My thoughts on the documentary COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret

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.

Cowspiracy-Infographic-Metric-715x400

 

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.

cowspiracy-meme

 

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. 

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12 thoughts on “My thoughts on the documentary COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret

  1. I like the depth you’ve gone into here. It’s an interesting point about lower income people not being able to afford vegan foods.

    I wonder how government subsidies tie in with this, I know that here in the UK, cow’s milk is one of the most subsidised products and is ridiculously cheap. I think there are also alternatives to get just as much nutrition (and not risk all the animal-product-related side effects), once you know where to shop.

    For example, buying in bulk, going to Asian supermarkets for big bags of rice/lentils, farmers’ markets for cheap fruit and veg. It can take a little more thought but I think in the long run it pays for itself. Especially when you consider the cost that a non-vegan diet has on our health.

    You say that there are sweeping statements made, and I agree, although I’d frame it more that these people have uncovered truths that shock them and have really motivated and inspired them. They believe they’re very important, and for them it is totally clear cut as to what to do. There’s no reason to lie about it, and for me, there’s no reason to continue eating animal products.

    I wrote an article on the next film from the makers of Cowspiracy, called What The Health, if you’ve heard of it (it’s here http://vegandocumentaries.com/what-the-health-documentary-sneak-preview/ ). It looks to be pretty big stuff, investigating the medical industry and its relationship to food. I’d love if you could read it and let me know what you think! :-)

  2. I agree that for some people, being vegan is really tough, especially if they’re living with family who aren’t vegan, and therefore have to cook separate meals the whole time, or have certain dietary conditions. However, I do think it would actually be very easy for everyone, despite dietary conditions, to be vegan. The issue is that vegan food is not as accessible as non-vegan food. You can’t go into an M&S and just grab a sandwich when you’re vegan, or go out for a meal with friends/colleagues without calling the restaurant first to check there’s a veggie option you can alter!! However, I do believe that as more people become vegan, more places will release vegan food – just look at Zizzi’s new cheese, which, I presume, means you could make nearly any veggie pizza vegan by switching the cheeses!! And, as it becomes easier to be vegan in our modern, fast paced society, the more people will switch. We may be a minority at the moment but it’s only a matter of time before we’re a majority.

  3. most vegans i know come from a restrictive eating disordered past and find veganism to be actually less restrictive, myself included. unless you live in alaska (which makes no economic sense tbh), if you find it restrictive you’re doing it wrong.

    • Well, every recovery is different, and for me the fact that veganism excludes two large food groups was too restrictive for me. I appreciate your comments but nobody is “doing it wrong” when it comes to veganism or eating disorder recovery; diet and food are extremely personal choices so in the end you have to do what benefits you.

      • Well, I don’t know about the US, but in England vegan versions of non-vegan foods are sometimes more expensive, so when I was recovering at university I felt like veganism wasn’t a viable option for me.

      • they’re about the same here. and both are more expensive than raw or frozen plants so it doesn’t really matter XD i’m in college (university) and it’s pretty cheap, despite my living in a cold northern state.

  4. interesting post… I think that this documentary in particular doesn’t seek to teach you about veganism too much, but you need to do that research on your own… I spend about 50-60 a week on groceries ( for two people) in the u.s on a vegan diet, my diet consists of beans, rice, lentils, potatoes, veggies and some fruit… I eat whole plants only and do not eat vegan meats or junk food. I also come from anorexia, and I have learnt to appreciate food and not be sacred of it… you can enjoy food so much more when you are eating the right foods, I never think of it as restrictive especially because I have connected with this lifestyle ethically :) I think in the beginning it might seem hard, but once you know its a lifestyle and a life long journey you will not live to eat, but eat to live!

    • I agree, and I do think the documentary is a brilliant thinking point for people looking to make the transition to veganism, so obviously personal research is needed before you make any changes! You’re right in saying that veganism is hard at the beginning, I’ve found it so much easier the longer I’ve stuck with a veggie/vegan diet. Thank you for commenting, you’ve raised some really interesting points :) x

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