A woman whose dramatic and cow-obsessed weight-loss journey has been featured over the past year on Access Hollywood, Good Morning America, and the Kelly Clarkson Show is an advocate for a cattle industry lobby group that is fighting against climate and health regulations on beef.
“Did I give up meat to get healthy? Nope, not a chance. In fact, I didn’t give up any foods, ESPECIALLY not meat,” Kiah Twisselman recently explained to her nearly 31,000 Instagram followers alongside a video where she bites into a burger and grills two large steaks.
Unapologetically celebrating red meat is central to her influencer brand. “In every single one of my articles, my TV segments, everything I’ve been in, I always talk about growing up on a ranch and I always mention beef, always,” Twisselman explained earlier this year on the Cattlemen’s Call podcast.
The target viewers are regular Americans who are questioning their burger and steak intake after seeing negative things about beef in the media, explained Twisselman on the podcast, who says at one point she weighed 285 pounds but then lost 122 pounds between 2018 and 2020 while still eating meat.
“So if they’re able to look at me on TV and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, look, this cattle rancher has had this incredible transformation and one of her favorite foods is beef, hey, maybe I don’t have to give that up,’” she said.
At a conference this month in Nashville called CattleCon21, Twisselman won the 2020 Advocate of the Year award “for her work helping mainstream Americans appreciate the cattle industry and feel good about enjoying beef.” That award is given out by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a trade and lobbying organization whose members include meat giants such as Tyson and Cargill, as well as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Five Guys.
The NCBA, which didn’t respond to a media request from VICE News, estimates Twisselman’s pro-beef message has reached potentially 1.5 billion people.
One of the organization’s top priorities under the Biden administration is staving off legislation that would shrink carbon impacts from cattle production, which globally produces nearly as much climate-altering methane as the fossil fuel industry. About 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gases come from livestock, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization calculates.
“We don’t want more rules and regulations; we don’t want the government to tell us what we have to do in terms of sustainability,” NCBA CEO Colin Woodall said during CattleCon21.
Instead, the NCBA recently announced a voluntary plan to achieve “climate neutrality” by 2040. “We have got to do this so we can impact and get ourselves back on the right side of things with consumers,” said the chair of the NCBA’s sustainability working group.
“We don't want people to feel bad because they enjoy a good steak,” another industry leader said at the conference.
Last year the NCBA lobbied heavily to ensure the federal government’s newest edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans doesn’t recommend people eat less meat. “Eliminating meat from the world’s diets will not end or even significantly impact climate change, and it will make the world’s consumers less healthy and more at risk for malnutrition,” it argued. Twisselman testified to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on behalf of the NCBA.
Anything that makes red meat look bad is a major concern for the industry because Americans’ consumption of beef has been steadily declining. Despite a slight increase in recent years, the average person eats 15 pounds less beef per year than they did in the early 1980s.
This trend is caused in part by people’s concerns about a beef-based diet being unhealthy, and a growing awareness of beef’s impact on the environment, said Glenn Hurowitz, executive director of the Washington, D.C.–based environmental watchdog group Mighty Earth. “The beef industry is freaked out,” he told VICE News.
Twisselman, who didn’t reply to an interview request, previously worked for the Kentucky Beef Council, which is when she began exercising regularly and taking other measures in order to lose weight, posting before and after photos of herself on Instagram. A media initiative run by the NCBA pitched her story to People magazine, which did a feature on Twisselman in its June 2020 issue.
“Then, People pitched the story to Good Morning America. I also had a segment on Access Hollywood, which was so cool,” Twisselman recently explained. “I said my favorite diet food is beef, and they put that sound bite in the segment. I was so, so proud.”
Twisselman has used all this publicity to launch a new career as a life coach and public speaker. “I may not be as active on the ranch as I once was growing up,” she said in an Instagram post while attending CattleCon21. “But this week I was reminded how crucial my role still continues to be as a member of our beef community.”
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