|Vegetarian actvist, author and Mad Cowboy Howard Lyman chats with Vegan Street's Marla Rose|
|"We are a movement that has a message, all we have to do is learn how to deliver it."||
Howard Lyman, the former factory farmer turned vegetarian activist, burst into the international spotlight in April of 1996 when he described the potential dangers of Mad Cow disease on The Oprah Winfrey Show, causing her to declare "that has just stopped me cold from eating another burger!" This unforgettable proclamation was made without the knowledge of what it would provoke; an historic (and histrionic) lawsuit by a group of Texas cattle ranchers. The $180 million lawsuit, based on the constitutionally suspect "Food Disparagement" law, caused a sensational trial in early 1998 when Lyman, Winfrey and her production company Harpo Productions were all forced to defend themselves against the cattlemen's position that Lyman's claims and Winfrey's remarks caused a costly drop in beef prices. After six weeks of testimony, the case ended in a victory for all defendants and free speech.
Since the trial, Howard Lyman has become a popular guest on radio and television shows, and one of the world's leading authorities on the environmental and health benefits of a vegan diet. In June, Lyman's fascinating journey and message were told in his book "Mad Cowboy - Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won't Eat Meat" (through Scribner publishing). He travels 11 months a year, giving thousands of interviews and speeches along the way.
In mid-August, 1998, his travels brought him to Chicago, where VS's Marla Rose caught up with him to find out what wisdom he could pass along to other activists. She started out planning a straight interview, but Mr. Lyman was so plainspoken, passionate and engaging, it became more of a dialogue between two activists. What follows is an edited transcription of a nearly two-hour conversation that took place on a mutual friend's front porch, while buses and bicyclists rolled by. Mr. Lyman is an incredibly motivating and generous individual - if you ever have the opportunity to be in his company, jump at the chance. You will walk away a better person.
Marla Rose: Can you tell us a little about how your journey began? What was the pivotal event in your life?
Howard Lyman: Probably the most pivotal event was being paralyzed. I was paralyzed from the waist down; they told me I had one chance in a million I would ever walk again. That changed my life. It had nothing to do with changing my diet - I thought it was environmental, I thought it was use of chemicals [in Howard's book he describes using harsh chemicals without gloves, goggles or protective clothing]. And it wasn't until almost ten years after I was paralyzed that I finally figured out that diet was a significant part in it. Because all of the issues, whether we're looking at animal rights, whether we're looking at animal suffering, world hunger, they are all segments of the wheel and you'll never solve the problem until you solve all of them. They're all interconnected. And as soon as we get all the active groups, whether they be animal rights, environmental, vegetarian -
MR: Social justice.
HL: Or religious. Look at it: if just the churches would walk their talk, if they would just practice their creed, the majority of people would be vegetarian overnight.
MR: Right. People pick what they want from the Bible.
HL: Oh, sure. Well, we all pick the parts of society that we agree with. And we all are looking for somebody to tell us that the bad things we do are okay.
HL: You know, and The Zone Diet's one of those, Eating for Your Blood-Type is one of those. And the sections of the Bible that say that we should be eating animals and that we are the stewards of animals so that means that it's okay to kill them. From all of those issues are the things that almost each and every one of us try to pick out that which justifies what we're doing.
MR: I have a problem when people are vegetarians simply for health reasons, because it's not grasping the whole picture. How do you feel about this?
HL: I don't care where people come to this issue from. And it's not like I'm going to become a vegetarian today so all of the problems have gone away. This is an evolution.. There's a lot of lousy vegetarians, there's a lot of lousy animal rights people, there's a lot of lousy environmentalists, and what we need to do is always do better tomorrow than what we did today. You can't change yesterdays, but you can change tomorrows. And that's what we should be working on, is living our lives better, doing better, learning, moving forward. And it's not about being perfect, it's about doing the best we can do.
MR: I think that a lot of times when people are confronted with the reality of what the typical Western diet and lifestyle are doing to our planet, it's just stultifying. It's so intimidating and scary that people may just as soon not do anything. How do you get past that barrier of fear?
HL: It's about taking the information that we have and processing it. Intelligence is useless if you don't use it. You take a kid to the corner and say to him, "See the red light? Do not cross on the red light. Those cars will run over you." And the kid says, "Oh. Okay." The kid runs to the corner, and runs through the red light and doesn't get run over and says, "Hey, you lied to me!" Then he turns around, runs back and -bam!- the car gets him. So it's taking information and processing it so that you can do the best you can with it. But we should never point at anyone else and say, "This is what you ought to do." Because it's not up to me to tell you what you ought to do; it's up for me to say, "Marla, this is what I need to do. This is what makes my soul sing...This is what makes me feel good."
HL: And never, never forget that we're only here for one reason: unconditional love. And unconditional love is really simple. If I say to you, "Marla, you do exactly what I think you ought to do, and I will love you unconditionally," that's bullshit. I'm saying that my love for you is conditional on you doing exactly what I want. So we have to learn to do better, and every day we should look at it and say,"I'm one step closer on the path than I was yesterday, and the longest journey in the world begins with one step."
MR: I think a lot of times we can caught into this judgmental way of thinking.It's easy to do when you're confronted with the reality of what we're facing. You see people going through the drive-thru at McDonald's, you see people wearing big fur coats and you see people doing these things that make your blood curdle. So, like I said, it's easy to slip into this pattern of thinking. And we're also judgmental to each other in the movement, we say, "Oh, she's wearing leather shoes." or "Yeah, I saw him eating a donut and he's supposed to be a vegan." That kind of thinking turns so many people away from each other; it's divisive to the movement.
HL: And isn't it that if I point out your bad habits, then we don't have to discuss mine?
MR,laughing: Right, right.
HL: And this is what life is all about.
|"You know, no one comes up to you and says, 'Boy, am I eating more red meat!'"||
MR: It kind of reminds me of when I was in college and I went on this camping trip. I was already a vegetarian, but I wasn't aware of factory farming; I thought that by merely not eating meat I was doing everything. Anyway, I was on this camping trip with a bunch of hippies, and one day a few of us went into town and we went to, I think it was, Dairy Queen. I had an ice cream float or something. Remember, I had no idea - I don't even know if I'd heard the word vegan yet. And anyway, we went back to the campsite and I was telling everyone how I had had this wonderful, refreshing ice cream float. This guy in the group all of the sudden starts screaming at me, pointing his fingers, the veins in his forehead were throbbing, he was screaming and yelling at me about the rain forest, about what I'm doing to the planet, that I was selfish and stupid. And the thing that I was angriest about was not that he embarrassed me, I didn't really feel embarrassed, but that he didn't give me the opportunity to learn. I think that I may have been a vegan right there, and he may have converted some other people who were listening, but what he did instead was turn everyone away.
HL: What would have happened in the same situation if he would have said, "Marla, you know, I did a thing like that one time. I went and had an ice cream cone and never once did it cross my mind about the rain forest and the cows. But when I did, I looked at it and said, "Wow, I'm never going to eat another ice cream cone again." Which one of those two approaches would have had the greatest impact? Were all on the same ocean, and what were trying to do is help as many people as possible into the boat -
MR: Right ...Not push them off.
HL: Do you get more people into the boat if you stand there screaming at somebody, "No, not the Australian back crawl, no the breast stroke!" Then you get all excited and the boat turns over.
MR: Yeah. I think it's more instantly gratifying to the yeller, to the screamer. To the person screaming, "How could you be so inhumane as to wear a fur coat!" But if you were to have the courage and respect to walk up to someone and say, "You know, you look like a very nice person. I'm surprised you're wearing fur," it can be so much more of a courageous thing than standing in the street, pointing a finger and yelling.
HL: You know, I always look at it like, my mother was a carnivore. She was a good person. She didn't raise her family trying to put them in an early grave; she did the best she could with the information she had. I don't have the ultimate answer. I can't take out my book and say, "Marla, read this and everything that you need to know for the rest of your life is right in this book."
MR: And our paths are personal.
MR: One thing that you talk about is how we can be more inclusive. How we can avoid using the "us versus them" mentality. How do you think we should encourage people toward this lifestyle without being pushy?
HL: Well, I think that you share the information without pointing your fingers, and you do it in a lot of different ways. If I were going to talk to a fourth grader, I'd talk about animals, I'd talk about the environment, and I would talk to them about their parents' health. If I was going to talk to a teen-ager, I sure wouldn't talk about their health, 'cause they think they're going to live forever. But I'd sure talk to them about the environment and animals.
MR: In other words, you have to be conscious of your audience, whom you're speaking with.
HL: If the student failed to learn, the teacher failed to teach.
|"We should always work with the supposition that we're going to be successful"||
HL: And so what you should always do is look at it and ask, "What is it that I want to do? What is my intention? How is the best way to get it there?" It isn't all or nothing. It's not an all or nothing, that I only have eight seconds of your time to convince you to become a vegan or it's too late.
MR, laughing: Of course.
HL: The best way is to teach through example. Let's say you go out with four of your friends and you're the only vegetarian, who's going to pick the restaurant? When you walk in to order, should you not order first? Should you not establish an acceptable meal? Or do you sit back and wait until everyone orders ribs and steak and chicken and (mumble) "Well... Uhh, I don't know..." But if you walk in and say, "I know exactly what I want. Being a vegetarian this is what I want... I don't want any meat, I don't want any cheese. I'd really like to have the large green salad, pasta with marinara, mushrooms..." You establish in everyone's mind what a good meal is. And you didn't say to anybody that they couldn't order this or that. Teach at every opportunity. But let's say that there's nothing on the menu that you can eat. Ask if they can make you some sort of salad. That way you don't have everybody saying, "Oh boy, we're never going to go anywhere with her again." So you build some rapport with your friends. And they look at it and say, "You know, I'm not a vegan, but I sure don't have any trouble being around Marla."
MR: Right, it's about building bridges, really, both within our movement and outside. I think that many people within our movement are pretty...
MR: Well, intense, yes, but also pretty disgusted with humanity and pretty comfortable not associating with people outside the -
HL: But, our job is not to divorce ourselves from everybody. If that was it, we'd go and live in a damn cave.
MR: Because the goal is to include as many people as we can.
HL: And otherwise, is that unconditional love? Life is to be enjoyed and we should pursue it that way; we should enjoy every day.
MR: Right. And if we present ourselves as these really stern, angry, rigid people, that's not necessary something that people want to align themselves with.
HL: I think that if you can get people to laugh, you can get people to learn. And I like to make people laugh. They don't have to agree with everything I say.
MR: Well, if you can make them laugh, than they've had to think, so you have a little inroad.
MR: The animal rights movement and the environmental movement are perceived, correctly I think, as being pretty white, pretty middle to upper-middle class.
HL: Too much so.
MR: How do we branch out? How do we start involving different ethnic communities?
HL: If we want to change, we should revel in going into the ethnic communities because that's where the greatest amount of teaching takes place. We should always view our friends as if we were blind. The first thing that I've found is if you want to have a friend, you have to be a friend. We should always think that if we don't have enough ethnic diversity in our movement, we're not working enough in their community. If someone talks to me, I don't decide whether I should believe try to view them based on whether they're Hispanic, or Asian, or African; I try to analyze what they're telling me. I think that most people will treat you with respect if you do the one thing that my father told me a long time ago. He said, "Remember, you have two ears and one mouth... You should listen twice as much as you speak."
MR: Right. I think a lot of times, myself included, we get caught into a certain restrictive way of thinking...We have to approach this type of person this way, this person's going to be resistant to what we say, this person's goin to be more accepting. I think with as much as we struggle against the mindset of what we perceive as the majority, we also have to be aware of our prejudices, our ways of getting ourselves into a rut.
HL: I really like diverse culture and I like it because I learn a lot. If we're willing to listen, we'll be surprised what we learn.
MR: I think that even if people may be resistant to our message, they really appreciate that you took the time and that you had the respect for them to convey it to them.
HL: Yes. And we should always work with the supposition that we're going to be successful.
|"You have to remember that 80% of people are part of the herd. Do not think that because you saw ten people today and only two of them had a clue of what you were talking about that today was a failure. That's an absolute, 100% successful day."||
MR: Do you think that sometimes we can get caught up in the victim mode?
HL: Oh, sure...Oh, sure. We're always just absolutely crying out for the opportunity to say,"Oh, woe-be-gone! Look at me!"
MR: Don't you think that if we have more of the mentality of strength and success, that the message will be received more in a positive light?
HL: Remember that there are only two absolutes in the world: if you believe you can, you can, and if you believe that you can't, well, that's also true. You manifest whatever you want. If you say, "Well, I'll try but it's not going to work," save your trouble because it ain't going to work. But if you look at it and say, "Boy, it's gonna be tough as hell but I can pull it off," you'll do it.
MR: You travel all around the country. How much do you actually travel?
HL: In 10 years I've traveled about a million miles.
MR: Wow. How do you think that our movement is perceived by the public at large?
HL: Our success is phenomenal. You know, no one comes up to you and says, "Boy, am I eating more red meat!" If you look at the last 5 years in the movement, you can see that the meat and dairy industry are spending millions of dollars. Because they're losing the battle for the soul of the future of America. I think we're being successful; what we have to learn is how to deal with our success.
MR: Right, and how to maintain it.
HL: Did you ever notice when there's a sports star and they have great natural ability, they either turn the people off or they turn them on with the way that they handle their success? Look at Michael Jordan, how humble he is even as one of the most gifted athletes that's ever lived. People love him. And you take some of the other people, Al Sharpton, for example -
MR: He's not perceived as having a lot of sincerity. In our movement, as much as we may want to deny it, we have to be aware of perception.
HL: Of course.
MR: And our hearts might be completely pure, but it won't mean anything if the public tunes us out.
HL: We're selling a product, and the first rule of business is that the customer is always right. You piss the customer off and they ain't buyin'. When are we going to wake up? It's simple: if you dislike me, you're going to dislike my message.
MR: What do you think impedes our movement?
HL: Common sense. Knowing how to talk to people like, "I've been there. I've done that. I'll allow you the space and time to learn because I didn't learn it overnight."
MR: We all had a journey, we all had a path that we followed. A lot of times we get caught up in that really judgmental, self-righteous, holier-than-thou mentality. It gets nowhere. It may be temporarily gratifying to us, but ultimately it's an empty experience. We're not helping anyone.
HL: It's like sticking your head in a 55-gallon drum and screaming. It's loud, but no one can hear what you're saying.
MR: What do you think are our strengths as a movement?
HL: That the facts are on our side. Whether we're talking health facts, environmental facts, moral facts. We are a movement that has a message, all we have to do is learn how to deliver it.
MR: Do you think that there's some growing awareness of that or not?
HL: Oh, sure. Absolutely. Look at how little infighting there is in the organizations today compared with ten years ago.
MR: I was going to ask you, what changes have you noticed in the movement within the last ten years?
HL: I would say that the biggest thing that I've noticed is more common respect. What I need to do is to allow you the space to do what you think is right, and to love you for doing it.
MR: And we have to love ourselves. If we're being hard on other people, if we're being overly critical of others, we're probably not being any kinder to ourselves.
HL: Uh-huh, and you're ineffective. It's all about doing the best you can with what you have, and we can do that. We all have those tools; we're not stupid.
MR: How good of a cross-section of society do you think you reach when you go out to speak?
HL: I go out preach to the choir, because the choir gives me access to the radio. The radio gives me access to the cross-section of society. The lectures I do are not about making great change; they are giving people the confidence that I can walk, talk and chew gum. They are willing to put their reputation on the line for somebody who produces a radio show... This guy can do a good job. And when that happens, it's Joe Six-Pack who's driving down Lake Shore Drive in the middle of rush hour with the radio on, listening to me. Can I make it informative, informational, and entertaining enough that he won't change the station? You can't go and give the Gettysburg Address. What you have to do is, you have to have some one-liners, you have to have some humor, you have to have some information that they can say, "I didn't know that." Because they're not going to come to a lecture, they're not going to come to a pot-luck; this is Joe Six-Pack. He's going to go home, put his feet up and pop one while he watches the television. And I got into his head.
MR: He might not even be conscious of it right then, but it may have been a piece of the puzzle for this individual. One of things that you were talking about before is that your most successful way of penetrating common defenses is to address health issues. Do you feel like it's necessary that you build some sort of foundation under that so it's stronger?
HL: Sure. You've got to do it several-fold. Number one is you have to relate to yourself - "I've been there, I've done that. This is what happened..." Number two is you need reputable sources, the Surgeon General, Dean Ornish, Michael Klaper, T. Colin Campbell. In other words, you become a name dropper. You say," According to T. Colin Campbell, head of Dietary Studies at Cornell University, he did the largest dietary study in the world called The China Project...", all of the sudden you look out, and the people are saying, "This is not just some flake." And then you talk about what they said. So, you give them information that they're not familiar with, you back it up with your own experience or with another creditable person's knowledge.
MR: It's important that people know that your feet are on the ground, because otherwise we run the risk of being lumped in with "the rest of the wackos." So by being earthy and being approachable, that's part of a way of destroying that myth.
HL: Yeah. How did we learn? Somebody, somewhere planted the seed in your mind. You probably don't even know who that person was. You probably can't even recall when that happened.
MR: It's almost subconscious.
HL: Yep. It's all about doing the best you can do, and if you do it with love in your heart, you'll be okay.
MR: I think that using that credo is really good as far as combating a sense of defeat, because you're not going to see absolute markers of your success every day.
HL: Well, this is not about winning battles - this is about winning a war. How do you win a war? Stay alive.
MR: Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the knowledge that you have? Has it ever made you not want to get out of bed in the morning?
HL: No, it's just the opposite. I guess the more information that I have, the more committed I am to sharing it. It's devastating once you understand the magnitude of it. But I just can't imagine how anyone who understands it can walk away from it.
MR: But we can't pretend that there aren't people who refuse to get to the point of understanding it, because they're so afraid to face it.
HL: You have to remember that 80% of people are part of the herd. Do not think that because you saw ten people today and only two of them had a clue of what you were talking about that today was a failure. That's an absolute, 100% successful day. Because 80% of the people, I don't give a damn what the issue is, they're going to follow whopper's in front of them. It's just the two out of ten that you want to worry about.
MR: Any closing thoughts? If you had a very brief amount of time, and you had to convey a message to people, what is the most succinct message that you could give about the planet and where we're going?
HL: What were doing today is absolutely unsustainable. We do not need any more shooting stars, we need more plodding workhorses. This is not about somebody being the darling of the season, this is about somebody who says, "I care about the children, the grandchildren. I care about the future. I'm going to be here as long as I can draw a breath." And to do that, you have to enjoy life, you have to have fun, you have to have friends. It's not about being so wrapped up in all this that you say, "Oh, God..." We don't need any more shooting stars; we need more plodding workhorses. And when we do that, we'll win.
MR: That's beautiful. Thank you, Howard.
HL: Thank you.
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