I have eaten meat my entire life. I’m no meat-lover, but meat is a part of my everyday diet. My stomach feels empty on vegetarian days, which is why I could never become a vegan. However, after watching Cowspiracy, my mind was blown and I almost reconsidered it. This 2014 documentary argues that the leading cause of climate change is animal agriculture. Shocking, right? Most of us have the impression that the reason why the earth is in crisis is because we burn too many fossil fuels. But according to this documentary, research indicates that raising livestock is by far the most damaging. So why haven’t environmental organizations vocalized their concerns with factory farmers instead of the general public? And why don’t we know about this? As an OCE (obsessive compulsive environmentalist) himself, Kip Andersen decided to investigate this phenomena by interviewing major environmentalist groups for his film Cowspiracy.
The film begins with a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” The camera then cuts to the first scene, an interview with Bruce Hamilton, the deputy executive director of the Sierra Club. Hamilton had a lot to say about the scientific impact of climate change, but when asked about livestock and animal agriculture, he paused before uttering: “Well, what about it?” This set the tone for most of the interviews with representatives from other environmental organizations, including Greenpeace and Oceana.
Throughout the film, Andersen engaged the audience by narrating his journey to and from his San Francisco apartment. Guitar strings echoed in the background, reminiscent of country music. This makes sense, considering this film centers around the predicament of countryside animals. Most of the film consisted of raw footage taken from Andersen’s camera, presenting a vlog-like atmosphere. This cinematic style is unpopular in most documentaries, but it created a personal connection to the audience. In addition, mind-blowing statistics and striking illustrations were provided to help visualize the magnitude of the damage done to the environment by raising livestock. Some scenes even resembled video infographics, as numbers and pictures relating to the depletion of the land, oceans, and rainforests filled the screen. Naturally, suspenseful music was played during these scenes, inducing us to ask what the solution is and how to stop factory farming.
To show what he was up against, Andersen interviewed individuals who had spoken out about the polluted ways of the meat industry and were shown the consequences of doing so. For example, he featured Howard Lyman, a former cattle rancher who was “sued by cattlemen for simply speaking the truth about animal agriculture on The Oprah Winfrey Show” (Cowspiracy). These interviews, along with examples of people who died from speaking out, were used as shock tactics to give a darker perspective on animal agriculture. After taking in the information, our bold narrator looked nervous about making the film, stating that he was risking his own safety to prove a point.
The reason Andersen made a documentary to highlight this issue is because he wanted to incite action. No news article could tell such a powerful story the way Cowspiracy did. It showed how almost every green organization denied, avoided, or even questioned the harmful impact of animal agriculture. Although a news broadcast of this footage could spark an incentive, it would not have enough of the emotional appeal exhibited in this film. Many people are stunned by what they watch on the news, but they quickly forget within the next headline. In a documentary film, the message is emotionally powerful enough that it stays with us. Andersen achieved that. I highly recommend Cowspiracy to everyone, because it is a well-researched documentary that addresses a global issue head on.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. Dir. Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. Perf. Kip Andersen. A.U.M. Films, First Spark Media, 2014. Netflix. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.