A fourth-generation cattle rancher, Howard Lyman is now a prominent advocate of plant-based diets and
sustainable agriculture. Lyman burst into the national spotlight in 1996 after an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show.
On that show he discussed the way meat is produced and the dangers of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as
mad cow disease. Lyman's revelations prompted Oprah to say on air, "I will never eat a hamburger again." Beef sales
dropped noticeably after the show, and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association sued both of them for libel.
On February 29th, 1998, an Amarillo, Texas, jury found them not guilty.
The ranch he grew up on was much like the picturesque, bucolic cattle ranch most of us imagine where the cows
were free to roam and graze on the open plain. However, when Lyman graduated from Montana State University in the early
1960s with a degree in agriculture, his head was full of ideas on how to take over the family dairy farm and turn it into
a hugely profitable agribusiness. At one point he employed 30 employees and owned seven combines,
30 trucks, 17 tractors and 7,000 cattle. To boost the production in his massive feed lot, he
employed all the pesticides, antibiotics, and other chemicals required to keep
his herd alive under unnaturally crowded and confined conditions.
His life took a turn for the worse in 1979 when doctors found a thumb sized tumor living on his spinal cord. He was
told he would never walk again. As he waited for surgery, he searched his soul for answers as to how he got into this
mess, and he realized that his business and its environmentally destructive practices were entirely to blame. The surgery
restored his mobility, and as he recovered, he began to read.
First, he read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, then Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America and
Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet. He began to realize that agribusiness and the meat industry
was not only ravaging the health of farmers like himself, but meat consumers and the environment were suffering as well.
Around 1983 he sold the family farm and feedlot operation, keeping only the original Lyman homestead and turning it
into a nature preserve. He began work as an advocate for small farmers for the National Farmers' Union. In 1986 he
moved his family to Washington, D.C. to be senior lobbyist for the group. Among his achievements during this time was
to persuade Congress to pass the National Organic Standards Act.
In 1988, after reading Jeremy Rifkin's Beyond Beef, he finally became a vegetarian, and in
1991 he became a vegan. At this time, he joined the 'Beyond Beef Campaign' which sought to reduce meat consumption in
the United States by 50%. Though he left that campaign in 1993, he went on, through the rest of the mid-1990s, to
campaign for animal rights, ecologically and socially responsible agriculture, and vegetarianism. In 1996 he was awarded
a Doctor of Law degree from City University in Los Angeles and was elected President
of the International Vegetarian Union.
He is the author of the book, Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth From the Cattlerancher Who Won't Eat Meat.
Presently he is President of EarthSave International and maintains a very active lecturing schedule. He lives in
Alexandria, Virginia with his wife, Willow Jeane.