Photo by Nicolette Hahn Niman
Nine years ago, I had just started working as an environmental lawyer for Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. when he approached me about leading a national campaign to reform the livestock and poultry sector. He said that industrialized animal production had become one of the nation's worst polluters of water and air, and he wanted to aggressively attack the problem.
Initially, realizing that Bobby was asking me to work full-time on poop, I hesitated. It was not the glamorous job I'd envisioned when moving to New York to work for him. But then I visited towns in Missouri and North Carolina that had been overrun by factory-style production of hogs, chickens, and turkeys. I witnessed Biblical-scale plagues of pollution and stench; I spoke with people whose lives had been ruined when an industrial hog or poultry operation was built next door; and I heard the details of how animals were raised. My reticence vanished.
I loved the job. But there was one problem: I could no longer deny the shady past of my own food. Every day, I was putting stuff into my mouth that undeniably came from the very same type of operation that I was working to eradicate. I was a vegetarian, yes. But I ate plenty of eggs, milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese. And much of the data and stories I was gathering from all over the country was about industrialized egg and dairy operations.