Cowspiracy - The Documentary Turning Environmentalists Vegan
By Alison Homewood /
cowblog.jpg [Related Image]

Streaming giant Netflix recently launched Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, a 90-minute documentary financed via the crowd-funding site Indiegogo and executive-produced by Hollywood star Leonardo di Caprio. It is the latest in a short line of factual features promoted by Netflix, which was prompted to make this acquisition by the huge number of people keying the title into its search box.

Since its internet release last August, the film has been triggering major behavioral change among young adults, an age group often labeled as apolitical and apathetic.  As friends and Facebook contacts recommend the film, young people watch it and by the time the end credits roll, they have resolved to become vegans or vegetarians. 

‘My friend Rob told me I had to see it as he knows how I feel about the terrifying loss of wildlife and habitats,’ said Matt Bidault, a 23-year-old British student who recently moved to Copenhagen to do a masters in climate change. 

‘The film is so convincing, well-researched and shocking that I knew instantly I couldn’t ever eat meat or dairy products again. As an environmentalist, to be anything but vegan seems hypocritical.’

On his first day in Denmark, Matt met three other vegans, all ‘turned’ by watching the doc. ‘You come away from it feeling totally enlightened.’

Martijn Visser, a 22-year-old Dutch masters student, says ‘what shocked me is, they’re facts that you kind of know but never expected to be so big, unbelievable.’  

Conversations about food among young adults are starting to follow the same course: if someone says they have become vegetarian or vegan, people reply, ‘Cowspiracy?’, and nod knowingly. 

The Cowspiracy Facebook page has 67,000 likes; both it and the video-sharing site Vimeo carry comments from around the world, with a good number declaring an instant conversion to veganism.  

So what’s at the root of the revolution? Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret was produced and directed by Californians Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn. The pair resorted to raising finance through crowd-funding, after their original backer pulled out.

Their original goal of $54,000 was over-pledged by 217%, with 1,449 people investing $117,092 in just one month. This extra funding allowed them to dub it into Spanish and German and subtitle it into more than 10 other languages, including Chinese and Russian.

Cowspiracy’s thrust is that agriculture is the most destructive industry in the world today, responsible for global warming, deforestation, droughts, murders of land activists – you name it, it all comes back to cows.

Anderson drew on research  from recent scientific reports published by such august organizations as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Worldwatch Institute and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Viewers are fed alarming facts at a fast and furious rate: livestock and their by-products account for 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions; animal agriculture is responsible for around 90% of Amazon destruction; 70 billion farmed animals are reared annually worldwide and more than 6 million animals are killed for food every hour. And 1,100 activists have been killed in land disputes in Brazil during the past 20 years.  

Cowspiracy’s unique selling point is Anderson himself. An easy-going, regular guy in a baseball cap, he sets out on an investigative road-trip accompanied by Kuhn, keeping it real with a single camera. 

In their sights are the environmental charities that are spending millions taking to task fossil-fuel and aviation companies, mining and logging giants, palm oil and paper producers, but that never mention – let alone challenge – the global agriculture industry.  

Rainforest Action Network, Oceana, Sierra Club, Amazon Watch – their executive directors squirm and waffle nervously under Anderson’s polite, persistent questioning, until they all reluctantly admit the culpability of global farming. Greenpeace comes off worst, refusing Anderson’s requests for interviews over and over in embarrassingly awkward PR jargon. 

‘I was especially shocked by the power that the meat industry has to silence all big environmental organizations,’ said Visser.

The film is laugh-out-loud funny in places, mainly due to politicians and senior executives being backed into corners of their own making. It’s also look-away-gory as Anderson witnesses at close quarters a cow being brutally loaded onto a bulldozer for slaughter, and a sustainably-reared duck being bloodily beheaded by a blunt axe.

The facts and stats underpinning the movie avoid the eco-yawn trap through jolly animation sequences: one acre of rainforest being cut down per second is shown as football fields replacing the trees, and the 660 gallons of water it takes to produce one beef-burger spring as a flood emitted from a man’s garden hose.   

Cowspiracy’s strong narrative has a thriller-like quality when Anderson starts to realize the formidable adversary that is the US agricultural industry – and that of Brazil too,  where people who stand up to ranchers tend to end up dead.  

Howard Lyman, an erudite ex-rancher who spent 2 years fighting lawsuits after speaking against the beef industry on the Oprah Winfrey show, leaves the duo in no doubt about what they are taking on. The withdrawal of their financial backer seems like the last straw.

But Anderson decides, in a messianic  way, that he has to keep going for the sake of the planet. Throughout the documentary, his assertions are never challenged – which is a weakness – but the quality of the interviews and the range of environmental subjects debunked – from sustainable fishing to fracking to organic farming – coupled with the seemingly solid statistics, enable him to get away with it.   

The film crescendos to an optimistic end, hailing the positive benefits of veganism – which is why so many young people come away from it promising to eschew meat, fish and dairy forever. And the evangelizing doesn’t stop there. 

All over the internet, there are stories of teenagers forcing their parents to watch it, and of whole families turning vegan, or at least vegetarian, as a result. Committed carnivores admit to avoiding it in case it puts them off eating meat.

Anderson acknowledges: ‘It’s happening actually really, really fast. I think it’s just the fact that people didn’t know how much their diet does affect everything. And once you do know, you can never not know it. The film has been around for about a year, and it’s unbelievable the thousands of stories we’ve heard of people changing their diets after they know the truth.’

An absolutist position, perhaps, but one cannot deny the courage and persistence of the pair in shining a light on the murky complicity between politicians and the agricultural and fishing industries, and the cowardly impotence of the NGOs.  

Di Caprio’s involvement in the updated Netflix version reinforces Cowspiracy’s environmental credentials as well as upping its ‘cool’ quotient.

Ian Harper, a 22-year-old political philosophy student in Barcelona, said: ‘It’s hopeful: there’s an “obvious solution” to climate change which individuals can adopt right now.’

Matt Bidault concurs: ‘The film offers the viewer an alternative lifestyle where you feel completely selfless.’

And therein lies the secret of Cowspiracy’s appeal, especially to the disenfranchised, idealistic young. 

With causes for climate change, pollution, loss of habitat, species decline and other environmental problems in the hands of self-serving governments and multinational corporations,  the idea that you can start changing the world NOW, by simply deciding to change your diet, is compelling and liberating.

Cowspiracy’s Indiegogo pitch document states: ‘Together, we aren’t just creating a movie, we are creating a movement.’ Right now, that movement seems to be on a roll.

Image: Marc Dalmulder under a Creative Commons Licence

4.6 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 12,477 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 3,123 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Donald Trump Is the Mirror and Hillary Clinton Is the Mask
Chris Agnos · 2,730 views today · Disclaimer: I do not support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. I think the scope of the political debate is far too narrow for the kinds of actions that need to...
Mark Corske's Engines of Domination (2014)
60 min · 2,440 views today · Political power -- armed central authority, with states and war -- is it part of human nature? Is it necessary for human communities? Or is it a tool that ruling elites use to...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 2,073 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 1,709 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 1,540 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 967 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Gil Scott-Heron Deconstructs Colonialism and Black History in His Own Unique Style
3 min · 961 views today · His-Story: I was wondering about our yesterdays, and starting searching through the rubble and to say the very least, somebody went to a hell of a lot of trouble to make sure...
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 920 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 829 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 814 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 565 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Planet Earth II Could Be Best Nature Doc Ever Made
3 min · 468 views today · 10 years ago Planet Earth changed our view of the world. Now we take you closer than ever before. This is life in all its wonder. This is Planet Earth II. A decade ago, the...
Anarchists - What We Stand For
unknown · 429 views today · Anarchism : The word “anarchy” comes from Greek and means “no rulers”. As a political philosophy, anarchism is based on the idea that organization does not require rulers—that...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 390 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
For Those Who Don't Want to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils
Peter White · 370 views today · Ranked-choice voting is catching on, and Maine might become the first state to help citizens vote for candidates they actually want.
Are You Lost in the World Like Me?
3 min · 288 views today · Animated film by Steve Cutts for 'Are You Lost In The World Like Me?', taken from These Systems Are Failing- the debut album from Moby & The Void Pacific Choir. 
The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism
Chris Hedges · 277 views today · College-educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay. Their duplicity—embodied in...
World's Low-Cost Economy Built on the Backs of 46 Million Modern Day Slaves
Deirdre Fulton · 256 views today · 'Business leaders who refuse to look into the realities of their own supply chains are misguided and irresponsible.'
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Cowspiracy - The Documentary Turning Environmentalists Vegan