Cowspiracy - The Documentary Turning Environmentalists Vegan
By Alison Homewood / newint.org
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 ·
5
What's Next
Trending Today
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 16,072 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 12,903 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 11,876 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
How a Trump Presidency Would Unleash a Torrent of Racist Violence-And Devastate the Left
Arun Gupta · 11,244 views today · The Left should take the Trump threat very seriously.
Forest Man
16 min · 7,680 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 7,258 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...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 6,951 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
Maya Angelou's 3-Word Secret to Living Your Best Life
3 min · 6,308 views today · Dr. Maya Angelou says that in order to be the best human being you can be, you must follow one simple directive: "Just do right." Watch as Dr. Angelou reveals how you can never...
Alan Watts: What If Money Was No Object?
3 min · 5,001 views today · How do you like to spend your life? What do you desire? What if money didn't matter? What if money was no object? What would you like to do if money were no object? Spoken...
10 Shocking Facts About Society That We Absurdly Accept As Normal
Joe Martino · 4,480 views today · When you take a moment and look around at the world, things can appear pretty messed up. Take 5 or 10 minutes and watch the 6 o’clock news. Chances are, the entire time, all...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 3,787 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 3,747 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...
Do You Have Time to Love?
Thich Nhat Hanh · 3,178 views today · The greatest gift you can offer loved ones is your true presence.
Capitalism Is Just a Story - Rise Up and Create a New One
6 min · 3,163 views today · How many of us have a sneaking suspicion that something pretty fundamental is going wrong in the world? We keep hearing about the potentially devastating consequences of...
Doctors Response to Daily Mail Bigotry is Beautiful
Neil Tiwari · 2,418 views today · A poetic open letter to the Daily Mail newspaper from Dr. Neil Tiwari, in response to a bigoted attack on his colleagues, is going viral and it's beautiful.
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 2,300 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
Better, Not More
5 min · 2,192 views today · As we assess the current state of our world and consider together the elements that are essential to a ‘just transition’, and ultimately, a just economy, we are called to...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 2,157 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
11 Traits of People With High Emotional Intelligence
Raven Fon · 2,088 views today · Lately, new ways to describe human interactions, social behaviours, and many facets of psychology have emerged on the social network scene. One of those descriptions is “high...
The Revolution Is Love! Our Movement is for the 100%
4 min · 1,526 views today · "Love is the felt experience of connection to another being. An economist says 'more for you is less for me.' But the lover knows that more of you is more for me too. If you...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Cowspiracy - The Documentary Turning Environmentalists Vegan