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Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Bill and Nicolette Niman here.

We have really enjoyed this discussion. We're sorry we did not have the time to respond to ALL of the questions but we do appreciate all of the questions we received and thought it was a very good discussion.

As mentioned above, you can follow our future food and farming blogging on The Atlantic's website at http://food.theatlantic.com/on-the-farm/ . Also, for those of you interested in learning about how your meat is produced we encourage you to read: Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms (www.righteousporkchop.com ), which is loaded with information about how things are done now, how US meat production got to this point, and what the alternatives are.

Jul 10, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Bill Niman here.

Overall, I don't think that the beef from Wagyu is better than the British breeds, namely Angus and Hereford. However, it is different in that it is generally more marbled and has a milder (less beefy) flavor. For me, it's a bit like eating a stick of butter. Because the carcass tends to be so marbled, many of the cuts are too fatty. The American version of the Wagyu is often half Angus, so it may be less fat than the Japanese version.

Jul 10, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Nicolette Niman here.
Thank you for the kind words about my book Righteous Porkchop!

Regarding the guides question, another good one is www.eatwellguide.org .

Regarding the work I did on livestock pollution while at Waterkeeper, that work does continue, although there are not as many organizations working on it as I would like to see. Most importantly, there is still very little government enforcement of environmental laws against polluting livestock operations. For things to really change, this needs to be corrected.

Jul 10, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Also, quite a few ordinances disallow roosters, but allow hens, which is what you want for eggs anyway. It's the roosters who are quite noisy.

Jul 09, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Au contraire, mon frere. The trend is the other way. More and more municipalities that adopted such ordinances mid-century are now repealing them. Several of our good friends in cities and suburbs are part of this growing trend.

Jul 09, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Nicolette Niman here.

In response to Stephanie's question about labels and certifications, please see my response to BHK (above), which I've just posted.

Jul 08, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Nicolette Niman here again.

See our response above related to heritage pork.

Regarding labelling and certifications, this one gets sort of tricky. In my book Righteous Porkchop I devote twelve pages to this subject (pps. 224 - 236). I recommend reading that section (and indeed the entire chapter, which is called "Finding the Right Foods".)

Obviously, I cannot perfectly summarize what's in the book in just a few sentences, but let me try to give a few bottom lines for those of you that won't have a chance to see the book.

First, the best possible environment for ALL farm animals (beef cattle, dairy cows, pigs, sheep, turkeys, chickens, egg laying hens, etc) is pasture. In our experience, animals living on pasture are the healthiest animals and produce the tastiest, most healthful foods. So the that's the gold standard.

However, none of the labels (including "free range" and "organic") give complete assurance that animals were raised on pasture. Unless you see the words: "Raised on pasture" or other words to that effect, you cannot be certain that the animals were kept on or given access to true pasture. This is one of the reasons we like shopping for meat at the farmers market or through Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). This allows you to ask specific questions about the conditions your food was produced in and to get knowledgable answers.

If you cannot find foods that were produced on pasture, organic is a good second choice. Many organically raised animals ARE raised on pasture and all organically raised animals are fed only organic feeds that do not include medications. Organically raised animals are also NOT given growth hormones. These are all very desireable things.

Finally, if you cannot find pasture raised or organic dairy, meat, and eggs, at the very least you can avoid buying foods from animals that were fed antibiotics, a practice that has been shown to contribute to antibiotic resistant bacteria, including in the foods produced.

Jul 08, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Nicolette Niman here this time.

Michigan has some excellent outdoor pig farms. I am from Michigan and Bill and I have visited about a half dozen traditional pig farms in Cass County. The pigs were running around on spacious pastures, grazing, raising their young outdoors, and fed only natural feeds. Some of those pig farmers are selling their hogs to Niman Ranch. Some sell their meat at the farmers market. Your local farmers market is a great place to start your search! Have fun!

Jul 08, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Bill Niman here.

What makes great tasting pork, the way it used to be, is when pigs are raised outdoors. Pigs regulate body temperature utilizing a layer of backfat beneath their skin. They do not have sweat glands or fur coats. The backfat keeps them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Oh, and by the way, it correlates directly with intermuscular succulence and flavor.

The "other white meat" industry has done a great job of breeding the backfat out and creating a "lean generation" that didn't need to worry about staying warm because they lived their entire lives in climate controlled buildings. What the modern pork industry didn't concern themselves with is that backfat and intramuscular fat are essential to juiciness and flavor.

Any pigs that get the chance to live outdoors and still have some of the traits necessary to survive the Minnesota winters will be reminiscient of that wonderful pork that many of us remember and seek. Most of the breeds that can still do that are considered heritage breeds because they can get fat and therefore taste great. Be careful, though, because if you put those pigs indoors and deprive them of a natural environment they quickly become "the other white meat" -- the dry and tasteless variety.

Jul 07, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Bill Niman here.
Here are my favorites:
on the grill is outside skirt steak,
BBQ is bottom sirloin flap meat (bavette),
roast is top sirloin, and
braise is bone-in shortribs.

Jul 07, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Bill and Nicolette Niman here.

THE NIMAN TOP TEN LIST FOR AFFORDABLE SUSTAINABLE EATING
(Some of which are easier to do than others but all of which are worth consideration...)

(*But first, we should note that we think cost to the consumer is a very important question. In fact, it's one of the most important barriers to changing the practices of the current industrialized meat and dairy industries. It is true that meat and dairy from pasture-based, natural farms often costs more money. The reasons for this are complex and are closely related to government policies (at federal, state and local levels) that encourage industrial production. But that does not help the consumer who's trying to carefully watch his or her budget and eat healthy foods. With that said, here are our suggestions on how to do that.)

1. Reduce consumption of meat, dairy and fish products. Most Americans eat far more meat and dairy than is nutritionally warranted and this is the most expensive part of the American diet. We refer to this as "moving meat OFF the center of the plate." By cutting down on the number of times you eat meat, dairy and fish AND by reducing portion sizes of those foods, you can keep buying naturally raised meat and dairy without breaking the bank.

2. Shop and eat in harmony with the seasons. For every food that is naturally raised, (and wild game, seafood and fish), there is a "season of plenty." During that season of plenty, the foods are available at a lower cost and it's a great time to get bargains on healthful, delicious foods. Various websites now offer guidance on what's in season when. A walk through a farmers market also tells you what's in season.

3. Plant a garden. If you have a yard, terrace, or even a window sill, you can grow your own organic vegetables, herbs and fruits cheaper than you can buy them. It's also a great way to get fresh air and exercise.

4. Keep a flock of laying hens. At the dawn of the 20th century, even cities had loads of chickens. "A 1906 census showed that in urban areas there was one chicken for every two people" (Righteous Porkchop, p. 40). More and more cities are again allowing people to keep chickens -- a great way to get cheap, organic eggs and chicken meat.

5. Cook more. Food that is prepared at home from raw ingredients is cheaper than prepared foods (and better tasting and more nutritious!)

6. Shift budgeting priorities. Americans spend a smaller percentage of their budgets on food than any other developed country. In France, for example, people spend about 14% of their income on food. In the US, we spend about 9%.

7. Buy cheaper cuts of meat. The so-called "middle meats" (e.g. pork loin, beef tenderloin) are the most commonly available in supermarkets, but are not the tastiest and are the most expensive. By learning about the lesser known cuts (e.g. beef tri-tip, pork shanks) and how to prepare them, you can save a lot of money on your meat.

8. Buy whole chickens (instead of parts). Roast the whole bird or cut it into parts at home. You'll save money and get better quality meat. Use what's left to make stock for soup and sauces.

9. Buy foods during low demand periods. For example, at Christmas, prime rib and tenderloin are in high demand while the New York strip steak is in relatively low demand, so this it's a good time to buy it if you're looking to save money. Another good example is pork spare ribs and babyback ribs -- they are in high demand in the summer grilling season and are much cheaper outside of that time period.

10. Eat organ meats. Liver, hearts and kidneys are highly nutrious and can be purchased at a relatively low cost. Even a very tight budget can afford these from naturally raised animals. Learn how to cook them and you'll have great, nutritious food.

Jul 07, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Bill and Nicolette Niman here again.

We'd like to address your question about veal. Most veal in the US comes from the dairy industry. It is the male calves of dairy cows, who obviously have no value as milk producers. Using male dairy calves as veal is a sensible system. However, unfortunately, the vast majority of the calves raised for veal in the US are raised in continual confinement, many teathered at the neck and/or in small wooden crates. They are taken from their mothers within hours of birth, never allowed to graze on pasture, and are fed a manmade veal formula that includes animal byproducts and is usually medicated. These are practices we find objectionable.

An alternative to this system is to raise male dairy calves on pasture with their mothers or on pasture but fed real mothers' milk. A small number of farmers in the US use this method and this is usually marketed as "Rosy Veal". However, it is important to note that some "Rosy Veal" is fed formula.

It is also the case that some farmers raising beef cattle send young beef animals (6-9 months of age) to slaughter and call this Rosy Veal. We do not favor this practice as we believe that beef cattle animals should be raised to maturity, thus feeding far more people for every animal life that is taken.

Jul 06, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Bill and Nicolette Niman here again.

The question of the quantity and frequency of meat consumed in the US is something that we both talk about publicly about quite a bit. Our view could be summarized as follows: "Eat less meat. Eat BETTER meat." Obviously, we consider meat that is healthfully raised (without hormones, subtheurapeutic antibiotics, and raised on pasture) to be extremely nutritious food. That said, most Americans are eating far more meat, poultry, and dairy then they need from a nutritional standpoint. For example, here's an amazing statistic from Nicolette's book Righteous Porkchop: the per capita US consumption of cheese has gone from about THREE pounds at the beginning of the 20th century to about THIRTY-ONE pounds at the close of the 20th century! At the same time, meat and dairy production is rescource intensive and therefore, from an environmental standpoint (as well as personal health standpoint) should not be consumed in excess.

Jul 06, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Bill and Nicolette Niman here again.

The most important thing to know when purchasing beef is the way the animal was raised. How old it was at slaughter, what it was fed, and the enivronment it lived in are some of the important points to understand. Additionally, how it was handled when it "went to town" (at the slaughterhouse).

There are breeds that have been selected over generations for one quality trait or another. What is known about Aberdeen Angus (Black Angus) and the other breeds of catle raised for meat that were developed over the last several hundred years in the UK, is that they were selected for one purpose -- how their meat ate. The breeding lines were not kept because of how much milk they produced, how big their calf was, or how large a plow they could pull. The primary criterion was how their flesh ate from a flavor and tenderness viewpoint.

The Angus Beef Cattle breed association has done a great job of promoting (perhaps overpromoting) their breed as the standard of excellence. In my opinion, Hereford Beef (another British Breed) is the equal and the cross between the two breeds is the best. A good indication in the cattle industry of the relative value of Black Angus vs Herefrod is the price tag on the purebred bulls. For the first tim in many years Herefrod Bulls are more expensive than Angus. That confirms what cattlemen have known for a long time now and that is that there is now a lot of quality variation within the Angus Breed and what may appear to be an Black Angus is just a black version of other cattle that have not been carefully selected for eating quality rather for color and other insignificant factors that have nothing to do with eating quality.

Jul 06, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman: Experts in Residence!

Regarding feed. Generally, when cattle are on pasture, they are eating naturally occuring vegetation. From an environmental and human health perspective, well managed grazing is one of the most beneficial ways to produce food.

However, when cattle are put in a feedlot or drylot, they will be fed a wide variety of things, depending on who is raising them and where they are located. (For example, in Nebraska, a lot of corn is fed whereas in Alberta, barley is used). Unfortunately, for conventionally raised cattle, not all of what's fed to cattle is stuff that most people would want in their food chain. In Nicolette's book Righteous Porkchop she gives lots of examples of some of the unsavory stuff used in cattle feed. It includes antibiotics, meat by-products, chicken feathers and urea. The main ingredients of cattle feed include grains, hay, and silage (usually that is fermented, chopped corn). By seeking out beef that is "naturally raised" consumers can avoid buying meat from cattle fed antibiotics and meat by products. By seeking out "grass fed beef" consumers can also avoid cattle fed grain. We do not believe that it's bad to feed some grain to cattle, but this must be done carefully to avoid various health problems in the animals.

Regarding weights. The weights at slaughter vary greatly depending on who's raising them. Typical grain finished cattle go to slaughter at between 1050 LBS and 1400 LBS. The variation depends largely on the breeds in question as well as the gender and age of the animal. Most grass-fed beef goes to slaughter at a lighter weight.

Jul 06, 2009
NicoletteHN in General Topics

Does the Color of an Egg Yolk Indicate How Nutritious It Is?

In my book Righteous Porkchop, I document the history of the American poultry industry. As the book explains, the color of egg yolks notably became dull and grayish when chickens began to be raised indoors (starting in the 1920s). It became standard practice during the 20th century -- and still is today -- to add DYE to the hens' feed. Marigold petals are only used in natural egg production.

Jun 26, 2009
NicoletteHN in Features