More meat, more problems in ‘Cowspiracy’

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There’s something environmentalists aren’t telling you, and there’s something the U.S. government is hiding from you. The investigative documentary “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” had its world premiere in San Francisco on Thursday, revealing hidden truths that will shock even the most informed eco-warrior. And yet the question is simple: What is the single biggest contributor to global climate change?

“Cowspiracy” reveals, through a slow, suspenseful buildup, that the answer lies in your bloody steak. The film explains that animal agriculture actually accounts for 51 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions produced and released into Earth’s atmosphere, citing a 2009 Wordwatch Institute report. Animal agriculture is revealed to also be the leading cause of water depletion, deforestation, species extinction and ocean “dead zones.”

The film is packed with testimonies, citing industry experts ranging from professors and corporate executives to former cattle ranchers to doctors and nutritionists. But what’s shocking about “Cowspiracy” is that while some are aware of the detrimental impact eating animals has on our environment, many of the world’s largest and most famous nonprofit environmental organizations suppress, do not acknowledge or are ignorant of this basic truth.

Despite its depressing and at times grim subject matter, film directors Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn construct the documentary to mirror Andersen’s individual journey as he begins to question the world around him after watching Al Gore’s famous film “An Inconvenient Truth.” After realizing that Gore ignores the No. 1 contributor to climate change, Andersen takes it upon himself to craft a film that exposes what Gore’s does not.

From beginning to end, “Cowspiracy” is incredibly gripping. As it flashes between candid, raw interviews, one can see moments of intense anxiety, sadness and passion. Tight, close-up camera framing creates strange moments that linger long after the scenes have passed, such as when a former Whole Foods executive states “fishing is not a sustainable food source.” Andersen and Kuhn’s filming captures the often-awkward essence of its subjects as some stumble and spew out strange answers that only deepen the mystery. Andersen tries to speak to anyone and everyone who will speak to him and airs footage of numerous rejections in an effort to make the film appear as honest and grassroots as possible. Shots of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco as Andersen realizes the world isn’t quite what he thought it was hit incredibly close to home.

Whenever facts, studies and statistics threaten to overwhelm the overarching narrative, Andersen’s youthful voice brings viewers back to his everyday world. Through the lens of “Cowspiracy,” Andersen humbly reveals he too was quite ignorant of the reality of things until he began to question the executives and environmentalists who side-stepped his earnest questions.

Over the course of the documentary, Andersen learns that organizations ignore the devastating impact of animal agriculture on the environment because they fear reprimand from the powerful, corporate monster that is the animal agriculture industry. As a representative of Amazon Watch finally admits, “A lot of people just keep their mouths shut because they don’t want to be the next one with the bullet to their head.” “Cowspiracy” explores dangerous waters, but its directors feel it’s worth the risk.

In spite of its sobering tone throughout, the film ends on a positive note. After his years of research and discovery, Andersen presents a proactive solution at an individual level: a shift to an entirely plant-based diet. By the end of the “Cowspiracy,” one is left feeling as though a brick wall has been shattered right in the face, but it’s a good feeling to see a slice of truth flayed open on the big screen.

Contact Kate Irwin at [email protected].