The documentary movie Cowspiracy, directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, demonstrates how animal husbandry negatively influences the planet’s environment. The movie creators use the results of various research to provide evidence that cattle breeding can have a disastrous effect on the ecology. Moreover, the film suggests that animal husbandry contributes to the current ecological issues even more than other dangerous activities, such as oil production. This reaction paper analyzes the documentary to see how it represents the problem and whether it can be used to change people’s attitudes to essential life aspects, such as meat consumption. Although the documentary has some data issues, it presents a clear image of a widescale issue of cattle breeding and can help solve ecological problems by influencing the movie’s watchers.
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The Documentary’s Relevance
Although the creators of Cowspiracy use scientific research to support their points, it is unclear whether the data is reliable. For instance, Andersen and Kuhn (2014) report that the greenhouse gas emissions created by cattle exceed that created by the whole transportation sector, including cars, ships, and planes. This data is extracted from the United Nations report published in 2006. Andersen and Kuhn (2014) also state that water usage in animal agriculture is more than ten times higher compared to domestic purposes. The corresponding indicators are taken from two different studies by two different organizations, published in 2003 and 2004, respectively. In other words, most of the research used in the documentary production was outdated even for the year 2014, when the movie was created. There is a strong possibility that cattle breeding has significantly changed, and it does not deal much damage nowadays. Nonetheless, despite the outdated sources, Cowspiracy informs its watchers about the problem, making them cautious and curious and attracting the necessary attention to the issue.
The Roots of the Problem
A significant element of the documentary is its orientation on the issue’s essence to find where the problem is born and why it exists in the first place. When the movie’s protagonist visits the government building to speak with the representatives of the Water Resources Department, they reveal why the “Save Our Water” project does not mention cattle breeding (Andersen & Kuhn, 2014). Although the protagonist’s interlocutors agree that animal husbandry requires more water resources than other activities, they say that the government would not agree to expose cattle breeding as an ecological problem (Andersen & Kuhn, 2014). In other words, authorities do not want society to believe that cattle breeding is a disaster for the planet’s environment.
However, such an inference raises additional questions regarding different contributors to the Earth’s ecological condition. The documentary contains many comparisons between animal husbandry and other activities dangerous to the environment, such as oil production for the transportation sector (Andersen & Kuhn, 2014). These activities deal some ecological damage, and many organizations worldwide, such as Greenpeace, raise the related problems without governmental interference. Nonetheless, the documentary demonstrates that those organizations cannot, or do not want to, openly speak about cattle breeding’s consequences for the Earth’s environment. Although many people starring in the movie express their opinions on the subject, it is still difficult to say why some ecological problems are appropriately addressed while others are ignored.
Governmental structures may not be the actual reason why green organizations and other communities do not raise the problem of animal husbandry’s consequences for ecology. Weik von Mossner (2021) demonstrated Cowspiracy to a group of students during a seminar on climate change. The documentary helped the students understand how their lifestyle and decisions mattered for climate change, but they could not manage the overwhelming prospect of changing their eating habits (Weik von Mossner, 2021). In other words, the existing ecological problems are not about governments and green organizations and what problems they raise. The environmental issues are strongly connected to the people living on the planet and how much they are willing to do to prevent its decay. It is much easier to waste less water and avoid using cars and public transport than to stop eating meat and other products of cattle breeding.
The Potential Impact of Cowspiracy
Despite everything described above, several studies show that the Cowspiracy documentary can impact its watchers and make them change their attitudes toward some significant life aspects. For instance, Bump (2021) calls Cowspiracy a powerful documentary that “shows the necessary journey of the individual to collective action” (p. 43). The movie repeatedly states that the most dangerous element of the animal husbandry issue is that people worldwide do not talk about it, meaning that most of them do not even acknowledge the problem. As a media element, Cowspiracy meaningfully participates “in the movement to save our descendants, humanity, and other living beings on this planet” (Bump, 2021, p. 43). Although it can be challenging for people to change their eating habits, it is crucial for the environment that the Earth’s human population recognizes the issue.
Furthermore, Cowspiracy has proven to be influential in terms of its watchers’ attitudes. Pabian et al. (2020) claim that “popular documentaries might have the potential to successfully change the public awareness of the environmental implications of meat consumption today” (p. 1). The researchers administered a paper-and-pencil questionnaire to the participants before and after watching the Cowspiracy documentary. The results show that the movie affects “the awareness of the environmental consequences of meat consumption, the attitude toward eating less meat, and the intention to reduce meat consumption” (Pabian et al., 2020, p. 1). Additionally, the authors report that other similar movies, such as Forks Over Knives and What the Health, also significantly contribute to public awareness of the issues related to cattle breeding (Pabian et al., 2020). Therefore, Cowspiracy can make a difference and improve the world’s environment regardless of the movie flaws described in the first section of this paper.
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The Cowspiracy documentary contains some uncertainties due to the usage of outdated sources, yet it still performs a function of informing people about the existing problem related to animal husbandry and can affect the watchers’ attitudes. The documentary does not provide relevant information on how cattle breeding affects the environment nowadays, but it illustrates the problem clearly and discusses potential consequences. Therefore, the movie’s watchers can imagine how cattle breeding and consumption of its products, such as meat, can amplify the existing ecological problems and damage the planet. Based on the documentary, it seems that most people are not ready to remove the products of animal husbandry from their diets. However, various studies demonstrate that watching movies like Cowspiracy can change that attitude and positively affect the planet’s future.
Andersen, K., & Kuhn, K. (2014). Cowspiracy: The sustainability secret. [Film]. Appian Way.
Bump, J. F. (2021). Environmental literature, climate crises, and pandemics. Literature, 1(2), 43. Web.
Pabian, S., Hudders, L., Poels, K., Stoffelen, F., & De Backer, C. J. (2020). Ninety minutes to reduce one’s intention to eat meat: A preliminary experimental investigation on the effect of watching the Cowspiracy documentary on intention to reduce meat consumption. Frontiers in Communication, (5)69, 1-7. Web.
Weik von Mossner, A. (2021). Feeling bad? Veganism, climate change, and the rhetoric of Cowspiracy. In C. Hanganu-Bresch & K. Kondrlik (Eds.), Veg(etari)an Arguments in Culture, History, and Practice (pp. 245-269). Palgrave Macmillan.