The 2014 documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, Kip Anderson, an avid environmentalist, embarks on a mission to uncover the secret to truly sustainable living, in the process discovering the one thing no environmental organizations want to talk about, agro-industry. Making up about 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, cattle raising and the meat industry account for more carbon emissions than any other industry, but still most organizations refuse to address the issue, making it seem as though there is some sort of conspiracy in which everyone simply agreed to turn their heads to the growing issue of environmental sustainability when it relates to the agriculture industry. Because of the content of the documentary, the film’s original financial backer pulled out, leaving Anderson to crowfund the work. Despite its “controversial” nature, Anderson managed to surpass his fundraising expectations and deliver a poignant performative documentary condemning America’s unsustainable practices, specifically in relation to the agro-industry.
Early on in the film, Kip establishes himself as a strong environmentalist and a fan of Al Gore. His personal interest in the topic of environmental sustainability establishes his credibility and right to make the film. With Anderson as the center point of the film, it is easy for the audience to establish and emotional connection with a human entity. It is also an important persuasive element in the documentary and, in a sense, peer pressure. Because Kip Anderson is experiencing a transformation in thinking, the audience feels pressured to do so as well. As Anderson makes a resolution to become vegan, it persuades the audience to look into veganism as well.
The interviews with different organizations are one of the most affective elements of the work. Kip Anderson attempts to get interviews with as many major environmental organization as he can as well as pro-agriculture industry lobbyists. The interviews themselves as well as Kip’s inability to secure interviews with organizations such as Green Peace are interesting and surprising in that not a single organizations or spokesperson “felt comfortable” answering questions on the agro-industry, as if it was a secret, as if the human need for a cheeseburger is more important than the planet’s need to survive. Some people even went so far as to claim that a change in attitude towards consumerism in the agriculture industry was impossible for the American people despite the fact that the documentary is a testament of the opposite. While it’s impossible for a documentary to be completely objective, Kip does present as many viewpoints as he can while still persuading the audience against meat and of the importance of sustainability.
On a personal level, I was very moved by Cowspiracy. I had been considering vegetarianism for many years, but after watching the documentary finally decided to make the switch over with long term plans to become vegan. It’s difficult to watch that film and continue to consuming meat. It isn’t something I can do in good conscience any longer, not when it takes millions of gallons of water to produce one cheeseburger. The depletion of our natural resources is not worth that small amount of meat.
An impactful moment in the film was the slaughtering of the ducks in the man’s backyard as well as the scenes with the kids, saying that they can’t become too attached to the pigs. Not only was it difficult to watch a living creature get its head chopped off, but it was difficult to hear the children that couldn’t form an emotional connection with the very loving pigs that they raised. As a pet owner and someone that loves animals, it seems natural to form connections with animals and nearly impossible to avoid it. As someone who recently lost a pet, I couldn’t imagine watching animals die over and over again for the sake of a few bites of meat.
Eating meat is not sustainable, not with the amount of resources the cattle and livestock consume, not with the unsustainability of grass-fed cattle. There seems to be nothing at all sustainable about the industry, something to which even the farmers own. If it does anything, Cowspiracy makes it clear that humans must change their way of life. Humans must become sustainable. Humans must consider giving up meat and becoming vegan or risk losing our planet forever.