The title of Nicolette Hahn Niman’s compelling new book, Righteous Porkchop, is honest, and indicates one of the book’s strengths—its exploration of the moral issues behind our broken food system. As a vegetarian rancher she is uniquely poised to be even more righteous than most. Not only has she abstained from eating meat herself since young adulthood, she spends her days sustainably raising cattle for others to eat. Who can top that?
Of course, this wasn’t always the case. Not even 10 years ago she was a young single gal in the city, recruited by Bobby Kennedy, Jr. to head up the Waterkeeper Alliance’s new industrial hog campaign. With a background as a lawyer, she set out to take industrial hog farms (primarily in North Carolina) to task via the legal system for their gross environmental transgressions. She worked crushing hours, giving up her healthy lifestyle and her social life. But along the way, she won several important legal battles and put the issue of industrial hog farming on the map. In addition, in a story line you just can’t make up, she met and fell in love with Bill Niman, an older-than-her sustainable cattle rancher and entrepeneur, and her life was changed forever. P.S. he calls her “porkchop.”
In addition, her work with Waterkeeper led her inside the belly of the beast—or inside the poop lagoons of the beasts, anyway–and the book follows her journey. The reader makes discoveries alongside her, experiencing her righteous indignation and disbelief upon seeing those farms, as well as her heartbreak over the treatment of the animals she meets. As she explains, “the assembly lines of industrial systems function well for the mass production of inanimate objects. But they are complete failures at respecting the individuality, instincts, and needs of living creatures.”