we’re talking about. It’s all land.

So I have to believe that the people who are using these statistics are smart and educated and aware of and understand the science that they’re talking about. So do you think this is intentional deception that’s based on an underlying agenda? Is it just groupthink, where the same thing gets repeated over and over, and so people just keep repeating it without even questioning it or thinking about it? Just wondering if you have any insight into this, like based on your time as an environmental lawyer and working even on the other side so to speak. What’s going on here? Why does this keep happening?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  It’s a very interesting question. In fact, I’ve never been asked that question before. But it’s a really good question. I would have to say, because I’ve been working on this stuff for literally almost exactly 20 years now. And so I’ve interacted with tons of people. I know, and I come from the environmental nonprofit community myself, so I was there and I had those peers and I was part of it. And I’ve been interacting with people at Sierra Club and NRDC and everybody around the world for many, many years now. So I think I have a pretty good handle on the perspective.

First of all, I would say, to a shocking degree, the modern environmental agenda from the modern existing environmental [non-governmental organizations] around the world is urban driven. So, I think there’s actually, because the population centers are urban, the money is urban. And so there’s more and more acceptance of this idea that we’re going to come up with our agendas here in this big city, like San Francisco or New York or wherever, and then we’re going to go with that. We’re not going to try to figure out whether this is actually true out on the land. And in fact, I had a revelation about that, because I noticed that Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy, and Point Blue, the conservation group called Point Blue, which are all very pro-ranching and pro-cattle, shockingly to some people. These are groups that are actually out in the field. They’re doing tons of work studying bird populations, for example. And really, they have a ton of people literally out in the fields all over the country, and in different parts of the world, studying what’s happening with habitat, and all these kinds of things.

And those three organizations have all made major efforts to partner with ranching and ranchers, because they’ve recognized them. It’s not just that the ranching community has control over a lot of land, and so we have to try to make good with these people. It’s that they actually recognize them as indispensable partners in restoring bird populations and in improving soil and improving biodiversity.

Chris Kresser:  What’s good for herds is good for birds, right? I’ve heard that saying.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yes, what’s good for the herd is good for the bird. Exactly. And I had this moment of epiphany on that a couple [of] years ago where I was like, what the hell is wrong with Sierra Club? Because I used to be a big fan of Sierra Club, and I worked with a lot of the folks at Sierra Club. But what I realized is that the people I’d been working with for several years when I was at Waterkeeper Alliance, for example, came from rural areas and from farm families. And none of those people were there anymore. They weren’t at the organization.

It was becoming more and more an urban-centered organization and urban-dominated in terms of the perspective and the viewpoint on it. So it’s also part of this. Chris, one more thing I want to quickly say is, if you’re sitting in a big city and everything around you, that you’re in this industrialized environment, and everything around you, the cement, and the metal and the glass and the fossil fuel emissions that are going all around you, right? But the cattle are way far away. It’s like, you can just point your finger way out into the countryside and say, “Goddamn it, those people out there are causing climate change.”

Chris Kresser:  Right. It’s not me driving my car around and generating all this electricity and doing all the things I do in my urban lifestyle and flying my jet around the world to talk about how bad meat is for you, which is what some people do.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Exactly.

Chris Kresser:  It’s easier to point the finger. That’s interesting, and I hadn’t thought about that distinction in those terms quite as clearly. And I still have to think like when that report is being put together, and whoever is responsible for that is making that extrapolation of, okay, this is how much deforestation is happening in Brazil. So let’s just assume that’s what’s going on in Bolinas[, California,] or Montana or any other place, they have to know that that is not correct.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Well, I have an interesting (crosstalk).

Chris Kresser:  Or just like their eyes glaze over and they go into autopilot mode. I don’t know what’s going on there. But there’s something really disturbing about that.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Interestingly, the lead author, [whose] name is Henning Steinfeld,, of that report was here on our ranch. He visited here a few years ago because he was doing a guest stage or whatever at Stanford. And so he came here with another Stanford professor and toured our ranch, and we had a long conversation with him. And he basically said to me on that day when he was here, “I think what you guys are doing here is great and, essentially, I have no problem with it. But I think the overall food system needs to move toward a more intensified system where we have the animals inside buildings, like more toward concentrated pork, concentrated poultry. And that’s why, and I think the extensive systems around the world that are in areas, especially like in Africa and Latin America,” he just saw that as problematic and that we need to be pushing toward this “white meat” because of that. But I thought it was really bizarre.

Chris Kresser:  Just to make sure I’m understanding what his argument was … Was it something like, “well, this is really nice what you’re doing here, but it’s kind of boutique and we can’t really feed the world with farms like this. And we have to move toward these intensive operations if we really want to feed the world.”

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yes. And to say, essentially, we’re not going to be able to get what most of the beef cattle production around the world looks like; right now, we’re not going to be able to get it to look like this. Therefore, the better solution is to intensify it. That’s why it’s so funny to me when I hear the Livestock’s Long Shadow report being used over and over again, as the core of the Cowspiracy movie, for example, because it’s so absurd, because their solution is veganism. And he was actually saying no, you need more intensification.

Chris Kresser:  Right. There’s not enough calories and nutrients in a vegan, and there have been, FAO’s issued a report about that, as well. That in many parts of the world, there’s not enough nutrition in that diet to be able to adequately feed people, and you have to add animal products to it in order for it to be viable.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  And in fact, that whole question of, especially in the developing world, so much of the high-quality nutrition comes from the grazing animals. And so it’s, to me, almost a crime against humanity to be arguing that humans shouldn’t be eating these kinds of foods.

Chris Kresser:  It ignores these huge geographical class, income, [and] equity differences, and to assume that they’re just going to be going down to Whole Foods and buying tempeh or something.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yeah, and then it’s telling all of us that we should be eating processed foods, basically, instead of real whole foods that come directly from the earth. And that is incredibly problematic, as well. So it has like (inaudible). Did you want me to address the water issue, as well?

Misconception #3: Beef Has the Largest Water Footprint

Chris Kresser:  Let’s talk about water and methane briefly,  recognizing that each of these topics could easily be entire, and has been, actually, entire podcasts and debates and things like that.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Exactly.

Chris Kresser:  But I just want to at least touch on the big ones. So let’s talk about water first, since we just covered land, and then let’s go to methane. The idea that cow farts are the main cause of global warming.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yeah, the water thing is really interesting because, again, it gets lumped into this big, and I was a water quality expert. That was my specialty when I was working as an environmental lawyer. And the group Waterkeeper Alliance is primarily focused on water quality issues. So it was really a big part of the work that I did. And I think it’s important, first of all, to make two kinds of distinctions. One is water quality, and one is water quantity. They’re very different issues.

Are you talking about the impact that it’s going to have on pollution? Or are you talking about whether or not you have water in the ecosystem, or if you’re using up too much of it? That sort of thing. So on both fronts, beef gets, I think, unfairly vilified. And on the quantity issue, especially, you often hear that water, it just takes up too much water. So what I did in Defending Beef is I actually looked at the studies where they tried to quantify how much beef, how much water is required to produce a pound of beef. And what I found was that virtually every analysis that has ever been done of it was not really done in a very agriculturally sound way, except for one that was done by UC Davis, which, of course, is a very credible agricultural school. So these are people who really understand how things are done on [the] agricultural side.

And what they basically, I should make clear, the reason that these other studies or analyses they were not really studies for the most part, were so inaccurate was they were taking all of the water that goes into the animals. So we were just talking about, you have these grazing animals on the marginal lands all over the world, and they’re consuming vegetation that’s naturally occurring and water by rain. Okay? And that water is being counted in these hamburger statistics, right? These huge numbers that you hear all the time. But what the UC Davis people did was they said, “Okay, let’s just look at how much water is actually added. How much is like, let’s say irrigated or given to an animal in a water trough,” right? So water that’s in the system, not water [that] would be falling from the sky and landing on the vegetation anyway. And there’s this green water, blue water, gray water distinction that’s out there. But anyway, the blue water is the stuff that you’re giving it to the animals to drink in the trough, for example, or irrigating crops with.

And when the UC Davis scientists did this, and they actually, even looking at conventional modern beef that is in a feedlot, they found that the water consumption level was about the same for beef as it is for rice. So rice, we know, is a comparatively, to some other foods, relatively water-intensive food. But beef and rice are about the same, and it’s also comparable to several other things in a typical, modern pantry. But if that’s true, why do we always hear about this with respect to beef? And we almost never hear about it with respect to other foods. So my point isn’t that there isn’t water that goes into beef production. But the point is, it’s really not so out of whack compared to other things that we eat.

And the other side of it on the agricultural side of what happens to again, that water that’s in agriculture, or that these animals, what is their impact. I make a very important argument in the book, I think that when you have well-managed grazing systems, especially, having those animals on the land actually makes the water function better in that the hydrological system is going to work better on that landscape. So you’re going to have more water retained in that ecosystem than you otherwise would. So I would argue that the water question is a lot more complicated, because you’re actually improving the soil’s water holding capacity by having the grazing animals on there, and that hydrates everything in that ecosystem. Whatever else is growing there, whatever else is living there in terms of wildlife, or any domesticated crops or anything.

I think the water question is just a lot more complicated than people tend to realize, and the numbers are a lot smaller and a lot less concerning [than] people believe.

Chris Kresser:  Well, nuance and complication don’t really do well in the media. It’s like, we need a simple headline that people will click on.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Exactly. The reductionism and the oversimplification nowadays is just sometimes really, really disheartening.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  And that’s why I love podcasts, because we get to have longer conversations.

Chris Kresser:  That’s right.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  And we get to dive deeply into these things. I just want to say quickly, too, on the water quality side of this, again, you can look at examples of where either dairy production or beef production [is] contributing to pollution. But the overall effect, so that’s just a sign of poor management, because if you have well-managed grazing animals, it actually improves water quality because it’s not just that there’s more water that’s being held in the soils, but any water that’s coming off of that land is actually going to be cleaner because of the natural purification systems that happen, the natural filtration systems.

And I describe some of the research that’s been done on that in my book. So that’s just something that’s been studied in a bunch of different venues, and they found that basically, because you have, with grazing, you maintain dense vegetation and healthy soils, and all of that leads to filtration that happens as water moves through the system. And so it’s actually a net benefit to have grazing animals in it for water quality. But again, it’s that, it’s not the cow; it’s the how thing again. You have to have well-managed grazing. So I think to me, that’s the bottom line over and over again, is the focus is on the wrong thing. We shouldn’t be saying, no cattle; we shouldn’t be saying, beef is bad. We should be saying, we need to improve how we’re doing things, right? And when we do good grazing, it has tremendous beneficial effects. So let’s focus on improving the quality of grazing.

There is some incredibly good grazing going on out there in the world. But there’s a lot of bad grazing, too.

Chris Kresser:  Right.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  So let’s focus on the bad stuff, and then there’s a lot of mediocre grazing, right? So let’s make the mediocre stuff better and let’s make the good stuff great. And that’s where I think the energy and the resources should be.

Why Removing Animals from the Food System Is Not the Answer to Climate Change

Chris Kresser:  Well, I think the implicit assumption here, too, with advocates of [a] plant-based diet, is that we can simply remove animals from the food system and that will have no negative effects. Right? I find it in conversations with people about this, that that is the assumption whether they’re aware of it or not. And there’s little understanding of what the very complex relationship is with animals in the food system, both from an environmental perspective and a nutritional perspective. And from the nutritional perspective, I mentioned just now that there have been some recent reports that have looked at what would happen if we removed animal products from the diet, and people are already eating too many calories, and they may not be able to get enough micronutrients for the amount of calories that they need to take in, to meet their nutritional needs. And that’s like a downstream effect that plant-based diet advocates often don’t speak about.

And then from an environmental perspective, it’s like oh, let’s just stop producing beef then and animal products; that’s easy enough, and then we’ll just make more corn, soy, and other plant-based [foods].

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Wheat.

Chris Kresser:  Wheat, monocrops, and that will have no impact environmentally. Right? That’s the assumption, right? That’s not going to have any impact at all. And so what’s wrong with that line of thinking?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yeah, well, I mean, a big part of the problem is this issue of the marginal lands that we were talking about before. First of all, you actually physically can’t produce food [in] so many of these places. But also, there’s the type of food that you can. Meat, if you take it out, it’s not just about the flesh of the animal; it’s also about the fat. One of the things I did [that was] really interesting, I chaired a panel at the Sustainable Food Trust Conference, The True Cost of American Food a couple of years ago in San Francisco, and we put this amazing panel of people together that showed that. We talked about the fact that animal fats had essentially been really seriously vilified for decades in the Western world. And because of that, people had migrated toward vegetable oils and specifically, palm oil. And we talked about the implications of that from an ecological perspective. And it was shocking.

We got this unbelievable collection of people together that knew the really specific, on the ground effects of the huge palm farms that were happening in Southeast Asia and things like that. And it was really even for me, I’ve been working on this stuff for a long time, it’s mind-blowing to think about this. And so we talk about, for example, oh well, we shouldn’t eat animal fats. I basically largely disagree with that idea altogether. But even if you buy into that, that that’s a good thing to do from a health perspective, well, how do we get those fats then? And the way that fats have been created when we migrate away from animal fats, which, by the way, can be local and can be from, you can, they’re essentially non-processed. They’re not industrially produced, they’re very simple to get, and you can get them from your local farmer or butcher, or in our case, from our own ranch. And these oils are coming from huge monocrop cultivation, and from far, far away in plantations, in the case of palm oil, for example.

And so, all of these things that you’re replacing, the meat and the animal fat with, those things have costs. And in some cases, these costs are much worse, and in most cases, they’re out of sight. So Patrick Holden, who’s the executive director of Sustainable Food Trust, had come up with this great phrase, “We’re living off of the fat of their land,” because we stopped eating the fats of our own animals. And now we’re going to places like Asia and other parts around the world and destroying ecosystems in order to create the fats that we want to replace the animal fats with. It’s pretty shocking, and very few people are even thinking about that at all.

Chris Kresser:  Right. Well, you can grow more nuts, for example, and more avocados. Those are very energy-intensive crops. But I think the solution that’s really being proposed is more soybean oil, more cottonseed oil, more safflower and sunflower oils, essentially more industrial waste oils, which are cheap. But of course, these don’t have the same nutritional impact or benefit that eating whole foods that have naturally occurring fats in them do.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yeah, and I hadn’t really thought about it until I did this panel, but this whole idea that you’re becoming less and less able to feed yourself. When you start using all these industrial products as your staples, right?

Chris Kresser:  Yeah.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  And if it’s okay for you to just render, as I always do, I render the pork fat in my own kitchen. I’m not talking about some big industrial process. I do this in my own kitchen whenever I have a fatty cut of meat. I render the pork fat, I render the beef fat, and I just keep it in a little pot that I have sitting on my counter in my kitchen. And I use that for cooking for months afterward. So I don’t have to get some industrially produced and industrially processed oil that was grown in Northern Canada or something, you know what I mean? Or worse, something farther away, and you have to go through more steps and a giant monoculture with tons of chemicals on it.

So yeah, it’s a weird thing how we’ve shifted the way we eat, and we continually think that if we take the animal out of the equation, we’re somehow improving it from a health and environmental perspective. And more and more, I’m just peeling back all the layers of the onion on this, I’m finding it to be just less and less true. And if you want to feed yourself and eat really nutritious foods, and eat whole foods, and try to get locally things that are biologically vibrant foods still, those things are, animals are a big part of that, right? And if you try to eliminate animals entirely from your diet, you’re going to get more and more into the processed foods and the distantly produced foods that you don’t know what it even looks like in terms of how it was raised. And that, to me, is inherently part of the problem.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah. So the bad news is we’re running low on time. The good news is, I think we have talked a lot about why animals are part of an optimal food system, as we’ve addressed some of these myths about animal products, including them in your diet.

Misconception #4: Methane Is the Main Cause of Global Warming

Chris Kresser:  The last thing I want to talk about is the significance of methane from cows. Because this is obviously one of the (crosstalk).

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yes, I’m glad we’re going to have the whole time to talk about methane.

Chris Kresser:  If you ask 100 vegetarians on the street that are vegetarians for environmental reasons what the reason is, methane would probably be one of the things that comes up most, right?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yes.

Chris Kresser:  So let’s definitely touch on that.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yeah, I’m glad we have a little time to talk about it, because it is, as you say, a very commonly mentioned issue. But I think, again, it’s really misunderstood. So first of all, the global picture is really different [from] the domestic picture. And there are these fluctuations in methane levels that have been happening, and the scientists really don’t understand that much about why. But if you’re talking, especially in the United States, the methane emissions in the [United States] are down almost 20 percent over the last decade and a half. And this is in spite of the fact that there’s all this methane that is now being shown to be caused by fracking. And fracking has dramatically increased, and we know that they’re, in fact, Congress just a few days ago decided to take up this issue again in terms of the uncapped methane leaks that are happening all around the United States in fossil fuel production.

So we know there are a bunch of new sources and old sources that haven’t been addressed in methane, and we’re still seeing a decline in methane emissions. So I think one of the things is that people should just understand that this idea that there’s more and more methane that we’re responsible for because we’re eating beef. There’s a real question and a real doubt about just whether or not there’s even a growing problem. And related to that, it’s important to know that Dr. Myles Allen, who’s a physicist at Oxford University, who is one of the scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that makes the global recommendations about climate change, [is] on a whole campaign, [has] written a whole bunch and doing a lot of speaking about how the methods for studying, for measuring methane are completely wrong. And that they created this metric about two decades ago in order to make equivalence for methane and carbon dioxide, and that it’s actually incorrect.

And I spoke with him directly when I was in England and have heard him speak and listened to a bunch of his podcasts and read a bunch of his papers. And basically, what he’s saying is, there’s a historic load of methane and that if you have continued methane emissions, you will basically just be replacing the existing methane that is in the environment, because methane does not accumulate. CO2 lasts for hundreds of thousands of years. And so essentially, there’s a certain amount that just, you just keep adding. Anytime you emit CO2, it actually adds to the amount that’s in the atmosphere. That isn’t true with methane, because it only has a life in the atmosphere of about 10 years.

And so what Dr. Allen is saying is what you’re really trying to measure is how much global warming you’re causing when you do emissions. And if you have static methane amounts that you’re releasing in any ecosystem, you’re not going to increase the warming at all; it’s going to be static. And in fact, he did all these explanations in his talk that I saw him do in England, and he showed that even with a slight decline in methane emissions, for example, he was talking specifically about cattle herds, he said, even if you had a slight decline, you would actually have a cooling, a zero effect or cooling effect on global warming. So this idea that the cattle herds of the earth are this huge problem is just inherently untrue. The science doesn’t match up with the science of what’s happening in the real world as far as how these gases actually function.

And he told me, as well, when I talked to him, that he’s very frustrated [by] all the attention that’s being focused on cattle, because he said, everybody knows the real problem is fossil fuels.

Chris Kresser:  Yep, transportation.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Exactly. Going back to the transportation sector, and so many other things. Even food waste. On the other end of the food production system, there’s a huge percentage of the world’s methane that’s caused by food that’s rotting.

Chris Kresser:  Decomposition.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  The decomposition that’s taking place in landfills. So there are all these other really important components of things that, for example, there’s no good that comes from methane leaks, right? There’s nothing good. Nothing good is produced, not even an airplane trip or a car ride. There’s nothing good. It’s just something that is causing a problem, and it needs to be fixed. And everybody in the scientific community is very aware of this. But the advocacy community that doesn’t want people to be eating beef and doesn’t want people to be, to think it’s okay to consume beef, has glommed on to this idea that because of the enteric emissions of methane from cattle, you should stop eating beef. And it’s really nonsensical.

So I go through the methane issue in a lot of detail in my book Defending Beef, and I hope that if people read it, they’ll get a lot more. Those are just the bones, what I just gave you, those are the bones of it.

Chris Kresser:  Right, right.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  But I think the key point is that the methane [is] not a showstopper. It’s almost kind of a red herring. And to me, it’s more a tool that’s being used by advocates that don’t want us eating meat.

Chris Kresser:  Which again, goes back to the question of what’s happening there? Because all of the science that you just explained is readily available. A lot of this stuff doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when you really look at it. So you have to wonder like, personally, I’m just fascinated by these questions of why do we believe what we believe? And what are our human biases and how do they work against us? Like confirmation bias, where we only seek out information that supports our viewpoint, and we don’t look at anything that might interfere with it. And it’s so clear through this conversation, and so many others, how much that is harming us. How much our natural human biases get in the way of us finding the truth, especially when the truth is complicated, as it often is, right?

It’s like we want, and this is understandable from an evolutionary perspective, to reduce everything to something simple, because just cognitively, that’s less expensive, right? That’s a less energy-intensive process. If we have to think really hard about something and explore a lot of complexity, that’s from an evolutionary perspective, that’s what’s referred to as an expensive activity, and we want to reduce expensive activities as much as we can. So we have a tendency to make things way simpler than they actually are by creating these heuristics and these soundbite ways of talking and thinking about things. So I’m so glad that you have taken the time to break all of this down. You originally published this book back in 2014. Maybe you could tell the listeners a little bit about why you decided to do a second edition and what’s different in this second edition than the first one that you published seven years ago.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Well, I first wrote it because I kept having people say stuff to me, like, “Oh well, I do eat meat but not beef.” Because you know (crosstalk).

Chris Kresser:  Because chicken is better. Right.

Nicolette Hahn Niman: Exactly. And I was like, oh my God.

Chris Kresser:  You’ve got that backwards. Yeah.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Exactly. So I kept having this weird upside down conversation with people and thinking, well, I’ve got to use the things I’ve learned and the things I’ve seen and the things that I’m doing here on the ranch and stuff, and just lay it out as I see it and make the case that if you’re really only going to eat one meat, it actually should be beef. I actually wrote that.

Chris Kresser:  Not chicken. Chicken should be at the bottom of the list, probably.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Right, chicken should be the first thing you get rid of.

Chris Kresser:  And by the way, I think chicken’s great, too. We have this wonderful friend who raises pasture-based chicken, and I’ve been eating a lot of it since I started eating meat again, and it’s delicious.

But it’s harder to find that. It’s harder to find a truly pasture-raised chicken. Like, if you’re going and shopping in the grocery store, you’re probably not able to find that. But you can find truly pasture-raised beef in most grocery stores now.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Exactly. That’s right. I think with a little effort, you can find really good chicken out there, too. But beef is easier to find good beef; it’s easier to find totally grass-based beef. And I know you’ve talked about this in a lot of other podcasts. But there’s really good evidence that there are tremendous nutritional benefits to eating grass-based foods, truly grass-based foods. And so there’s that. But to me, a few things to answer your question about why I wanted to do this again, I was actually asked to do it by the publisher and I jumped at the chance, I was thrilled. And they said, we feel this topic is more topical than ever. And I said, yeah, I do, too. So I was thrilled to. And I actually went through the book line by line and spent almost a year rewriting it because there were a lot of subtle shifts I wanted to make to the book. I didn’t know that when I started the process. But as I went through it line by line, I realized like, oh, this isn’t quite what I think anymore. Not that I find the original book to be inaccurate. But I’m just much more focused on this question of processed foods versus real whole foods now than I was when I wrote the first book. So there’s much more of an emphasis on that and the importance of beef as part of that stable of real whole foods that you can build a very healthy diet on quite easily.

And just, there is a lot more science and a lot more discussion, a lot more resources available on the question of carbon sequestration. We haven’t talked that much about soil today. But I have a lot in the book about soil health. And there’s a lot more discussion on that; there’s been a lot of studies in recent years about soil biology and soil health. And this whole question of methane, a lot of good additional work has been done in the scientific community. So I really beefed up the discussion. I had to do that pun at least once.

Chris Kresser:  Couldn’t resist.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  You’ve got to forgive me. But I beefed up a lot of the discussion in the climate change section because I thought that needed more. Because a lot of stuff needed to be refuted and added to. And so I updated it, added and expanded things and changed the emphasis. But I have to say, it’s essentially the same book, but to me, it’s a much more updated and much more expanded and greatly improved book. So I’m excited that it’s a super hot topic right now, because I’m hoping my book will become part of the public discussion where we can get through some of the sound bites and get into more meaningful discussions about healthy food systems. And just being more connected with the natural world.

I just think that’s such an important part of humanity getting to a healthier place than we are right now. And I make the case in the book that, for humans and for animals and just everything, beef [is] a really important part of our food system and of our landscapes. And so I just want to make the case that we really need these animals. They’re a very important partner to humans, and this book gave me the opportunity to put that idea out there.

Chris Kresser:  Great. Fantastic. Well, I do see some positive signs, I think, thanks in part to your work and the work of other people who are sharing a similar message. It’s not unusual now today, I mean, we’ve got lots of farm-to-table restaurants, for example, that are serving grass-fed beef and bone marrow and even organ dishes. And there are more young people that are actually choosing to go into pasture-based farming and raising animals. And there are people who are environmentalists now who actually are advocating for the use of animals in the food system, whereas maybe 30, 40 years ago, an environmentalist wouldn’t be caught dead doing that.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Exactly.

Chris Kresser:  So I think there are some really positive changes. And even though I can get discouraged and frustrated by the level of dialogue on these issues in the mainstream, I think that we have made progress overall. And it’s thanks to your work and the work of many others in this field.

So the book is Defending Beef, and Nicolette, do you have a website or social media that you use to talk to people if they want to follow you and stay in touch with you and your work?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  Yeah, we do have a very active Facebook: Defending Beef and a Twitter: Defending Beef. So that’s the best way to get a hold of me, and the book is coming out [on] July 20th, I believe.

Chris Kresser:  Great. July 20th, check it out; it’s a phenomenal resource. I read the first one when it came out, the second one, as well, and it’s just, you’ll be so much better informed on these topics if you read this book. And your information will be evidence-based, which is really what we want to get to here instead of just the common refrains that we hear about in the media on both sides of the topic. Because I think, to be fair, sometimes the Paleo or ancestral health community can have the same tendency to oversimplify and to not fully acknowledge and recognize the nuances and the complexity of some of these issues.

So I think the way we’re going to make progress is really dealing with facts and being as objective as we can about those facts and then working toward understanding what the needs are and working toward a system that better addresses those needs for everybody.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:  [I] agree.

Chris Kresser:  Great. All right, thanks, everybody, for listening. [I] hope you enjoyed this episode. Keep sending your questions in to ChrisKresser.com/podcastquestion, and we’ll see you next time.