Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret
You can’t be an environmentalist and eat animal products. Period!
— Harold Lyman, cattle rancher turned environmental activist

Before I begin, here's an important story about Harold Lyman: in 1996, he was invited on to the Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss the mad cow disease scare. Her conversation with Lyman led Oprah to claim that he had "stopped [her] cold from eating another hamburger!" Beef prices hit a 10-year low within two weeks of this episode airing and, consequently, the two were sued for defamation by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association for over $10 million. Incidentally, they were proven not guilty and Winfrey told reporters outside the court that she still refused to eat burgers, but if this story isn't representative of the problems in our system, I don't know what is.

-----   Source: Time

I have been thinking about Harold Lyman's statement since Wednesday evening, when I finally broke my documentary-watching hiatus and watched Cowspiracy. I had heard that this film in particular would change my attitude towards meat for good and I think part of me was holding off from watching it because I could remain happy in my semi-ignorance. Before the Flood had already forced me into an almost completely vegetarian diet, contrary to all my pre-Green18 beliefs, and I think I have been (foolishly) wary of further change.

I now see how important it is to fight through that head-in-the-sand approach. Cowspiracy is everything a documentary needs to be: informative and well-researched, thought-provoking and shocking. Technically, I perhaps found it a little fact-heavy because, personally, an overload of facts leads to a sieve effect, where I find things very interesting in the moment but forget them shortly afterwards. To remedy this, Cowspiracy has a very informative website where you can revisit the content of the film in all of its shocking glory and, more importantly, find out how you can get involved, from watching more content to discovering meat-free meal plans.

Image source:

Image source:

All in all, the film confirms one thing: the agriculture industry is the main cause of climate change. It is responsible for 91% of Amazon rainforest clearance; it produces over half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and almost four times as much as all forms of transport put together; livestock occupies almost half of the earth’s land and uses 1/3 of its water. There is literally no denying these facts and, for some reason, no one seems to be addressing them. The film aims to provoke awareness in its audience; however, it also documents the ignorance of people who should know better. Countless interviews with representatives of charities and governmental organisations lead to 'no comment's' or, worse still, 'what does agriculture have to do with anything?'

As one of the more clued-up interviewees in the film points out, our current global climate situation is like trying to cure lung cancer without addressing the smoking problem, and being killed ourselves through the passive smoke. In practice, we are ignoring agriculture as a factor in our global problem, choosing instead to focus on other contributors like fossil fuels and, increasingly now, plastic pollution. Of course, I am not claiming that these factors aren't important because we should obviously be trying to chip away at every aspect of the problem. But why are we ignoring the main source?

Cowspiracy may be the most important film made to inspire saving the planet.
— Louie Psihoyos, Oscar-Winning Director of "The Cove"

The only reason I can think of is human greed and selfishness. Yet again, we are putting ourselves above everything else. (God, am I tired of realising that.) I understand that behavioural changes are difficult to get people to undertake because they change their way of life. But as Kip Andersen, the maker of the documentary, points out to a member of his government, getting people to conserve water and to recycle were also behavioural changes, and these have now become widely integrated into public consciousness . For some reason, food is a particular hang-up and, believe me, I get it. In fact, for the first few months, as I documented on the food blog, I really struggled to sacrifice all the meals I loved for new vegetarian recipes. But how hard is it, really, when there is this much at stake?

I’m not suggesting everyone in the world goes vegan immediately. I'm not even suggesting they go vegetarian. Just think of the change we could make if we even just ate a half of the meat we did now. It is almost too tempting for me to think of how the statistics would change in our favour if we forgot ourselves for once and did that one simple thing. If we ate half the meat we did now, the meat industry would only produce a quarter of our global emissions - still a lot, but a step towards cleansing our air and allowing our rainforests to grow and our sealife to thrive. Who in their right mind would claim their burger is more important than that?

Important links:

Watch the trailer for the film below:

Told by the man who kicked off the infamous lawsuit between Oprah and the cattlemen, Mad Cowboy is an impassioned account of the highly dangerous practices of the cattle and dairy industries. A fourth-generation Montana rancher, Lyman investigated the use of chemicals in agriculture after developing a spinal tumor that nearly paralyzed him. Now a vegetarian, he blasts through the propaganda of beef and dairy interests--and the government agencies that protect them--to expose an animal-based diet as the primary cause of cancer, heart disease, and obesity. Persuasive, straightforward, and full of the down-home good humor and optimism of a son of the soil, Mad Cowboy is both an inspirational story of personal transformation and a convincing call to action for a plant-based diet--for the good of the planet and the health of us all.

Maia GentleComment