Chewing the Cud with Howard Lyman


In 1996, Howard Lyman found himself thrust under the national spotlight when he and Oprah Winfrey were unsuccessfully sued by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. A former fourth-generation cattle farmer, Howard was on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to explain mad cow disease and how it is created by feeding bovine meal to cows in factory farm operations.

HOWARD LYMAN3Lyman now is president of Voice for a Viable Future and travels the globe speaking and writing about organic family farming, veganism, environmentalism and enlightened trade. His message is clear.

“If there is to be a bright future for our children and grandchildren, it will come from consumer support of producers who work in concert with nature organically, sustainably and humanely," he says.

As headline speaker for the upcoming Lowcountry VegFest, Lyman took time recently to speak from his home in Washington.

Question: What was your greatest lesson learned from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association lawsuit?

Answer: I learned that you can’t live your life in fear. When you decide which direction you’re going to go, you can’t look behind you. Make up your mind, assess the risk and consequences, and move forward. I thought the cattlemen were crazy to instigate the lawsuit. Why take an issue several million people heard on television and magnify it so that the majority of the people who live in the country hear about it? It was the dumbest thing they could do.

Q: What do you think is the most pressing problem facing humans that a plant-based vegan diet could help solve?

A: The biggest issue in front of us today is global warming. We could all talk about health, but global warming is going to get everybody. It’s going to change the face of the planet. We can’t wait around for the president or Congress to make changes. We have to each ask ourselves, “What can I do?” The thing that I can do, the biggest impact I can have on global warming, is to adopt a plant-based vegan diet. If I do that every day, every meal I’m doing what I can do about climate change. Don’t look for somebody else to solve your problems. Go out and do it yourself. Get involved. Get on the field, get your uniform dirty. Sitting around and saying, “I hope somebody does this or that” is crazy. Saying “I’m going to do something with my next meal” is rational.

Q: What are you hoping to accomplish by speaking at Lowcountry VegFest 2016?

A: If I’m going to invest my time and effort in truth-telling, I am going to go to where there’s the greatest amount of the need. I’ve been to South Carolina. It’s not the hotbed of veganism. It’s probably hard to find a good vegan meal. I’m coming to shake things up. I can guarantee you this: South Carolina will be different after I visit. I want to do everything I can do to make your community a more vegan community than it was before I visited.

HOWARD LYMAN2Q: What level of health do you think you enjoy because of your plant-based vegan diet that many of your meat-, milk- and egg-eating peers do not enjoy?

A: I went to my class reunion and out of 300 people who graduated from my Great Falls, Montana, high school class, half of them have already died. When I walked into the reunion, you’ve never seen so many canes, walkers and crutches in all your life. And nobody wanted to talk to me, the only vegan, in the class of 1956. No one wanted to talk to me about my diet until I went to the bathroom and was asked if I would ever sneak out and get a hamburger. What I like best about my plant-based diet is I’m much more active. I do more things. My wife and I are going to go to Egypt next February. I get up at 4 a.m. and go to work at the cemetery at 5 a.m. until 5 p.m. I have 12 hours there. I enjoy it. I have a good time. I don’t know any of my classmates or meat-eaters who are putting up with that level of activity. I’ll be 78 years old in September. I’m almost middle age. I want to make sure the second half is as good as the first.

Q: Do you believe the future must be vegan if humans are to remain on Earth?

A: I don’t think everybody has to be vegan. But everybody has to know what veganism does for the environment. If a person is a vegan six days a week and a vegetarian (plants, eggs, and dairy) one day, I don’t think that’s any big deal. If we end up with the vast majority of people on Earth eating a standard American diet, I guarantee you there is very little future for our children and grandchildren.

Q: How do you respond to business-minded individuals when they warn of damage to the national economy and loss of jobs potentially created by widespread veganism?

A: I’ll tell you what. We will generate more jobs than we will ever lose. If you think a job promoter is a 7,000-head dairy, then you’ve got to be smoking the No. 1 crop out of California. When people are involved in eating organic, plant-based agriculture, you will see more jobs than they could ever imagine. It’s like when people warn of job loss when phasing out coal. There are more jobs today in renewable energy production than there ever were in coal. Look at all the jobs we lost when we abolished slavery. It was still the right thing to do.

Q: How trustworthy do you think the organic food label is today?

A: The Grocery Manufacturers Association would give anything to gut the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. I think it’s under attack every day, and the only way that we can have any confidence in the organic label is if we are vigilant and we work to lobby the people who have the ability to protect the act. We used to have good states and bad states, and the term “organic” meant absolutely nothing. With the act, we ended up with a unified standard for the nation. Don’t ever close your eyes, because the other side would pay any price to gut the act because it is the one thing that prevents man-made ingredients from infiltrating our food supply. Right now, the organic label is the only way we know we’re not consuming genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Q: In your 1998 book “The Mad Cowboy,” you explained the cause and dangers of mad cow disease (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and how it possibly is creating degenerative human brain diseases like Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) and Alzheimer's disease. What is the current threat of mad cow disease in the global cattle industry?

A: The symptoms of Alzheimer’s and CJD are almost identical. The only way you can tell them apart is by an autopsy of the brain. I personally believe that the sizeable amount of people dying from a certified case of Alzheimer’s really have the human form of mad cow disease or CJD. Do I believe that the implementation of the government solution of not feeding cows to cows solved the infectious cycle? Absolutely not. We’re no longer feeding cows to cows, per se, but we’re feeding cows to pigs, chickens, turkeys and horses. And we’re feeding pigs, chickens, turkeys and horses to cows. We know that the disease can be transmitted from one species to another, and so anybody looking at this solution needs to look at what happened in the European Common Market. What they did was to ban the feeding of all animals to animals. That would break the infectious cycle. But what we’re doing in America, it’s a Band-Aid that’s leaking.

Q: How many years have you been vegan? Have you been able to convince your wife and family to become vegan also?

A: I was vegetarian for one year and have been vegan for 25 years. Back then, if you told someone you were vegan, they thought you had an incurable disease and jumped away from you. My wife has always been a conscious eater and she was vegetarian before I was. When I became a vegetarian, I lost some weight, my blood pressure went down slightly, my cholesterol went down slightly, and I thought, wow, if I can do that being a vegetarian just think what I could do if I was a vegan. So I became a vegan. My blood pressure went from sky high to normal, my cholesterol from 300 to 135, and I lost 130 pounds. I said to my wife, “You’ve got to become a vegan.” She said, “No, being vegetarian is enough. A little cheese is not going to hurt me.” She wouldn’t listen to anything I said. Then she heard one lecture by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and overnight she went vegan. My wife and I have six kids. Three are what I would call careful eaters and three who are omnivores. With grandchildren, we do a little better. We’ve got more grandchildren who are vegetarian than who are omnivores. Now we have four great-grandchildren and I’m working on them all being vegan. We’ll see what happens.

Q: Did you really pay for college by playing poker?

A: Well, only when people had money. At the start of the quarter, most students had quite a bit of money and poker was one way to get it. At the end of the quarter I played pool for money. I never met a game I wouldn’t play, and I never met a job I wouldn’t do.


Join the Hilton Head Island community at Lowcountry VegFest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22 at Shelter Cove Community Park to hear Howard Lyman speak. Bring copies of his books “The Mad Cowboy” and “No More Bull” for him to sign. For more information about the free festival, go to