» April 24th, 2014

It has long been a source of frustration for the Pitchfork that so-called environmental leaders refuse to embrace eating an exclusively plant-based diet as an integral part of a larger environmental mission. I first wrote about the topic here and have since become so disillusioned with the sordid cant of conventional environmentalism that (with my tongue in my cheek a little) I recently wrote a piece arguing that it’s time for progressives to throw in the towel and forge a language of defeat. Throughout it all, my belief remains firm: we cannot eat animals and claim to care deeply enough about the environment to save it.

The reason old-school environmentalism won’t accommodate an animal-free diet might seem baffling, given the overwhelming evidence that eating plants would dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of food production, prevent rainforest destruction, reduce global water and fertilizer consumption, and eliminate aquatic dead zones.

But the cowardly tendency involves several identifiable factors. Perhaps the first is that the movement (as it were) is fragmented into organizations dependent on fundraising to keep the green flag flying. Competing as they do for a limited and diminishing piece of the progressive pie, these groups are understandably wary of getting between a big donor’s pork chop and check book. Get the people angry over pipelines and coal mines, but not cows and pigs—so the reasoning goes. Second, those with the most power to deliver a hard message to the masses are, to an extent, overly dependent on audiences—and, I imagine, mired in a culture—that would kick them to the curb if they impugned their pasture-raised, hormone-free, humanely-raised eggs. They not only know who butters their bread but they know their bread is buttered with butter. Finally, environmentalism and commercial culture have become so deeply entwined that few are left with either the ability or the guts to imagine an environmentalism that you couldn’t buy your way into. Behavioral change? Blah.

That’s my take on the issue, in the most general terms. But a new, feature-length documentary in the works has the potential to do much more than complain about the situation and make vague assessments. It’s called Cowspiracy and it explores the question of why mainstream environmentalism refuses to directly confront industrial agriculture. Producers Kip Anderson (Animals United Movement) and Keegan Kuhn (First Spark Media) have teamed up to do what Blackfish is currently doing to SeaWorld: radically changing public perception about our use of animals in an industry we have traditionally failed to identify as a source of profound ecological destruction. For better or worse, the film appears to focus on industrial animal agriculture alone but, given the alarming nature of the problem, that’s a start—one that I support.

If you’re interested in learning more and helping Kip and Keegan finish the film, visit their Indiegogo page here. (Warning: you will be greeted with Michael Pollan, who is identified as an environmental writer, and thus you might have a reason to be skeptical, given his fervid defense of eating animals, but I would encourage you to watch the whole trailer to get what I hope is a fuller picture of the film’s goal, not to mention the inclusion of more trustworthy voices such as Will Potter’s and Richard Oppenlander’s.)


13 Responses to Cowspiracy

  1. Definitely looking forward to this one as you and I have both been hot on this omission with Bill McKibben and other environmental groups/leadership for quite some time. It is actually how I became aware of you, James. Someone posted your open letter to Bill McKibben on my open letter to him (I hand delivered mine to him at a post Keystone XL pipeline event in Columbus).

    Dr. Jason Box, (who Bill McKibben greatly respects and had spwaking with him on his Do the Math tour) did a video with me about making a vegan shift as a response to climate change mitigation. It needs work. We can talk about it when you come to Columbus, I still plan on having you speak here soon. Sorry I’ve been overwhelmed with 300 Vegans expansion and graduation next month.

  2. Fireweed says:

    For those who use Facebook, visit my group dedicated to this topic called The Elephant in the Room is a COW. We’re all pretty excited about Kip and Keegan’s project!

  3. Rebecca Stucki says:

    Did anyone else hear this segment about climate change on NPR’s Science Friday last week? I missed the end of it, but from what I heard, they definitely danced around and avoided recommending a vegan diet. Disappointing.

  4. Sailesh Rao says:

    The great stumbling block in the environmental movement are the Meat Moderates…

    • Anim says:

      There is some irony in that article where it mentions the “white man needs to respect indigenous cultures” because often it is those cultures that get cited by meat moderates to justify their meat eating habits, also, what about the indigenous non human cultures? They have been living in those forests too. It sounds like we are supposed to respect non industrial human tribes but have compassion for animals, which suggests a double standard-that justice doesnt apply to nonhuman lifeforms.

  5. Mountain says:

    Thanks for the link. Looks interesting.

  6. Taylor says:

    In today’s Guardian: “Halving meat and dairy consumption could slash farming emissions”

  7. April Moore says:

    I have found that no matter how much evidence there is, no one likes to be told that what they love is bad for them, whether it be cigarettes, sun exposure, and in this case, animal products. They will look for anything else to pin the blame so that they don’t have to give something up. Ignorance is bliss, right? Thanks for the link–looking forward to seeing and supporting the movie. By the way, great article in The American Scholar; it was actually the reason I bought the magazine.

  8. kate says:

    Take the Sierra Club issues survey and tell them the MOST CRITICAL ISSUE facing our environment is ANIMAL AGRICULTURE POLLUTION. Link:

  9. Aina says:

    Are not vegans and what you term “meat moderates” mostly on the same side; that is, against the inherent cruelty of factory farming? If you are locked in battle against those who wish to buy and sell humanely raised chickens or eggs (for example), does that not serve the interests of Tyson and Purdue?

  10. Mark Phipps says:


    Would you consider being on my podcast to continue your message. I delight when I read your work and am motivated to encourage others to become more critical. You can certainly help.

    Thank you in advance for your consideration and continue the wonderful work!

    Mark Phipps
    Mocha Vegan Podcast

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