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Thursday, June 16, 2005 10:57 pm

The life of a mad cowboy

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Howard Lyman

When Howard Lyman approached his banker about starting an organic farm, his banker laughed. After Lyman made the change from chemical-based farming to organic and became a vegetarian (he’s now a vegan), he lost weight, and his blood pressure and cholesterol dropped. Now he’s the one laughing.

Lyman, a fourth-generation farmer, made the choice to go organic when his doctor found a tumor on his spinal cord. After his recovery, Lyman made some changes. He sold most of his farm, began work with the Montana Farmers Union, and became a “closet vegetarian.”

“I would have rather been caught riding a stolen horse in Montana than being a vegetarian,” Lyman says.

But Lyman wanted to do more. He joined the lobbyists on Capitol Hill for American Family Farmers. He founded the nonprofit organization Voice for a Viable Future. After an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show about mad-cow disease in 1998, he and Winfrey found themselves on the receiving end of a landmark lawsuit by Cactus Feeders, a group of Texas cattleman, for “knowingly making false statements” about the agriculture business. After nearly six years, the lawsuit was dismissed by a federal court.

Lyman set out to show the world what was happening inside the agriculture and cattle industries. He had already written a bestselling book, Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth From The Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat, but he wanted people to see what was happening.

“I believe we are a visual society,” Lyman says. “We don’t learn a lot from what we hear, but rather what we see.”

Lyman collected more than 100 hours of footage from around the world and edited it down to 80 minutes for the documentary, Mad Cowboy: The Documentary, which, he says,  shows all facets of the cattle industry from farmers to scientists to senators. He started filming in June 2002 and didn’t wrap until the fall of 2004.

“I wanted to show how we as American people are affecting our environment,” Lyman says.

Lyman and his wife, Willow Jeane, plan a 60-day tour around the country, logging more than 6,000 miles to spread his message. He says his latest book, No More Bull, “answers the tough questions like when someone says, ‘You’re vegan, what do you eat?’ ” The book has the answers, with vegan recipes and information on diets. No More Bull is due out this summer. =

The Springfield Vegetarian Association will show Lyman’s film Mad Cowboy: The Documentary at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 21, at Lincoln Library, Seventh & Capitol. The showing is free and open to the public.

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