≡ Menu

Just the Beef

cow and field of fresh grass

copyright iStock/IakovKalinin

I recently took the recommendation of a co-worker and watched the documentary “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

I am immediately suspicious of anything touting itself as an expose on a conspiracy, but I resolved to approach it with an open mind. After all, the recommendation came from one of my favourite co-workers (who just happens to be a dedicated vegan) :-)

When I head the title of the doc, I have to admit that I thought that it was about the flatulence of cows. The film admittedly has some strong points about our lack of awareness of the serious contributors to global warming, backed by a substantial body of research and facts and investigative journalism. However the doc has some fairly obvious flaws as well. Not critical flaws necessarily, but points worth our consideration.

Most notably on the plus side, the filmmakers go to lengths to talk about how damaging animal agriculture is the environment on a number of different levels. The film is predicated on these few top level facts that should give everyone serious pause for consideration (well worth the 30 seconds it will take you to read them). Here are the top level facts:

  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.
  • Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Methane is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 on a 20 year time frame.
  • Methane has a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2 on a 20 year time frame.

The main drawback I saw with the film was the constant references to the uses of water to bring our bovine friends to maturity, or for example how much water goes into making a block of cheese. Water is a critical resource for all life, but we do live in a closed system, so it’s not like water is falling off the planet when someone eats a pizza :-)

As the title of the film suggests, the film is baked with a flavour of hidden agendas and profit from big agribusiness, and of course government. However if you look past the seasoning and think about the meat of the film, it does make a lot of horse sense. Even if you avoid thinking about the deforestation aspect of farming animals on large scales for human consumption, there are a lot of other unwanted side effects like ocean dead zones and the copious amounts of water that are required to sustain and grow animals for us to munch on.

We all know (or should know) that too much red meat is not good for you, so it begs the question: if too much is not good for you, why would you want to consume it at all? We obviously simply love the taste. If you think about something like smoking, you can probably delay or avoid getting cancer by smoking less as opposed to more, but why would you want to smoke at all if you know that smoking at any level is bad for you? Likewise with eating red meat – if you know that eating too much is bad for you, why tempt fate by eating it at all.

It’s no surprise then that the film leads the viewer to the inevitable conclusion that we are all better off as individuals, as societies and as a planet if we adopt a vegan diet. I enjoy eating animal protein as much as the next guy. However in recent years I have steadily moved away from red meat, and towards healthier alternatives like turkey, chicken and pork. As I adopt less expensive (and very tasty) protein alternatives like beans, the more I am moving towards eating less meat.

Regardless of your personal views, the film is a sobering and sometime humourous production, and is well worth the time to watch and digest it.

Download for $4.95, or see it on NetFlix, iTunes or HULU.

Comments on this entry are closed.