17 February 2016

Cowspiracy -- the review

I watched this crowdfunded documentary a few weeks ago.

The doc, at its best, calls attention to the "lopsided" priorities of environmental groups that tackle lesser problems (e.g., plastic water bottles) while ignoring greater problems (animal food production and consumption). The movie has several painful "gotcha" moments.

Is it convincing in presenting the claim that animal food production (15%) is responsible for more GHG emissions than transportation (13%)? Yes. Is it convincing that animal food production is wasteful, polluting and cruel as well? Yes.

Is it convincing enough to turn you into a vegan? No.

I was a vegan for 4 years and a vegetarian for another 12 or so. I did it for my health first, the planet and cost later. I never too the "ethical" stance that meat was murder. (We are, after all, omnivores in a world where eating other species is common.) I stopped being a vegetarian after I decided that my impact on climate change wasn't going to matter and that there was plenty of good meat to eat.

This movie did not change my understanding of these issues, but it did call attention to the magnitude of the negative impacts from subsidizing animal production. (Pig farmers "dump" huge costs on society that could be avoided at a cost of about 5 cents per kg [pdf].)

What the movie missed, sadly, was a discussion of producing fewer animals on less land, sustainably. That option was dismissed (implicitly) after showing how such production occurs, and then claiming "it was impossible" to produce sustainably because producing the same volumes would require a ridiculous amount of land.

I would have gone the opposite way, restoring marginal lands and then using less remaining land for animal production. I'm sure that prices would double, but higher prices would help us eat the "right" amount of meat and provide an appropriate income to farmers who were protecting, rather than destroying, ecosystems. (Speaking of which, watch this TED talk on how animals can restore deserts.)

Bottom Line I give this movie FOUR STARS. Conventional non-vegan diets damage the environment. Your job is to reduce that harm when consuming food as well as calling for more sustainable agriculture.

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