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Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

Updated: Oct 10, 2019

Review of the documentary now streaming on Netflix.

By Sean Lanigan

I recently began a whole-foods, plant-based vegan diet. So far, I have been successful and have seen immediate changes in my health. One of the reasons why I made this major life decision is the 2014 documentary, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. This documentary showed me the damage that animal agriculture can do to human health and the planet.

The documentary begins with Kip Andersen, one of the film’s directors. He talks about how his life changed when he watched the Al Gore documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and decided to become an OCE, obsessive-compulsive environmentalist. But as time went on, Andersen felt like things weren’t changing, and he decided to do more research on the subject. He came across a friend’s shared post on social media from the United Nations, claiming that raising livestock produces more greenhouse gases then the entire transportation industry.

Andersen was surprised to find there was no information on animal agriculture on the environmental organization websites that he follows. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is his deep dive into animal agriculture’s effects on the environment, using both a shock approach as well as humor, to keep the viewer hanging on.

Here are some of my key takeaways that the documentary asserts:

· Raising livestock in the United States alone uses 34 trillion gallons of water a year. We learn from Heather Cooley from the Pacific Institute who is quoted saying, “Meat and dairy products are incredibly water intensive in part because the animals are using very water intensive grains. That’s what they eat.”

· One quarter-pound hamburger takes over 660 gallons of water to produce. That number was unbelievable to me.

· Animal agriculture is responsible for 91 percent of the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest.

Another interesting part of the documentary is how it follows Andersen’s process as he looks for answers. He makes phone calls and emails, and most go unanswered. Finally, he finds certain people who are willing to talk. Kirk R. Smith, a professor of Global Environmental Health at the University of California, Berkeley, discusses how he was invited to a meeting with Al Gore and claims that he tried to talk to the former Vice President about animal agriculture. Gore told him that it’s hard enough to get people to talk about CO2 and not to confuse them.

Andersen also manages to land an interview with Emily Meredith, who belongs to a pro livestock lobby group called the Animal Agriculture Alliance. When he asks her if the meat and dairy industry ever donate to environmental non-profits, Meredith responds, “I don’t know if I want to comment on that.” That was a telling quote to me.

Andersen then interviews my favorite person in the film, former cattleman Howard Lyman. Lyman was sued by the cattle industry years ago for speaking out on The Oprah Winfrey Show. I found him to be inspiring when he said comments such as:

“You can change the world. You must change the world.”

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret was an enlightening documentary that I would recommend to anyone who wants to be inspired to change their habits for their health, the animals, and the planet.


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