Plenty to beef about.

Author:Berger, John J.
Position:Eye on Ecology - W.W. Norton's "Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America's Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment" - Book review

IN THE GREAT tradition of American muckraking (pun intended), the brilliantly written book on the cattle industry--W.W. Norton & Co.'s Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America's Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment--ropes you in with its folksy, down-to-earth tone and wry humor.

Disarming or not, Cowed provides a serious look at the cattle industry's enormous hoofprint on the American landscape--and psyche. Readers will leant amazing things about the effects of cows and CAFOs--concentrated animal feeding operations--on our health, water, soil, vegetation, ecosystems, and polity. As Cowed reveals, the collective impact of our 93,000,000 cows clearly is worth ruminating on.

Whereas cows are the nominal subject, Cowed also is about all the resource issues just mentioned plus energy use, fertilizer, organic food, Federal food inspection, greenhouse gas production, waste management, biofuels, diet, and nutrition--plus much more.

So, Cowed in effect, is about capitalism, resource exploitation, and sustainability, as these themes play out against the panorama of U.S. rangeland and cattle ranching, dairying, and feeding operations.

Yet, the book is no environmental screed nor dull moralizing treatise on the evils of eating meat nor a polemical rerun of "Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret." Instead, it is an entertaining, evenhanded but unflinching expose of the wide-ranging abuses of industrial-style cattle raising and dairying. Carefully researched and fully documented, Cowed can butt heads with any serious analysis of agriculture in the U.S. today. This important book should be on the desk of every legislator and public official who has a say about our farmland, rangeland, and agriculture industry.

In exploring America's love affair with beef and dairy, Cowed ambles whimsically along the trail from farm-to-ranch-to-feed-lotto-slaughterhouse until the industry's beastliness and benevolence are, by turns, laid bare, in unsuspected ways.

However, I am getting a little ahead of myself, and it also is confession time. This book is by my longtime friend, environmental advocate Denis Hayes, and Gail Boyer Hayes, his wife. Denis is president of the Bullitt Foundation, Seattle, Wash., where he directed the construction of The Bulllitt Center, perhaps the world's most advanced energy-efficient commercial building. Gail is an environmental lawyer and journalist who has authored Solar Access Law: Protecting Access to Sunlight...

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