You know when you finish watching a film and something inside you just…clicks? You start to see the world differently. It happens in many ways and takes on many forms, manifesting itself differently whether it’s a documentary or a fiction film. With fiction, it can be metaphorical, allegorical even to your own life, or events happening. Documentaries are a little bit different. The gravity behind documentaries is that they a rooted in truth. Biased? Yes. Created to evoke a specific emotion within you? Of course. But when a documentary shocks you, affects you to your very core and makes you want to change the way you live… that’s quite a different story.
There has been quite the history of “earth shattering” documentaries, the type which movements gather behind and are heralded for changing the way we see certain issues. Change begins to take place. If we think of documentaries like End of the Line, An Inconvenient Truth or Blackfish, they all bought incredibly important social and environmental issues in the mainstream media spotlight and gave those causes an voice. Cowspiracy is one of these. If you can look past the ridiculous name (I’m sorry, but it is) Cowspiracy is a documentary which succinctly and simply pieces together facts about the meat and dairy industry like you’ve never seen before.
Short disclaimer. I am a carnivore, I love meat, I love cheese even more. Occasionally, I will drink soy milk but only due to my digestive ahem *issues* rather than for any ethical reason. I love nothing more than a bacon sandwich on a Saturday morning and a steak dinner on a Sunday evening. I’ve always been (sort of) aware of the unethical side of the meat and dairy industry but I’ve always been of the opinion that one person not eating meat won’t do anything to stop the mass production of it. Plus, I’m not a great cook and most of the recipes I am good at involve meat in some way. When it came to me watching Cowspiracy, it certainly wasn’t a case of ‘preaching to the converted’. I wanted to learn something new. I didn’t expect to come out of it evaluating my entire lifestyle choices.
Like I said, despite my very deliberate ignorance, I did know (somewhere in the back of my mind) that the meat and dairy industry was not an ethical or moral one. Sometimes, when I could afford it mostly, I’d buy organic or free range. I felt good about myself, like I somehow was rising above the unethical trade. But watching Cowspiracy has changed my mind completely. And I can’t go back.
The film itself is a mix of revealing infographics, clever cartoons and one man’s journey to get to the bottom of one of the biggest cover-ups in our lifetime. The foundation is this; the meat and dairy industry is the single biggest contributor to global warming and pollution on our planet. It’s the single biggest factor behind environmental destruction and deforestation. It’s highly unsustainable and the process of animal agriculture is slowly but destroying the Earth – from ruined land to dead zones in our oceans. There’s a lot of information in Cowspiracy, most of it singing to the same tune. Directors Andersen and Kuhn are determined to uncover why it is that, with so much evidence pointing towards the meat and dairy industry as culprits, environmental charities and groups don’t seem to indicate that animal agriculture has got anything to do with the rising climate and pollution.
The film quickly goes from one of shocking statistics to one about ‘fighting the man’. Andersen and Kuhn discover that no-one (including international environmental campaigners Greenpeace) want to speak out against the meat and dairy industry. They speak to a journalist (Will Potter) who has been sued, served and run out of town by the meat and dairy industry for daring to speak the truth about the effect of meat farming on the planet. At one point, one of their financial backers pulls the plug on some of the funding for the film because of the allegations Andersen and Kuhn are making. They are, understandably, shaken and consider if it’s worth continuing with the project. The decision is made to continue, despite the fear of being sued by the meat and dairy industry.
The ‘cowspiracy’ (umm conspiracy) is that there is some sort of unspoken embargo on anyone speaking out about the very real and dangerous effects of animal agriculture. Not only this, but the absolute myth that animal agriculture can ever be sustainable (we farm far more animals than humans, and this number is growing).
For me, though, the real kicker in Cowspiracy is one simple statistic that I have never heard before. If we were to distribute the farm grain to humans around the world, instead of using it to feed animals for us to eat, no one in the world would ever go hungry again. Yes you did hear that right. If we used the food that we feed animals with (to fatten them up to eat) to feed the starving all over the world, then everyone would be fed. Doesn’t that seem mad? There isn’t a shortage of food on this earth (as the media would have you believe) but instead there is surplus of greed in Western countries to want more than is physically possible to sustain.
I’m fairly confident that this will come as no shock to those who have done even smallest amount of research on eating a plant-based diet or animal agriculture and it’s effects but to the vast majority of the meat-eating population – this is not common knowledge.
I suppose my real question after watching Cowspiracy is this: can a documentary change your entire lifestyle? Cowspiracy was a strong documentary, sure. It had weak moments and it often felt incredibly preachy (especially at the beginning). In the end though, it felt like a journey rather than a lecture – which is what investigative documentaries like this strive for. Can it change your life, though?
I’m not convinced entirely that it can, I haven’t stopped eating meat just yet. No matter how strong the reasoning, and how well it’s put across, changing your lifestyle is a big deal. For starters, veganism/vegetarianism takes a lot of planning and thought (at least to begin with) which takes time, something which someone who works 60 hours a week has little of. I’m not that someone, but my time is sparse. It’s also incredibly expensive to eat vegetarian or vegan because the options are so much more limited. If you have the time and money to make this lifestyle change, it may well be time to do so. Me, personally? I am on the fence, but leaning towards the vegetarian side so hard I might just fall off any day now. Which just goes to show how powerful documentaries can be, doesn’t it?