The ex-rancher who saw the light
by Sylvain Comeau
When Howard Lyman stood before a Concordia audience last Monday as part of Student Orientation Week, he was beating the odds.
"In 1979, I got a wake-up call. I was told that I had a tumour on my spinal column, and that my odds of ever walking again after the
"I was in the hospital, lying flat on my back, and I was thinking about why I became a farmer: birds, trees and living soil. I was buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of chemicals. I was killing the birds, killing the trees, and turning the soil into something that looked like asbestos."
After the tumour was removed, he was forced to sell his farm because banks refused to loan him the money to become an organic farmer. He became an advocate for the vegan lifestyle. He delivers his message around the world, and advises farmers on organic farming.
Lyman, who mixes figures with self-deprecating wit, cites studies that show that vegans live between 12 and 15 years longer than meat-eaters. He also points out that methane from cattle feces contribute to global warming. "Did you know that the two hottest months in history were June and July 1998? Maybe El Nino is Spanish for global warming."
Much of his lecture was devoted to a fascinating inside account of the recent Texas cattle-ranchers' massive lawsuit against talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. Lyman was a co-defendant in that suit because he appeared on Winfrey's show about mad cow disease, in which the ranchers claim to have been slandered.
"At the beginning, our lawyer told us that the only way we could win was to make it a free speech issue. That way, the jurors could find us not liable and explain to their friends and neighbors that they didn't do it for our sake, they did it for everyone."
Remarkably, the defendants were able to sway their opponents' own expert witnesses. "Believe it or not, we got the plaintiffs' expert witnesses to admit that we were right. We never called any expert witnesses ourselves."
The moral for the plaintiffs, according to Lyman, was never to sue someone who has no money ("that's me") and don't sue someone who reaches 20 million viewers every day ("that's Oprah"). Unfortunately, the cattle ranchers have appealed the verdict.