Howard Lyman at the Holy Land Diner, Springfield, Ill.
Friday, April 25
At Springfield’s Holy Land Diner, the Springfield Vegetarian Association hosted a talk by the “Mad Cowboy”— reformed cattle rancher, outspoken vegan, activist and author Howard Lyman. The restaurant provided an excellent vegetarian, all-you-can-eat buffet.
Cristy: At $8.50 a person — which included the food, drinks, dessert and tips — the buffet couldn’t be beat. A capital city institution, the Holy Land Diner serves traditional Middle Eastern fare, including mouth-watering falafel, fava-bean salad, garlicky hummus and chickpea-battered cauliflower. Many of the guests also took advantage of the soft-serve ice cream, which was hilarious given the vegan message of Howard Lyman’s lecture.
William: Howard seemed laconic, affable and easygoing when signing books behind the folding table, but when he climbed onto the platform in front of the crowd he transformed into a passionate orator, full of fire. He handed back the microphone attached to the anemic PA system and launched into an emphatic sermon, unamplified, speaking with eloquence and no equivocation about the extinction of humanity and how a vegan diet might arrest our fall. “We’re heading toward a cliff at 200 miles per hour.” Seventy-five percent of the topsoil in America is gone after two hundred years. It takes 500 years to produce one inch of topsoil. He stood in front of the plate glass windows, illuminated by lightning flickers. While it stormed outside, he stormed inside. Fewer trees, fewer fish… every natural resource that can be named, we have less than we have ever had. These statistics are too profound to be meaningful when set in ink, but when animated by a man, a believer, they start to add up. Or subtract. Al Gore, farm owner, in An Inconvenient Truth, did not mention that the number one cause of greenhouse gases is confinement livestock. By changing from a carnivorous diet to a vegan diet, you can make a bigger difference in reducing your environmental impact than you could by exchanging your hummer for a moped.
From Easter Island to Iowa, he listed the vain, dying, unsustainable civilizations. This homespun gentleman said something jarringly unpopulist — Eighty percent of people are brain dead and cannot be reached by reason. He seems to include in this majority a president “who cannot read or write.” So it is our mission to reach out to the other twenty percent, in the hope that the majority of sheep will eventually follow, nose to tail. He instructs us on the fine art of propaganda, and this is very useful: how to order a vegan meal in front of colleagues from work, how to deliver your pitch in 30 seconds, how to talk about your own mistakes rather than those of the person you are trying to convince.
C: This might sound cliché, but Howard Lyman is the real deal. Who better to take seriously about vegan issues than a guy who actually built a huge factory farm and shamelessly used pesticides, hormones and antibiotics? Lyman’s experienced all this stuff first-hand. He knows about the nasty things that go on at factory farms, and he’s not quiet about exposing them. He’s also vocal about the government’s lack of regulation, as well as its habit of turning a blind eye to the life-threatening consequences of consuming animal products.
W: A successful rancher who had transformed his family farm into an enormous corporate farm with 7,000 head of cattle, 12,000 acres of crops and 30 employees, Lyman was diagnosed with a tumor on his spinal column in 1979. His doctor said the tumor was most likely caused by the chemicals used in farming, and gave Lyman a one-in-one-million chance of escaping a permanent wheelchair-bound life. Having seen the ecological devastation caused to his own land by his profitable, contemporary farming practices — the birds and trees dead, the soil changed — Lyman vowed to turn his ranch back into an organic farm. Through nearly impossible odds, he survived the surgery with the use of his legs—and kept his vow.
In 1996 he appeared on Oprah to give his opinion on the infamous episode of the show in which Oprah declared that she’d never eat a hamburger again. They were both sued by the cattle industry. This lawsuit dragged on for six years.
C: Lyman mentioned that the Oprah incident (aside from all the legal headaches) was enormously positive. The incident reached a huge audience — and got people thinking.
W: There’s more than a little religion delivered by the man in black telling us of his one-in-one-million survival from death or disability while lightning forks behind him. He barks himself hoarse, his voice cracking as he bellows to be heard over the acoustics, the crashing dishes, the bickering in the kitchen in Middle Eastern tongues, and the vegetarians with feeble manners taking calls on cellphones during the talk. One quarter of Americans die of cancer. Two studies suggest ten percent of Americans who die of Alzheimer’s are misdiagnosed and are actually suffering from a prion disease (such as mad cow). 450,000 Americans may be dying from tainted meat.
C: Although Lyman’s lecture inspired me and the food was unbelievable (as it always is at the Holy Land Diner), I’m not sure if the restaurant was the ideal venue to host the event. The acoustics weren’t great; I strained to hear Lyman. Plus, the restaurant activity was distracting. Several times, I just wanted to shout, “Shut up, everybody! The man’s got somethin’ to say!”
W: People go vegetarian for all kinds of reasons — animal rights, nutrition, to lose weight, religion — but here’s a man telling us to eat vegetarian to save the human race. And if that doesn’t convince you, then avoiding having your brain perforated by the mysterious actions of prions will. Prion diseases are one hundred percent fatal and a horrible way to die.
C: As a relatively new (two and a half years) vegetarian, I struggle. I like the taste of meat. Veganism is almost impossible — butter is unbeatable for making desserts, Ben & Jerry’s is a late-night necessity, and cheese, well, don’t even go there. Howard Lyman is just the kick in the ass a meat-eater, fair-weather vegetarian or lapsed vegan needs to get back on track. Even my dad (who involuntarily attended at the request of my mom, and who’s never consumed a plant in his life beyond iceberg lettuce) was intrigued.
W: “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.” Thunderclap.
Foods not to eat, according to Lyman (in order of importance):
4. red meat