MM: What prompted you to take up sustainable cattle ranching/ food production as your cause? NHN: In the year 2000, I was hired as senior attorney by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance. I soon realized the industrialization of our food system was a timely and vital issue, affecting everything from water supplies to animal welfare and the right to protect the sanctity of one’s home. We were using the farmers and ranchers of Niman Ranch as models of humane, ecologically sound animal husbandry, which is how I met Bill Niman.
MM: Do you think there are any cons to cattle and beef? NHN: When cattle are raised well the impact is tremendously positive. Well-managed grazing protects soils and water resources because it doesn’t require plowing and actually simulates vegetative growth and builds soils. But when cattle are poorly managed, environmental damage results.
MM: What tips do you have for people who want to be environmentally sound consumers, but aren’t sure where to start? NHN: One of the most important things consumers can do is also the simplest: learn where your food comes from and how it was raised.
MM: In an ideal world, what would the landscape of ranching look like? NHN: The miraculous thing about cattle is that due to their complex digestive systems they can live entirely on a diet of grass. Since grasses cover about 40 percent of the earth’s land surface and grasslands are the word’s most important solar collectors, cattle play an essential role of mediation between humans and the sun, by converting all that energy to meat and milk. Ideally, humans should be managing cattle as proxies for the disappeared herds of grazing animals that once covered the earth. This is the only hope for restoring the proper functioning of grassland ecosystems.
Local Page Turners
Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production by Nicolette Hahn Niman of Bolinas, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, $19.95. Combating the widely held belief that eating beef is detrimental to our environment and our health, Defending Beef presents scientific data and real-life examples to argue that with proper farming practices, there is a place for beef in both our ecosystems and our diets. A former environmental lawyer turned Bolinas-based rancher, Niman intelligently explains how we can sustainably have our steak and eat it, too.
Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker of Tiburon, Grand Central Publishing, $15. The people of fictitious Titan Falls, New Hampshire, revile two things: the polluted muck of the Androscoggin River and the Snow clan. The river is vital to the operation of the paper mill — the basis of the town’s livelihood — but nobody has any use for Mercy Snow and her kin. In her third novel, Baker juxtaposes the good and the evil, the haves and the have-nots and explores the mysteries linking them all.
Pieces of My Mother by Melissa Cistaro of San Rafael, Sourcebooks, $24.99. In this moving memoir, Cistaro shares the sorrow of coming of age without her mother, a plight that became a soul-searching quest: was she destined to make the same mistakes with her own children? Constructed in a then and- now format and written with non-judgmental insights, Pieces of My Mother is a poignant and ultimately uplifting exploration of family, love and resilience. Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera May 5, 7 p.m.
Early Warning by Jane Smiley of Carmel, Knopf Publishing Group, $26.95. The second book of Carmel author Jane Smiley’s trilogy spanning 100 years, Early Warning opens in 1953, just after the sudden death of the patriarch of an Iowa family farm introduced in Some Luck, the first in the series. Walter and Rosanna Langdon’s five children are grown, and the next three decades bring postwar prosperity, followed by the darker times of the Cold War, Vietnam and the upheaval of the social and sexual revolutions. At its heart this is a family saga: the next generation of Langdons face dramatic changes and a surprising legacy. Appearing at Book Passage Corte Madera May 6, 7 p.m.