Yes, I’m late to the party. I know. But I just watched the documentary COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret, and I had a few thoughts about it; everybody loves it, and it’s an incredibly compelling documentary, but certain parts of the feature jarred a little, so I thought I’d write down some of my ideas about it to start a discussion with you about it.
If you guys agree/disagree please do let me know in the comments below and we can discuss!
COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret
So the basic premise of Cowspiracy by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn is that one of the biggest drivers of climate change and deforestation in the world today is animal agriculture; the documentary cites incredible statistics about how the farming and eating of animals is having an impact on the environment, why the US government is hushing these statistics up and why we should be adopting a plant-based diet.
One of the best aspects of the documentary to me is Andersen’s narration. His personal anecdotes about why he cares about the environment and how he wants to make a change makes the film real and touching, and taps into why most normal people are getting frustrated that despite their efforts, climate change is seeming to get worse. According to this documentary, the reason the problem isn’t improving is because of an element that nobody is talking about: The meat industry.
Along with Andersen’s own narrative, the documentary follows US government officials and agricultural companies as they discuss the issue, interspersed with incredible statistics that you can read here (e.g. can you believe ONE hamburger equates to the same water usage of two months of showering?!) The documentary is well-researched and makes for a brilliant watch, whether you’re clued-up on environmental issues or not.
The film is split between statistics about climate change and agriculture, and the US government’s attitude and covering-up of these facts, which even as an English person is pretty fascinating. There’s an emphasis on the fact that a lot of the damage done by animal agriculture is covered up by the government because the industry generates a lot of profit that they don’t want to damage – sickening, I know! It even runs deep enough that people have been killed in Brazil to protect the profits of the meat industry.
Brilliantly, as well, the documentary does touch on fish and “sustainable fishing” as well; in the UK at the moment some supermarkets are trying to push “sustainable” fish such as Pollock, so it was fascinating to learn that even these species of fish aren’t sustainable in the long run.
The documentary does well to scare the living crap out of you; the way it talks about fishing and the meat industry really hits home that something needs to be done right now. One of the ways that this is done effectively is through use of infographics, easily laid out and put into real terms anybody can understand – stand-out segments that really got me was a graphic that showed the rainforest’s destruction in real time, as well as graphics about meat consumption affecting world hunger and poverty.
Science aside, I did really like aspects of the documentary, such as the personal narration and the statistics, and the spiritual and compassionate message behind the film, but certain elements jarred with me. When the topic of becoming vegan comes up, it’s all quite be-all-and-end-all. Andersen himself becomes vegan for the same reason I did, because he couldn’t stand the idea of killing an animal. But some of the experts seemed a little judgemental about the idea of going vegan on your own terms, slowly or bit-by-bit.
Dr. Richard Oppenlander said: “When you go meatless on Monday, if you ascribe to that campaign, you’re essentially contributing to climate change, pollution, depletion of our planet’s resources and your own health, then on six days of the week, instead of seven… You’re creating a false justification for what you’re doing on the other six days of the week.”
This ultimatum, for me, excludes any good acts and good intentions unless they’re the ultimate life-changing action, but for most people life just doesn’t work like that. In poorer areas, so called “food deserts”, it can be exceptionally hard for families to source and cook vegan food, and to shame them for only eating vegan one day a week rather than committing to the diet exclusively is negating the only change they may be able to make realistically.
Furthermore, Dr. Michael A. Klaper, while talking about veganism, suggests that there’s no excuse to not live a healthy vegan diet and that even pregnant or breastfeeding women can live healthy plant-based diets – in fact, he is actively disgusted by the idea of drinking milk – but this assertion to me is quite a sweeping generalisation.
When I was diagnosed with anorexia, there was no way I could have been a healthy vegan as it is a restrictive diet by nature. People who may be coeliac or live on a special diet may find it incredibly hard to cope with further restrictions, and for me Cowspiracy failed to take into account that veganism may not be a possibility for everybody; while it is a compelling, fascinating and inspiring documentary, the ultimatum-style narrative felt a little unforgiving and unrealistic to most middle-to-low-income families.
Fortunately, the film ends not with these expert opinions, but with Andersen’s own thoughts about being more mindful about the food we eat, and putting values back into your food. This, I thought, was a great place to end it on, and did make for an inspiring reason to turn vegetarian or vegan.
To conclude, while the statistics are shattering and the documentary is brilliantly made, presenting insightful facts about the agriculture industry, I don’t believe the documentary’s portrayal of veganism is totally in line with the realistic expectations of ordinary people.
I did love the documentary, and believe that the optimistic ending of the film was inspiring for people looking to switch to a plant-based diet, however I do fully believe that meat-free Mondays or vegan days are good stepping stones, and that you should look to make positive changes for yourself and the environment without subjecting yourself to punishing changes that you might not be ready for.
To end on a positive, vegetarianism is apparently increasing in the UK and there are loads of ways to incorporate more plants into your diet. Here are some of my favourite recipes that are completely meat and dairy free!
COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret is currently available on UK Netflix.