Interview with Cowspiracy - Part 2: Making the Film
This is Part 2 of ARM’s interview with Keegan Kuhn and Kip Andersen, the makers of Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. Part 1 is here.
ARM: Here’s what I find interesting about the whole “free-range” idea: Ethics and animal cruelty hold strong emotional appeal for people. This is why undercover footage of farms and movies such as Earthlings have such a powerful impact. But then, many people, instead of actually turning vegan, invent concepts such as “free-range” and “grass-fed”, to convince themselves that what they are consuming is somehow okay. Instead of driving more people toward veganism, ethical arguments have led to ideas like “grass-fed” meat. Is that why you took a different approach and made a science-oriented film?
Keegan: The main focus of this film is the environmental impact. Regardless of how Kip and I view the ethics of killing and eating animals, it comes down to the simple fact that we cannot sustainably produce animal proteins to feed the world’s population. And the environmental toll, what this is doing to the planet, is unprecedented. So regardless of how we feel about the ethical aspect or the intellectual argument on why we shouldn’t or should kill and eat animals, it comes down to the simple numbers. We do not have enough land, we do not have enough time, we do not have enough resources to do that. So even regardless of ethics, and purely from a perspective of science, everything holds up.
ARM: Did you ever have any apprehensions about making a film whose plot relies on scientific studies, instead of using rhetoric and emotions to “shock and awe” the audience? Or did the nature of the film evolve over a period of time?
Kip: We had a pretty clear vision of how it was going to turn out. What was definitely very surprising that as we did interviews, they were more shocking that we’d thought – how evasive and how ignorant … Really, it ended up being funny instead of disturbing, what these organizations are not doing. We had a pretty clear vision of what it was going to be about, and it was basically about showing the facts, and showing the truth.
Keegan: I guess that the real point is that although Cowspiracy has aspects that cover ethics, this isn’t an animal rights film. This is very much an environmental documentary. And something that we think is important to acknowledge and recognize is that this is a genuine environmental documentary. There was a concern that this film would be marginalized as an animal rights film, because animal rights films tend to be … well, people tend to feel that you have a very strong agenda.
ARM: So there can be a “mental block”, basically. But the studies and facts that you have used in your film are already in the public domain. The UN studies on climate change, studies of fresh water usage – they are already available to the public. Yet somehow, most people are not aware of these facts. Why do you think that is?
Keegan: I think that there are a lot of different reasons. Part of it is that the general public doesn’t WANT to know these things. They do not want to know how their choices three times a day are destroying the planet. We do this all the time. And nearly everybody willingly chooses ignorance. And I also think that a big reason is that we are dependent on large environmental organizations to tell us what we can do to help the planet. We trust these organizations. We trust Greenpeace and Sierra Club and Oceana, and all these major international organizations as well to tell us facts about the environment. And they fail to address this. And Kip has mentioned the possible reasons for why they do not want to talk about it. I don’t really blame the general public for not knowing all this information, unless you study reports of the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States (EPA) or read the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) reports, you are not going to see this information, because the mainstream environmental community is not talking about it.
ARM: Right. So it comes down to out tendency to respect authority. We have a tendency to respect a “brand”. But what about the authority of mainstream media? Media houses are always on the lookout for information that generates traffic or goes viral. That is why we have so many ‘vegan baiting’ articles.
Keegan: I think that one of the main reasons why mainstream media hasn’t covered this is much the same as why these organizations haven’t. The people who write for these magazines or newspapers eat animals. They don’t want to look at the facts themselves. And I think that a really big part of this is, who are their advertisers? Who are they getting their money from? So if, say, New York Times is getting money from McDonalds to run ads, they will be less likely to run a story on how meat is bad for the planet – just as if they run advertisements for Apple products, they are not going to run a major campaign for how Apple products are produced in China. It’s tied up with money. The biggest thing is that people are more concerned with the financial investments than they are in the planet and sustainability.
ARM: And how has the reception of your film been so far, in mainstream media?
Kip: Overall, it’s been incredible. As far as mainstream media: we’ve only just begun. And we’ve found mentions in the Wall Street Journal and some major publications. Once we hit Netflix and are available to be seen at the click of a button via downloads or DVD sales … we are doing a big nationwide, global PR campaign. At that time, we’ll be getting a bunch of publicity so it will be interesting to see then. So far, it’s been an incredible reception. No major, huge mainstream media overall, but it’s happening and so we’ll see how that goes. But it’s been a great reception so far, overall.
ARM: We are doing our bit to get the word out! I did notice that you ran a crowdfunding campaign for funding this film. So although the mainstream media houses have not covered this yet, as you put it, there seems to be a strong grassroots support for your film. Even before your film was ready, you received full funding for it. What kind of people supported you, and what was your experience like, getting this film funded?
Kip: We had a few people drop out of funding, but it was one of those negatives that turned into a great positive, with our Indiegogo online social campaign. We received incredible support – 1500 people from all around the world supported this film, and we made our goal in only 4 days and by the end of the campaign, doubled our initial goal. So it was just awesome to see the support, so inspiring! The timing was perfect in terms of the message we want to share, the message had been waiting for a film like this.
ARM: Yes, I’m glad we didn’t have to wait for a few more years for a film like this. What kind of people have funded your work? Was it people or organizations?
Keegan: It was a pretty diverse group of people. There were some young, vegan people. Some animal rights people. Some who were concerned about environmental safety issues. It was from across the board and from countries all over the world. We had just individual donors. No large organizations gave us donations. The average donation was around $70. We have had a lot of impact by a lot of people just contributing what they could. And I think that’s where we’re going to see changes. I don’t think that changes will be top-down. We’ll have change at the grassroots, and getting this message out will see real change.
ARM: Why was your funding dropped?
Kip: There were a few different reasons. One is that some of these organizations donate to other organizations like Amazon Watch. So it’s a conflict of interest, since we’re making fun of them. But after they actually saw the film, one of them ended up supporting us. The others – it was too controversial for them. And lot of it came down to timing. Some said that would support us in the future, but at that time, they didn’t. Controversy and conflict of interest were a few different reasons.
Keegan: A lot of big organizations didn’t support us because of the controversy and the topic. And while I can respect that, it’s disappointing, because we have to speak up because it’s about all life on the planet. We have a moral obligation to speak up. We cannot afford to stay silent.
ARM: Isn’t it strange that the reputation of some of these non-profit organizations is built on the sacrifices of so many well-meaning supporters, ordinary people, but they seem to care more about what kind of press they’ll receive than what the consequences of their actions will be? They seem to care more about themselves than about the planet. You’ve mentioned that when you were interviewing some of these organizations, you had to keep the scope of this project a secret. But as the filming progressed, word started getting out about what the story is about.
Keegan: We started out going to organizations and saying that we are doing this film on animal agriculture. We were meeting with much resistance and having a really big pushback. We weren’t getting interviews without a struggle, and were hearing “No” everywhere, getting door closed everywhere we went. So we started approaching organizations and telling them that we were doing a film on sustainability, and then allowing them to bring up the subject. And in each interview, we asked, “What is the leading cause of environmental degradation?” And when we went to ocean conservation organizations, we asked, “What is the cause of ocean pollution?” And we’d give them the opportunity to answer, to say what it is, because they should know. As Executive Directors of major organizations, they should know what the leading cause of environmental destruction is. The leading cause is animal agriculture, whether it is top soil erosion, rainforest deforestation, species extinction, desertification, oceanic dead zones – animal agriculture is at the forefront. And Kip would give them up to 40 minutes or more to come around to the subject of animal agriculture. In the film, these interviews are 3 to 5 minutes long at the most, but in reality, these were two and a half hour long interviews, and we’d give them at least the first 45 minutes to bring up the topic on their own, and then we would finally bring it up. So with these organizations, we had to be strategic with how we got the interviews. Unfortunately, they also showed up very poorly for a lot of different reasons.
ARM: Did you get the impression that they are aware of it, but deliberately suppressing it?
Keegan: For some of the organizations, absolutely. Some other organizations just weren’t well-informed, or at least the people we interviewed were very poorly informed. And we were interviewing the Executive Directors for a lot of these groups. You’d expect them to know what was going on. And yes, some of this was very intentional. They didn’t want to talk about this, and would give ‘political’ answers. Kip would ask very simple questions and they would go around and around and around avoiding the questions at all costs.
ARM: Did you ever get the impression that they were trying to stall your film in some way, trying to ensure that you do not get other interviews or that the film doesn’t go anywhere?
Kip: Umm, kind of, yes. I’ll say that a lot of these non-profit groups, they are located right here, headquartered in San Francisco. One of the reasons why Greenpeace did not grant us an interview is that they got wind of us going around and interviewing the other organizations. And that’s partly why they didn’t want to be filmed or interviewed. So that was the main roadblock – I was trying to get Greenpeace interviewed, and other people were warning them to not be interviewed, so that was the main one.
Keegan: In the film where we talk about Greenpeace, but there was a bigger story to that too. We tried every single avenue we could to get an interview with them. It wasn’t that we just called their headquarters or emailed them. We went every route, talking to street team people, talking to the directors of their campaigns at different levels. At one point we had somebody from Greenpeace who agreed that they were going to speak to us - but not as a Greenpeace representative. And then he backed out. It was all over the board - we were trying to get somebody to speak to, and they turned us down at every turn. It’s a real shame because they are such a prominent figure around the world for radical environmentalism, and yet, they were running away from our camera the way that, you know, the corporate leaders of Exxon and Monsanto ran away from Greenpeace’s cameras. It was a real shame to see, but I think that they got a little bit of a taste of their own medicine on what they do to other people.
ARM: Were there any other organizations that seemed to be deliberately avoiding the topic, or misinforming the public?
Keegan: Yeah, I mean all the major organizations – Greenpeace, Sierra Club, NRDC, Rainforest Action Network, Amazon Watch, Oceana, Surfrider, all the organizations that are featured in the film, they really avoid the subject, or if they do talk about the subject, they provide pseudo-solutions. NRDC for example talks about how damaging factory farming is for the planet, but they don’t say “Go Vegan”. They say, “Eat local, grass-fed beef”, or “organic, sustainable animal products”. And those aren’t solutions, as we show in the film. These are pseudo-solutions that allow people to feel better about animal products, but in fact, require more land, many times more resources, even produce more methane, cause more water pollution … the list goes on and on. There’s really no way for it to be sustainable, if you take into consideration the fact that there are 7.2 billion people on the planet. And the list goes on and on, I mean the climate community … 350.org, it’s one of the world’s leaders in addressing climate change, and they’re not talking about or properly addressing animal agriculture. Former [US] Vice President Al Gore’s organization Climate Reality Project is not properly addressing it.
Even the UN … although they will talk about animal agriculture, they still are heavily focused on carbon dioxide and on fossil fuels, and are failing to properly focus on where we can make real changes today. We can’t wait 20 years to make infrastructure changes, or take 15 trillion dollars to make changes to the fossil fuel industry, though we absolutely need to. What we need to be focusing on is what we can do right now, today, totally for free, which is adopting a plant-based diet. There’s enough plant-based food produced around the world already to feed more than 8 billion people. So it’s not as if there’s going to have to be a massive infrastructure change or any sort of restructuring. It’s really just about shifting how we eat.
ARM: “Eating” brings me to my next question, which is about human starvation and quality of life. Because much of grain is sold for consumption by livestock, poor people of the world, especially in economically backward countries, are not able to afford it at market prices. Because of the higher demand for grain as livestock feed in wealthier countries, poor people in other countries are not able to feed themselves. So they have to spend much or all of their incomes on food, which keeps them poor. So poverty and starvation are also, to a large extent, caused by the meat industry. Do you think that human issues should have been addressed to a greater extent in the film?
Keegan: You know, it’s part of the film and we do talk about it. It’s only a small part of the film, though, because this is such a complex issue. But during the famine in Ethiopia, which was one of the largest cases of starvation in modern history, 60% to 70% of that country’s grain was being exported to Europe to feed livestock. A lot of people were starving to death, and yet Ethiopia was exporting its food to feed European animals. And that to me is a totally sickening atrocity of privilege – that we would rather feed completely edible food to non-humans in order to eat their flesh, rather than to feed actual starving people. Up to 12 billion people can be fed on the grain that we’re producing right now, and yet, close to a billion people on our planet don’t have enough to eat. The leading cause of childhood deaths is from malnutrition and the lack of clean, drinking water. Around 50% of the world’s grain are fed to livestock, and the leading cause of freshwater pollution is livestock. So people are dying because they are drinking polluted water due to runoffs from farms, and are dying from lack of nutrition because it’s being fed to nonhuman animals.
ARM: In your film’s trailer, someone expresses a concern that by making this film you could be threatened in some way, because you are taking on powerful people and lobbies in the meat industry. Have you received threats or been intimidated in any way?
Kip: No, not really. But the animal agriculture industry have publications. One of them is Beef Magazine …
ARM: Yes, they’ve written an article about you!
Kip: Yeah, it’s pretty funny. They have been warning their ranchers and their community about this film. They’ve said some funny things, like how the numbers are wrong. If you’ve seen it – they’re comical, they’re really funny! So it’s the opposite of being afraid – they’re very funny to see - the reaction from them. The global fear of what’s happening to this planet has to supersede any individual, any of us. We’re all in this together. We all have to live together. You can’t always live by fear. We have to live spreading the truth, more light. So far, we’ve had a good run, and we’re continuing to see positive things.
Keegan: And although we haven’t experienced repression because of the film, activists around the world do. Close to around 100 activists in Brail have been killed in the last 20 years. We’re talking about the deforestation there. There are laws created in the United States – for instance, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). It basically says that anyone who disrupts an animal agriculture enterprise commits an act of terrorism, even if it’s peaceful. And there are a number of people who are sitting in prison today for that. So there are very real threats to addressing this issue. There have been cases in the United States in which animal activists fought for years, spent hundreds of thousands – millions of dollars actually, to fight for their freedom of speech to talk about the meat and dairy industry. So there are definitely real challenges that we face, but so far the repression has been minimal. And if this industry is smart, they should avoid and ignore the film as much as possible, because it’s only going to draw further attention to the subject. And I think that’s the last thing that they want.
ARM: Yeah, kind of like what Sea World did with Blackfish – they reacted to it. So how has the experience of making this film changed you? How has it affected your perspective?
Kip: In a way, it’s been quite empowering and inspiring to see how many people have been really waiting for this message to be told. And we’re really grateful to be part of a bigger community, meeting more and more people all around the world who are so passionate about this subject and getting the truth out. To see how this transformation is happening so fast, of enlightenment – the next stage of evolution. To be a part of that and meet so many incredible people, that has been really, really awesome.
Keegan: And as for myself, it’s been definitely strengthened my resolve to do everything I can to get this information out there. That’s the biggest thing. I thought I was well-informed on the subject, but as we did more research, I realized how dire the situation really is. We have to do everything we can to speak up. Because if we don’t have a planet to live on, then all the other issues really fall secondary. You know, with the animal rights world, if we don’t have a planet for the animals to live on, then we’re going the wrong path. So it’s definitely inspired me to me more engaged as I can be.
- By Animal Rights Media | Anupam Katkar
Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn were interviewed on 24th September, 2014. This interview is in the public domain and can be copied or shared freely, provided that the text is not edited in any manner. Original is available under ‘Notes’ at http://www.facebook.com/AnimalRightsMedia.
To stay up-to-date with the latest at Cowspiracy, you can like their Facebook page, or follow Cowspiracy on Twitter. Help protect our Earth by creating a vegan world. Thanks for reading!
Part 3 will be about better, more effective activism and prospering in a vegan economy. Stay tuned!!!