Cowspiracy is an expository documentary released in 2014 that raises an environmental dimension of the food consumption. It investigates the leading cause of environmental degradation in our society today, animal agriculture through the lens of the food consumption. In addition to that, the documentary reviews the global warming, water use, deforestation and ocean dead zones from the perspective of the agriculture impact. In that regard, the film is unique, given the extensive scope of issues raised in the single piece. Also, ‘Cowspiracy’ demonstrates the importance of the conscious consumption of the food products and illustrates the cost for meat consumption based on the evidence of the global issues that have a direct effect on agriculture. At the same time, the narrator takes a somewhat biased stance and does not provide the evidence on the meat consumption costs and does not rely on the particular sociological data. Kip Andersen, the sole narrator, introduces himself at the onset of the film as a child that was raised with a cliché American childhood “without a care in the world.”
He goes into sharing his personal story with very limited understanding and awareness of such global issues. However, until Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth,” he admitted that he was slightly oblivious to the climate change happening all around him despite being an avid outdoorsman. In fact, the documentary may seem like a life-changing story of the narrator who explored the depth of the environmental changes on his personal example. Closer to the end of the documentary, it may seem that the global issues also have a private dimension. Looking at those issues from the personal point of view may lead to the better and more productive outcomes. Soon enough, Kip Andersen became a self-proclaimed OCE (obsessive compulsive environmentalist) in order to reduce his carbon footprint substantially. Yet, despite all these conservationist habits, the environment around him continued to degrade. The tone of the documentary asserts the environmentalist inclinations of the narrator in many ways. The narrator soon demonstrates his favoritism towards being vegetarian and illustrates a negative attitude towards meat consumption. At first, he discloses his personal position on the meat consumption and then uses the interviews with scholars to legitimize his ideas and views. That way, he tries to convince the audience in need to approach the environmentalist issues more substantial. In that way, the documentary exposes the bias of the narrator towards agricultural production.
Shortly after the experience of the narrator’s degradation, the United Nations published a report stating that cattle produce more greenhouse gases than the transportation sector altogether. This became the critical argument throughout the whole documentary and served as a legitimizing tool for supporting the author’s vision towards the negative impact of agriculture on the global issue. The narrator seems to be initially shocked at the revelation and wonders why no one seems to be talking about the dreadful consequences of the agricultural production. However, to assess the scope of such amount of the greenhouse gases, one shall also look at the comparisons and see what the numbers of the alternative production costs are. Following the revelations on the meat consumption, the film transitions into the unraveling of all the hypocrisies embedded within the modern-day environmentalist movement and critically discusses why all major environmental organizations purposely avoid the single most destructive factor to our environment. It appears that a lot of international organizations simply neglect the links between the agricultural production and effects it bears on the global warming, water use, and deforestation. In fact, the ‘Cowspiracy’ demonstrates that the links between all of these aspects are straightforward, and only the decreased consumption and a more conscious approach towards the agricultural production will contribute to the resolution of the potential crisis. According to the narrator, there is an unspoken bias towards the conscientious consumption of goods and the unspoken consensus among the environmentalist experts only hampers the potential for the awareness raising on that matter. There are a wide array of concepts mentioned throughout this film that mostly stem from the Environmental Ethics Chapter in our textbook.
As we’ve discussed in class, ethical systems are largely a social construction that have influenced human treatment of non-human nature for thousands of years in a society that is largely anthropocentric (Robbins). As it is inherent for the socially constructed issues, human perceptions and behaviors largely influence the social norms. As for the agriculture, consuming meat has been a social norm for centuries, and no one really cared about its effect on the global effects. For instance, as for the climate change, the prevailing discourse derived from the consequences of the greenhouse gases. But essentially, the issue goes much deeper than this.
Robbins mentions that roughly 95 percent of all hogs in the United States are being raised on industrial “factory farms” for maximizing the efficiency and meet the growing demands of a largely carnivorous society. Quite often, the arguments on the need to feed the global population prevail over the actual state of the consumption of goods. Ethics, which is the branch of philosophy about morality, is the underlying theme in virtually every argument raised throughout the documentary. Even though the documentary may seem to be produced from the biased perspective, the arguments on the needs to raise the awareness on the consumption of goods is explicit. For instance, when Andersen decides to visit an organic dairy factory farm later on in the documentary, the co-owner confesses the “biggest part of sustainability to me – the number one thing on the list should be profitability” which puts everything into perspective for the viewer. Animals are merely seen as capital as opposed to living beings; that is precisely why factory farming is seen as ethically indefensible. Such portrayal becomes a socially problematic issue. However, within Western civilization, this particular mindset was established far before factory farming came into play, as the standard beliefs governing our society are largely anthropocentric. Anthropocentrism is an ethical standpoint that establishes humans as the central factor in considerations of right and wrong action in and towards nature (Robbins). The anthropocentric belief that Western civilization adopts is that humans are completely separate from and superior to nature and its value is reliant upon how useful it is to humans. Throughout the documentary, we witness that particular philosophy implemented throughout our daily lives, whether intentional or not. The Dominion Thesis set the tone for essentially ethical free rein over natural resources and animals as long as they were deemed beneficial to humans in one way or another. Biblical tradition reinforced this behavior as a sort of ethical imperative and yet what many seem to gloss over is the stewardship of nature and the responsibility to care and protect nature.
To sum up, the documentary is largely based on the ethical arguments calling for the behavior change of the audience that will watch it. It depicts the nature of the production of goods and undermines the common discourse on the consumption of the meat. Even though there is a personal perspective and the bias of the author incorporated into the narration, the documentary serves as a valid source for the behavioral changes among the population.
- Moore, S., Hintz J. Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction by Paul Robbins.