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Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Nicolette Hahn Niman and Bill Niman are going to be in residence on Chowhound starting Monday, July 6, responding to questions and comments right here on this thread about sustainable agriculture and Nicolette's new book "Righteous Porkchop," and perhaps sharing a few cooking tips for goat! (Goat is what they're raising now, under the name BN Ranch.)

Nicolette Hahn Niman is a rancher, attorney, and writer. Much of her time is spent speaking and writing about the problems of industrialized livestock production, including the book "Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms" (HarperCollins, 2009). Previously, she was the senior attorney for the environmental organization Waterkeeper Alliance, where she was in charge of the organization's campaign to reform the concentrated livestock and poultry industry; before that, she was an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation.

Bill Niman is a cattle rancher in Northern California, the proprietor of BN Ranch, and founder of the natural meat company Niman Ranch, Inc. He was a member of the Pew Foundation's National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which released recommendations for reform of the nation's livestock industry in April 2008. In 2007, "Vanity Fair" featured him in its Green Issue and "Plenty" magazine selected him as among the nation's five leading "green entrepreneurs." Niman co-authored "The Niman Ranch Cookbook" (Ten Speed Press, 2005), which was selected as one of the year's best cookbooks by the "New York Times," "Newsweek," and the "San Jose Mercury News."

Start asking your questions: The Nimans will be checking in at least once a day from July 6 through July 10 to respond. Bill and Nicolette have lots of experience in food policy, sustainable agriculture, and ranching. Some ideas for what they might discuss:
-Is it possible to eat well and sustainably in a bad economy? How?
-How do I locate sustainably farmed meat, and how can I afford it?
-How do a vegetarian activist and a meat rancher eat together?

EDITED: adding a link to the Nimans' blog over on theatlantic.com: http://food.theatlantic.com/on-the-farm/

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  1. Great opportunity- thanks to CH and the Nimans! Suggest you also post this on the Home Cooking board.

    1. Let's start by posting the following...

      http://www.righteousporkchop.com/abou...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niman_Ranch

      The first link is to the first chapter of Righteous Porkchop. (aka The Divine Swine)

      1. I'm interested in knowing what is fed to the beef cattle? Also, which breeds of beef cattle are bred and fed, and how many head are annually raised to market weight? What weight do the cattle reach before they are ready to go to market?

        Thank you for your consideration of my questions.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ChiliDude

          Regarding feed. Generally, when cattle are on pasture, they are eating naturally occuring vegetation. From an environmental and human health perspective, well managed grazing is one of the most beneficial ways to produce food.

          However, when cattle are put in a feedlot or drylot, they will be fed a wide variety of things, depending on who is raising them and where they are located. (For example, in Nebraska, a lot of corn is fed whereas in Alberta, barley is used). Unfortunately, for conventionally raised cattle, not all of what's fed to cattle is stuff that most people would want in their food chain. In Nicolette's book Righteous Porkchop she gives lots of examples of some of the unsavory stuff used in cattle feed. It includes antibiotics, meat by-products, chicken feathers and urea. The main ingredients of cattle feed include grains, hay, and silage (usually that is fermented, chopped corn). By seeking out beef that is "naturally raised" consumers can avoid buying meat from cattle fed antibiotics and meat by products. By seeking out "grass fed beef" consumers can also avoid cattle fed grain. We do not believe that it's bad to feed some grain to cattle, but this must be done carefully to avoid various health problems in the animals.

          Regarding weights. The weights at slaughter vary greatly depending on who's raising them. Typical grain finished cattle go to slaughter at between 1050 LBS and 1400 LBS. The variation depends largely on the breeds in question as well as the gender and age of the animal. Most grass-fed beef goes to slaughter at a lighter weight.

        2. Is there enough difference between Angus and other typical beef cattle breeds to merit paying the exptra premium charged by supermarkets and restaurants, or is this a meaningless branding (no pun intended) ploy? If so, how does Angus differ?

          2 Replies
          1. re: greygarious

            The premium beef breed in France is Charolais. I know that these cattle are raised in the U.S., but have never seen them promoted.

            1. re: greygarious

              Bill and Nicolette Niman here again.

              The most important thing to know when purchasing beef is the way the animal was raised. How old it was at slaughter, what it was fed, and the enivronment it lived in are some of the important points to understand. Additionally, how it was handled when it "went to town" (at the slaughterhouse).

              There are breeds that have been selected over generations for one quality trait or another. What is known about Aberdeen Angus (Black Angus) and the other breeds of catle raised for meat that were developed over the last several hundred years in the UK, is that they were selected for one purpose -- how their meat ate. The breeding lines were not kept because of how much milk they produced, how big their calf was, or how large a plow they could pull. The primary criterion was how their flesh ate from a flavor and tenderness viewpoint.

              The Angus Beef Cattle breed association has done a great job of promoting (perhaps overpromoting) their breed as the standard of excellence. In my opinion, Hereford Beef (another British Breed) is the equal and the cross between the two breeds is the best. A good indication in the cattle industry of the relative value of Black Angus vs Herefrod is the price tag on the purebred bulls. For the first tim in many years Herefrod Bulls are more expensive than Angus. That confirms what cattlemen have known for a long time now and that is that there is now a lot of quality variation within the Angus Breed and what may appear to be an Black Angus is just a black version of other cattle that have not been carefully selected for eating quality rather for color and other insignificant factors that have nothing to do with eating quality.

            2. Back in the 1950s pork & specifically pork chops became my absolute favorite meat because my Dad grilled pork so well. Today I never buy pork because when I roast or fry or grill it, it always turns out dry and tasteless.

              My question is: Is Heritage Pork a throwback to the succulent meat of the 50s and 60s?

              Thank you for conducting these dialogues!

              7 Replies
              1. re: RedTop

                Bill Niman here.

                What makes great tasting pork, the way it used to be, is when pigs are raised outdoors. Pigs regulate body temperature utilizing a layer of backfat beneath their skin. They do not have sweat glands or fur coats. The backfat keeps them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Oh, and by the way, it correlates directly with intermuscular succulence and flavor.

                The "other white meat" industry has done a great job of breeding the backfat out and creating a "lean generation" that didn't need to worry about staying warm because they lived their entire lives in climate controlled buildings. What the modern pork industry didn't concern themselves with is that backfat and intramuscular fat are essential to juiciness and flavor.

                Any pigs that get the chance to live outdoors and still have some of the traits necessary to survive the Minnesota winters will be reminiscient of that wonderful pork that many of us remember and seek. Most of the breeds that can still do that are considered heritage breeds because they can get fat and therefore taste great. Be careful, though, because if you put those pigs indoors and deprive them of a natural environment they quickly become "the other white meat" -- the dry and tasteless variety.

                1. re: NicoletteHN

                  Hi Bill. Thanks for your feedback. Is there any directory of "real pork" one can go to to get natural pig meat? The problem most people have in most parts of the country, is that they don't know where their meat is coming from. It is nice to say that people should be selective in their purchases of meat, and only buy "wholesome meat," i.e. meat that is certified organic, or direct from a farmer they trust, or is from a farmer's market. I do that most of the time, but tonight I was at Trader Joe's, and they were offering a really good price on a rib steak, and it was late, so I bought it.

                  I think there should be a labelling law instituted, which tells everyone where their food is coming from. A sticker on every fruit (they already do it in the banana and avocado industries), a way to trace where the food comes from. It would go a long way toward creating trust in the quality of the product, and would also give the government a way to track foodborn illnesses, hopefully in a way that would pinpoint contamination and not decimate whole industries with the ocassional farm's failures.

                  1. re: NicoletteHN

                    Thank you for your reply, Bill. I'm off to find a Michigan farmer, or two, that raise hogs in an outdoor environment.

                    1. re: RedTop

                      Nicolette Niman here this time.

                      Michigan has some excellent outdoor pig farms. I am from Michigan and Bill and I have visited about a half dozen traditional pig farms in Cass County. The pigs were running around on spacious pastures, grazing, raising their young outdoors, and fed only natural feeds. Some of those pig farmers are selling their hogs to Niman Ranch. Some sell their meat at the farmers market. Your local farmers market is a great place to start your search! Have fun!

                      1. re: NicoletteHN

                        I am in Vacaville, Solano County, California. Aren't you in Sonoma? I see many of your products at Nugget Market, but no pork chops! We have no pork in our farmer's market (but we can get lamb in Yolo!), I can try Vallejo farmer's market. Any other suggestions for "good 'ol pork" around here or Sacramento?

                        1. re: Shrinkrap

                          Shrinkwrap, unless the Nimans have decided on an encore, the question period has expired. A big thanks to them for sharing their expertise!

                2. What are some of the best meat producers internationally? What makes them better than their peers in the same country or better than their international brethern?

                  1. Is it possible, land-use wise, to return to feeding cattle their natural feed, i.e., grass, hay, alfalfa, on a national level? How would such a shift impact the economy (i.e. if corn/soy were no longer used as feed for cattle and/or other food animals)?

                    Just for elaboration, I will link this thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/629921 discussing a recent article that talks about how research has shown that if the diet of cows is changed from corn/soy to alfalfa, flaxseed and grass, the cows themselves produce less "greenhouse gasses" and suffer from fewer stomach ailments. It just seems to be common sense -- feed the animals the way they were designed to be fed, and you will have a better product, a healthier animal and less environmental damage to the land. But, in the past 40 years or so, our entire food production system has changed to be more efficient, to the detriment of the animals. How can we reverse this?

                    1. How much additional acreage would be required if all chickens were free range and all beef was grass fed at the current per capita consumption rate of these commodities?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: LRunkle

                        To add to LRunkle's question, how do you see political moves such as California's recently passed proposition which bans "factory farmed" eggs, chicken, pigs and the like impacting food production locally? Can the industry remain competative, comply with such regulations and remain local?

                      2. 1. A question about lamb (goat being rather rare in the US except in certain ethnic markets): I read conflicting reports about how much of the mass-marketed lamb in US supermarkets (coming mostly from the US, Australia, and New Zealand, and perhaps some from Iceland, not sure if any comes from Canada) is pastured (grass-fed) and what proportion of that is grain-finished: do you know how much is so and if it varies significantly by country of origin?

                        2. A question about rabbit: would rabbit be a contender to promote for a lower-impact source of mammalian meat?

                        1. What ten purchasing suggestions would you make to the average middle-income American family who is struggling in this economy?

                          Meaning...first steps anyone can do.

                          17 Replies
                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            I'd like to add on to this since I'm surprised there has not been more discussion about prices. I always hear people using the excuse, if you care about your body you would find a way to save the money to buy better food. Well I can tell you being one of the many families facing unemployment (and before then on a tight budget) I have trimmed all I can. I fed my daughter exclusively organic until she was two and a half and it was not practical to make her separate food anymore. I'll still buy her certain organic items but meat is just way out of our budget. Even cutting back how much meat we eat, natural meats are too expensive. It kills me because I believe so strongly that it is important to put good food in your body but are there any other options when you can't afford it? Do you see prices ever going down or a way to change the system to make it more mainstream without degrading the quality? Thank you!!

                            1. re: elliora

                              Bill and Nicolette Niman here.

                              THE NIMAN TOP TEN LIST FOR AFFORDABLE SUSTAINABLE EATING
                              (Some of which are easier to do than others but all of which are worth consideration...)

                              (*But first, we should note that we think cost to the consumer is a very important question. In fact, it's one of the most important barriers to changing the practices of the current industrialized meat and dairy industries. It is true that meat and dairy from pasture-based, natural farms often costs more money. The reasons for this are complex and are closely related to government policies (at federal, state and local levels) that encourage industrial production. But that does not help the consumer who's trying to carefully watch his or her budget and eat healthy foods. With that said, here are our suggestions on how to do that.)

                              1. Reduce consumption of meat, dairy and fish products. Most Americans eat far more meat and dairy than is nutritionally warranted and this is the most expensive part of the American diet. We refer to this as "moving meat OFF the center of the plate." By cutting down on the number of times you eat meat, dairy and fish AND by reducing portion sizes of those foods, you can keep buying naturally raised meat and dairy without breaking the bank.

                              2. Shop and eat in harmony with the seasons. For every food that is naturally raised, (and wild game, seafood and fish), there is a "season of plenty." During that season of plenty, the foods are available at a lower cost and it's a great time to get bargains on healthful, delicious foods. Various websites now offer guidance on what's in season when. A walk through a farmers market also tells you what's in season.

                              3. Plant a garden. If you have a yard, terrace, or even a window sill, you can grow your own organic vegetables, herbs and fruits cheaper than you can buy them. It's also a great way to get fresh air and exercise.

                              4. Keep a flock of laying hens. At the dawn of the 20th century, even cities had loads of chickens. "A 1906 census showed that in urban areas there was one chicken for every two people" (Righteous Porkchop, p. 40). More and more cities are again allowing people to keep chickens -- a great way to get cheap, organic eggs and chicken meat.

                              5. Cook more. Food that is prepared at home from raw ingredients is cheaper than prepared foods (and better tasting and more nutritious!)

                              6. Shift budgeting priorities. Americans spend a smaller percentage of their budgets on food than any other developed country. In France, for example, people spend about 14% of their income on food. In the US, we spend about 9%.

                              7. Buy cheaper cuts of meat. The so-called "middle meats" (e.g. pork loin, beef tenderloin) are the most commonly available in supermarkets, but are not the tastiest and are the most expensive. By learning about the lesser known cuts (e.g. beef tri-tip, pork shanks) and how to prepare them, you can save a lot of money on your meat.

                              8. Buy whole chickens (instead of parts). Roast the whole bird or cut it into parts at home. You'll save money and get better quality meat. Use what's left to make stock for soup and sauces.

                              9. Buy foods during low demand periods. For example, at Christmas, prime rib and tenderloin are in high demand while the New York strip steak is in relatively low demand, so this it's a good time to buy it if you're looking to save money. Another good example is pork spare ribs and babyback ribs -- they are in high demand in the summer grilling season and are much cheaper outside of that time period.

                              10. Eat organ meats. Liver, hearts and kidneys are highly nutrious and can be purchased at a relatively low cost. Even a very tight budget can afford these from naturally raised animals. Learn how to cook them and you'll have great, nutritious food.

                              1. re: NicoletteHN

                                Great ideas but some are not practicable for many urban or sub-urban dwellers. More and more residential communities are prohibiting the growing of fruiting trees and even the growing of a vegetable garden because it tends to attract vermin. Some places even prohibit composting. Raising poultry is not permitted in a great many municipalities. Seems people do not like to be awakened by cawing foul at 0'dark-thirty.

                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                  Au contraire, mon frere. The trend is the other way. More and more municipalities that adopted such ordinances mid-century are now repealing them. Several of our good friends in cities and suburbs are part of this growing trend.

                                  1. re: NicoletteHN

                                    I would be curious exactly what citites are allowing poultry.

                                    Going along with that, when urban dwellers get their chickens, exactly how do they dispatch them?

                                    My grandparents grew up in the country and had chickens and some of the tales my father told of killing the chicken still give me nightmares. Not to mention that de-feathering and dressing a chicken are not the easiest of tasks.

                                    I would think quite a lot of education is also needed. I live in a Latino neighborhood where many families illegally raise chickens. We have had some disease outbreaks. And as KaimukiMan pointed out, waking up seven days a week to the neighbors rooster isn't always pleasant. They start crowing way before dawn.

                                    While I agree that, if one chooses, you can continue to eat naturally raised on a tight budget, that also takes some education. I did a month-long experiment to eat mainly organic for a month on $3 a day. It is doiable, but not easy. Are the advocates of natural food doing anything to reach out to people who aren't already part of the choir?

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      "I would be curious exactly what citites are allowing poultry."

                                      minneapolis & st paul both allow poultry. . . . i'd think most smaller green cities would, and that only suburban places/gated communities would have bans. it takes no more "education" than keeping a cat or dog at your house.

                                      assuming you don't have people illegally raising fighting cocks, waking up to chickens is pleasant. heck of a lot better than waking up to gunfire, imo.

                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                        Also, quite a few ordinances disallow roosters, but allow hens, which is what you want for eggs anyway. It's the roosters who are quite noisy.

                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                          Wow. The people living near me are hard-working first generation families that use eggs and chickens for food to help stretch dollars for raising their children. Way out of line comment, soupkitten. No gunfire here. And obviously you have not been awakened at four am by a rooster who crows incessantly from that hour.

                                          As mentioned, unless someone is raising a pet chicken, there is way more to learn about raising chickens than a cat or dog. And if the end is near for pets, there's a vet to take them. Few people take their pet to the chopping block or some other thing.

                                          The neighbors ckickens that got out of their yard, passed along some bugs to my cat which also restulted in a nasty rash for me ... I could have bought a truckload of Foster Farms chickens for those vet and doctor bills.

                                          In the last century, when people raised their own chickens and kept gardens, people were moving to the city from the country. They had te skills to know how to do this. For the generations who have known nothing but city living and have grown up eating canned and frozen food ...well, dealing with a live chicken requires some education.

                                          The point is that while I am grateful there are people who take effort to change the way we eat.for the better, there is a gap with getting the message out and disconnect about how a big chunk of the population actually lives.

                                          Perhpas elliora, will be one of the minority of people who will cut back on serving organic and natural meat to be able to eat better.

                                          However, in this bad economy, the natural path is going to be to drop the pricier organic foods. Then as the money gets tighter to stretch the factory meats with fillers. And even then there are going to be few people switching to lesser cuts like liver.

                                          Price matters. That's all.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            <<
                                            Wow. The people living near me are hard-working first generation families that use eggs and chickens for food to help stretch dollars for raising their children. Way out of line comment, soupkitten. No gunfire here. And obviously you have not been awakened at four am by a rooster who crows incessantly from that hour.
                                            >>

                                            i was referring to my own living situation. i very much prefer waking up to the sound of my neighbor's rooster in minneapolis now than i did waking up to gunfire in my former st paul neighborhood. i feed the chickens daily btw--and eat their eggs in my own household. no offense was intended toward your neighborhood or neighbors. sorry to hear about your rash.

                                        2. re: rworange

                                          My understanding is that most cities that allow egg-laying chickens, also disallow roosters. As for localities, Los Angeles allows chickens to be kept in many parts of the city.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            I grew up in Queens, New York, in the seventies, with a neighbor who's rooster crowed regularly!

                                            Now I am in a relatively, newly suburban part of California, growing all manner of things. I just asked my husband about getting chickens but we we afraid they will fall in the pool...or get snatched by coyotes or foxes...then turkey vultures.

                                            Well, We have soulfood farms nearby!...

                                              1. re: DanaB

                                                I love this idea. Do you think it would be raccoon--proof? Raccoons are very good at opening latches.

                                                1. re: DanaB

                                                  That's a terrific site even if you have zero interest in raising chickens. i has a lot of info about different breeds of chickens.

                                                  It also has a list of towns where chickens can be kept and the restrictions. Who knew you could keep as many chickens as you want in NYC
                                                  http://www.omlet.us/guide/guide.php?v... Chickens&sub=state laws

                                                  Also great as a starting point to anyone interested in rasing chckens. The site is geared toward egg-laying pet chickens. The recipe section is egg-related. No fried chicken recipes. They even have a chicken joke section ... a good deal devoted to chicken crossing the road variety such as how famous people would answer the Why did the chicken cross the road.

                                                  Colonel Sanders:
                                                  I missed one?

                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                    I looked at that site since I sometimes think about the possibilities - but 2 hens, a coop, and a bag o'chow run nearly $1000!!! For that price they should be laying Faberge eggs. If I ever went through with it (probably won't since 2 dogs have high prey drive) I'd buy the birdies at the local poultry farm.

                                              2. re: rworange

                                                Oakland allows chickens, no roosters.

                                          2. re: NicoletteHN

                                            Because of my ethnic background, Chinese, I grew up eating organ meats. However, it is difficult to find organ meat from pastured animals. There is a vendor in my local farmer's market who sell grass-fed beef; however he doesn't sell the cheaper cut, such as beef tendons, beef tongue, etc. Would you recommend some resources both for organ meat, beef and pork, and also good farmers/ranchers who also sell the cheaper cut? Thanks.

                                      2. What are your opinions about the volume and frequency at which Americans consume meat? Do you think it's responsible, environmentally and health-wise, to promote a "meat at every meal" mentality, and if not, does the conflict of selling a product vs. acting on conscience move this decision at all for sustainable meat farmers?

                                        I'm mostly curious because I'm a vegetarian who isn't morally opposed to humans eating meat, but I have a serious distaste for the meat industry and thoughtless meat consumption. I know that you guys are not exactly the mainstream meat farmers, but I would love to hear discussion and ideas from the omnivorous side of the table.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: LOLTofu

                                          Bill and Nicolette Niman here again.

                                          The question of the quantity and frequency of meat consumed in the US is something that we both talk about publicly about quite a bit. Our view could be summarized as follows: "Eat less meat. Eat BETTER meat." Obviously, we consider meat that is healthfully raised (without hormones, subtheurapeutic antibiotics, and raised on pasture) to be extremely nutritious food. That said, most Americans are eating far more meat, poultry, and dairy then they need from a nutritional standpoint. For example, here's an amazing statistic from Nicolette's book Righteous Porkchop: the per capita US consumption of cheese has gone from about THREE pounds at the beginning of the 20th century to about THIRTY-ONE pounds at the close of the 20th century! At the same time, meat and dairy production is rescource intensive and therefore, from an environmental standpoint (as well as personal health standpoint) should not be consumed in excess.

                                          1. re: NicoletteHN

                                            Wow, that cheese stat is jaw-dropping. I feel like there is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to nutritional know-how and the American public. I wonder what strategies could be employed to break down some of the eating myths to which many people cling.

                                            1. re: NicoletteHN

                                              Maybe - I hope - some of the increased cheese consumption reflects a decrease in meat consumption. I was born in 1949 into a middle-class family. In our home, I'd say that a typical dinner portion of meat was 6-8 ounces, and there was NEVER a dinner without meat, poultry, or fish. A sandwich lunch added perhaps 3 or 4 oz. to daily meat consumption. Today, I average 4-5 oz. of meat per day but since cheese is often the protein for lunch and/or dinner, I certainly eat much more dairy per year than I did 40 years ago.

                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                Well, surplus cheese has long been subsidized part of food assistance, to replace meat. That kind of assistance did not exist a century ago in the US.

                                                Beef and poultry crossed in cost-value terms in the 1970s: so many people today do not realize that "a chicken in every pot" about which Herbert Hoover waxed in 1928 (and King Henri IV of France over 300 years earlier) was something that was special to Sundays because chickens were too precious as egg layers to devote to meat, while American beef was relatively inexpensive. As Americans have migrated to lower fat animal flesh (poultry and leaner pork), we've made up for the loss of fat in the flesh by adding it back in with cheese....

                                                Then there are other trends that were but a glimmer in the eye a century ago: for example, pizza and cheese-heavy American adaptations of Italian and Mexican cuisines.

                                          2. would you please talk about pink veal/rose veal, and explain a bit about who and where in the u.s. there are farmers producing pink veal, and why consumers may wish to support this. i think that if the info comes from you fine folks, people will seriously consider it. if it comes from someone like me, not so much.

                                            lots of questions about grass-fed vs grain fed already. perhaps grain fed is the only thing available for some products and in certain areas, but sustainable small-scale farming does quite well in other areas. do you think that it's reasonable for urban folks, or folks who otherwise prefer to "eat local" to get meat, (not poultry) and/or cheese shipped to them from farms/areas with strong sustainable ag?

                                            what needs to happen to get sustainable food into institutions, such as schools, in america? along the same lines, what are a few of the most important changes to food policy/farm bill, etc. that would help to transform the current u.s. approach to food production from the factory farm model to a more sustainable model?

                                            Bill Niman, please explain the reasons why you yourself no longer eat Niman Ranch products?

                                            can organic/sustainable operations become too big? are big business and sustainable practices incompatible? what can big ag learn from small farms, what can small farms learn from big ag?

                                            looking forward to a lot of interesting discussion. thanks Nimans, Davina, and chowhound mods that be.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                              Bill and Nicolette Niman here again.

                                              We'd like to address your question about veal. Most veal in the US comes from the dairy industry. It is the male calves of dairy cows, who obviously have no value as milk producers. Using male dairy calves as veal is a sensible system. However, unfortunately, the vast majority of the calves raised for veal in the US are raised in continual confinement, many teathered at the neck and/or in small wooden crates. They are taken from their mothers within hours of birth, never allowed to graze on pasture, and are fed a manmade veal formula that includes animal byproducts and is usually medicated. These are practices we find objectionable.

                                              An alternative to this system is to raise male dairy calves on pasture with their mothers or on pasture but fed real mothers' milk. A small number of farmers in the US use this method and this is usually marketed as "Rosy Veal". However, it is important to note that some "Rosy Veal" is fed formula.

                                              It is also the case that some farmers raising beef cattle send young beef animals (6-9 months of age) to slaughter and call this Rosy Veal. We do not favor this practice as we believe that beef cattle animals should be raised to maturity, thus feeding far more people for every animal life that is taken.

                                            2. What do you think about scale when it comes to farming? The historical trend over the past 40+ years is to industrialize farming, however, we've seen the problems with that with the recalls of the past few years where the crops of whole regions were decimated over the uncertainty of the FDA in tracing outbreaks of e coli and the like, such as the recall last summer of tomatoes, then peppers, then finally it was determined that the cause of contamination was green onions from Mexico. What do you think about instituting traceability of farm produce? Is large-scale agriculture working, when such recalls come into play and put an entire region's crops into question? There is a movement called "ag of the middle," which advocates for mid-sized, diversified farms over large farms. Here's one website: http://www.agofthemiddle.org/ Would love to hear your thoughts on that.

                                              1. In the context of "growing cattle and poultry,"
                                                what makes you really mad?

                                                1. When you are buying raw meat, what are some of the physical characteristics that show quality? (in terms of smell, colour, texture, fat distribution)

                                                  1. What's your favorite cut of beef to (1) grill (2) bbq (3) roast and (4) braise?

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                      Bill Niman here.
                                                      Here are my favorites:
                                                      on the grill is outside skirt steak,
                                                      BBQ is bottom sirloin flap meat (bavette),
                                                      roast is top sirloin, and
                                                      braise is bone-in shortribs.

                                                    2. We haven't talked much about pig-rearing here yet. Can you tell us a little about what breeds you have experience with and what sort of practices you're familiar with (what sort of forage terrain, age/weight at slaughter, diet etc)?

                                                      I'd also like to hear your thoughts on the whole issue of certification or labeling. What does 'pasture fed' or 'naturally raised' at the grocery store actually mean? Aren't these terms rather arbitrary with regard to meat? Do you think they should be more regulated?

                                                      This is really wonderful, thank you Nimans.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: BHK

                                                        Nicolette Niman here again.

                                                        See our response above related to heritage pork.

                                                        Regarding labelling and certifications, this one gets sort of tricky. In my book Righteous Porkchop I devote twelve pages to this subject (pps. 224 - 236). I recommend reading that section (and indeed the entire chapter, which is called "Finding the Right Foods".)

                                                        Obviously, I cannot perfectly summarize what's in the book in just a few sentences, but let me try to give a few bottom lines for those of you that won't have a chance to see the book.

                                                        First, the best possible environment for ALL farm animals (beef cattle, dairy cows, pigs, sheep, turkeys, chickens, egg laying hens, etc) is pasture. In our experience, animals living on pasture are the healthiest animals and produce the tastiest, most healthful foods. So the that's the gold standard.

                                                        However, none of the labels (including "free range" and "organic") give complete assurance that animals were raised on pasture. Unless you see the words: "Raised on pasture" or other words to that effect, you cannot be certain that the animals were kept on or given access to true pasture. This is one of the reasons we like shopping for meat at the farmers market or through Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). This allows you to ask specific questions about the conditions your food was produced in and to get knowledgable answers.

                                                        If you cannot find foods that were produced on pasture, organic is a good second choice. Many organically raised animals ARE raised on pasture and all organically raised animals are fed only organic feeds that do not include medications. Organically raised animals are also NOT given growth hormones. These are all very desireable things.

                                                        Finally, if you cannot find pasture raised or organic dairy, meat, and eggs, at the very least you can avoid buying foods from animals that were fed antibiotics, a practice that has been shown to contribute to antibiotic resistant bacteria, including in the foods produced.

                                                      2. Why is it that meats raised the way they used to be --- fed with grass/corn, free to roam the ranch, no drugs/steriods --- now cost much more than does meat that comes from huge "factories" that use all kinds of methods I would think were more expensive? There was only one way to raise a cow 100 years ago, and all it took was some grass and an open field. Now, science has made that method nearly obsolete. What gives?

                                                        1. What's your take on the Kobe Beef/American Wagyu craze that is sweeping many of our upscale restaurants? Also, do you see a difference in quality between non-Japanese Wagyu and Japanese Wagyu/Kobe? If so, what is the difference?

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: DrBruin

                                                            Bill Niman here.

                                                            Overall, I don't think that the beef from Wagyu is better than the British breeds, namely Angus and Hereford. However, it is different in that it is generally more marbled and has a milder (less beefy) flavor. For me, it's a bit like eating a stick of butter. Because the carcass tends to be so marbled, many of the cuts are too fatty. The American version of the Wagyu is often half Angus, so it may be less fat than the Japanese version.

                                                            1. re: NicoletteHN

                                                              Thank you Mr. Niman! I think it's great you and the Mrs. are volunteering to do this.

                                                          2. I've always wondered this: if all the beef we eat in the US were raised on pasture, how much land would we need? And if the world ate only pasture-raised natural beef instead of grain-fed, feedlot beef, how much beef per capita would the world have room for? I guess the essence of my question is this: how much sustainably-raised beef consumption can the planet handle, given that each cow needs a lot of room?

                                                            1. Thanks so much for doing this Bill and Nicolette! Here's my question:

                                                              Lots of people are aware of the inconsistent/misleading/unhelpful labeling systems that go on in the US regarding everything from produce to eggs to meat. I've recently found eggs that are "Free Range" "Certified Organic" AND "Certified Humanely Raised". While that might feel like a triumph, there's still issues with beak cutting, etc, but I feel like short of raising chickens myself (not so likely in a 4th floor apartment in Brooklyn), I'm doing mostly what I can.

                                                              Can you explain what labels I should be looking for when it comes to meat in the US so that I don't feel like I'm doing a terrible job of keeping both sustainability and animal welfare in mind? From what I understand, "organic" meat only means it's fed organic feed, but has nothing to do with how the animal is raised...it's all very confusing. Help? Anyone?

                                                              Thanks!!!

                                                              Update -- I just realized I posted something really similar to BHK's question above...sorry for duplicating!

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: StephanieCoffey

                                                                As an addendum to that excellent question. I live in Australia and am horrified by how poorly treated animals are in industrial agriculture. Though I am also absolutely delighted by the lengths some farmers here go to ensure that animals in their care receive a decent quality of life.

                                                                The problem, as has been alluded to, is that it is hard to make a decision as a consumer because we lack that information that I would like to use to support ethical farmers.

                                                                I am interested in any tips for lobbying strategies that you may know of that have resulted in successful measures to introduce objective and accurate labelling of meat, be it a voluntary code or legislative reform.

                                                                1. re: StephanieCoffey

                                                                  Nicolette Niman here.

                                                                  In response to Stephanie's question about labels and certifications, please see my response to BHK (above), which I've just posted.

                                                                2. Bill and Nicolette:

                                                                  Just wanted to give you three cheers for your courageous fight against the less benign aspects of corporate agri-business. Thank you for your continuing efforts. Please note that Bill was featured in an article on the blog site Apesphere, http://www.apesphere.com/blogchannel/....

                                                                  1. Hi Bill and Nicolette,

                                                                    Great discussion! Nicolette, I couldn't put your book down, and had to read it straight through. Can you update us with what has happened since you left Waterkeeper Alliance as it relates to their focus on industrialized hog-farming? Have other organizations taken up the cause? Finally, can you recommend a website, or websites, that identify pasture-raised meat?

                                                                    Many thanks!

                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                                            Nicolette Niman here.
                                                                            Thank you for the kind words about my book Righteous Porkchop!

                                                                            Regarding the guides question, another good one is www.eatwellguide.org .

                                                                            Regarding the work I did on livestock pollution while at Waterkeeper, that work does continue, although there are not as many organizations working on it as I would like to see. Most importantly, there is still very little government enforcement of environmental laws against polluting livestock operations. For things to really change, this needs to be corrected.

                                                                    1. How does wild boar compare to humanely-farmed pork in terms of both flavor and ethics? I used to think hunters (unless they lacked the finances to purchase storebought meat) were the incarnation of evil, but have come around to thinking that it's better for an animal to lead a natural life until a quick, sudden death. So while I still abhor the idea of killing animals as sport/entertainment, I am no longer totally anti-hunting.

                                                                      1. Oops - should have included this in the previous post: Are bison any moreor less cost-efffective to raise than beef cattle? Since the meat is tender and flavorful considering how little marbling it has, I'd be happy to see it sold fresh in more supermarkets than now carry it. I sometimes mix ground bison and ground beef but have never heard of it being sold that way.

                                                                        1. Bill and Nicolette Niman here.

                                                                          We have really enjoyed this discussion. We're sorry we did not have the time to respond to ALL of the questions but we do appreciate all of the questions we received and thought it was a very good discussion.

                                                                          As mentioned above, you can follow our future food and farming blogging on The Atlantic's website at http://food.theatlantic.com/on-the-farm/ . Also, for those of you interested in learning about how your meat is produced we encourage you to read: Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms (www.righteousporkchop.com ), which is loaded with information about how things are done now, how US meat production got to this point, and what the alternatives are.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: NicoletteHN

                                                                            I just got Righeous Porkchop from the library in Madison, WI today (I put in on my list after this discussion went up) and an am looking forward to reading it. Thank you so much for reading and responding to the questions posted on this board; it was a worthwhile discussion :-)