The buzzed-about documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, which takes an unflinching look at the devastating global impacts of rearing animals for food and the many environmental organizations not addressing this issue, has been making a huge impact in the vegan community and beyond. Vegan Publishers’ own Lorelei Plotczyk interviewed director Kip Andersen via Skype about the controversy surrounding the film, what “the v-word” means to him, and why he anticipates big things for the movie – and the entire vegan movement – in 2015. Watch the interview or read the transcript below.
Interview with Cowspiracy’s Kip Andersen: “A Movement Already Has Begun”
By Lorelei Plotczyk
(transcript edited for clarity)
LP: Kip, it’s really great to meet you. Everyone at Vegan Publishers is a big fan of the movie and I’m thrilled to be talking to you today – so thank you!
KA: Thank you for having me!
LP: So first of all, who thought of the name “Cowspiracy” – it’s just so perfect!
KA: It’s actually funny, we thought about it quite a while ago and originally “Cowspiracy” was actually a joke that the cows are really the ones taking over the world where they’re doing their own cow jihad where they’re sacrificing themselves and making themselves somehow addicted to people, their flesh and secretions, and the real “cowspiracy” is that the cows are taking over the world. [Laughs.] And then as the film progressed, as you can see it’s more – people take it of course as more the conspiracy that’s happening with the industry and the groups, but overall it’s kind of a catchy name we felt, too. And we did testing on it, and people liked it.
LP: So tell me about this film went from an idea floating in your head to an actual film. Did you have a moment where you were realized it was all actually happening?
KA: I did. You know, it took a while to happen. In a way it took seven years. I’ve actually been vegan seven years, and that’s what’s fun about the film. It follows my journey that happened to me a long time ago. And in the movie I think the part that’s not totally true is where I say that I’ve been trying to contact these environmental organizations for months; it was actually around five years. So it was a long time in wanting to do this movie. It took a long time and it really meant having to meet Keegan [Kuhn, Andersen’s partner in making the film], we just worked so well together.
But the part where we really had that “a-ha” moment was at the first interview with the government department of water – that was really telling. And it was interesting too because it was the first interview. A lot of times you re-edit things, and things come before, after; but that was our very first one, and we realized there’s something really happening here. And then after every interview we just could not believe it. It was more shocking than we would think it was before going in; more evasive, more funny, as you could see in each interview. So as interesting as the interviews were, we knew there was definitely a film to be had!
LP: I’ll say! How has your life changed since the film came out?
KA: I travel a lot and have a lot of really cool friends all over the world. I meet a lot of incredible enlightened people who have already done the transformation in their own personal journey to become one in harmony with everything and everyone else. So meeting incredible people is the most joyous thing, and a lot of support. And it’s just been a fun journey.
LP: You mentioned that you actually have been vegan for a while, so I take it that the narrative of you becoming vegan was kind of the narrative that happened to you in the past?
KA: Uh huh, it was. I grew up as a meat and dairy – as I say in the film, I grew up this way. And I was so naïve, you know, I was looking for a way to be a conscious meat eater. Just someone who cares not only about life and other animals, but the environment. So I was really following my journey, and then realizing of course – giving away the end! – I couldn’t really do it. There are ethical reasons as well, and we barely touch on health, but that was a big part of it. And at the time, I, as in the movie, I was so naïve, I didn’t know I could live a month without meat or dairy. I was that naïve. I didn’t know anything about nutrition. But at the point when I went vegan, I really didn’t care. I didn’t have a doctor consultation at the time, but I said I don’t want a trail of blood going with me to my grave. And I wanted, even if it’s one month for now, it was kind of like atonement. I just wanted to be at peace with everything at that moment.
LP: Did any of the other filmmakers involved in making the film, were any of them inspired to make the change as well throughout the course of filming?
KA: Well, what’s funny is it was really Keegan and I did every single thing! I mean, Keegan’s partner helped us film a couple parts, like when we went to the farm, those farm scenes. Other than that, it was Keegan and I who did sound, set up the cameras, directing – every single thing. So it was just him and me! [Laughs.]
LP: That’s incredible! So tell me about your experiences at these screenings. I know you’ve taken the film all over the country and even the world. What kind of feedback do you typically get?
KA: The feedback has been incredible. I’m sure part of it is preaching to the choir, but we’ve had a lot of great opportunities. A really huge milestone and landmark is, and I believe I was in Europe at the time, but the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA – their biggest regional office here in San Francisco – they requested to show the movie to their entire office. And it turned out everyone showed up, it was a full house, it was at a real theater, and they were very open. And probably very few of them were vegetarian or vegan, but then were woken up. And I think that’s the whole thing is, no matter where you are or in what stage of life, the facts are the facts. And it’s an eye opening film and an entertaining one, and it’s just so fun to see the transformation of people taking place with emails and direct accounts of people after watching the film of their parents or loved ones. It’s just really fun to see the impact.
LP: My friend I took with me to the screening, she was vegetarian and she left the movie a vegan!
LP: So how do you respond to the people who say the film is nothing but “vegan propaganda,” even though they never have a good counterargument?
KA: Well it’s exactly what you say when you say, “Where is the counterargument?” What we do – and that’s the thing is, I’m just following someone who’s asking questions to people who know a lot more than me. And a lot of them look at me as I’m a scientist or I’m claiming things. But if you watch the film, the movie never tells you to do anything, it just shows what I went through, and asks questions to people who know a lot more than me and a lot more than most anyone on this topic. So it’s information about facts, and I always encourage people – if you don’t believe the facts that you see in the film, do your own research, because you’ll find a lot of the facts in the film are actually conservative. And so, the truth is the truth.
LP: Some of the pushback from environmentalists is that they say they don’t focus on lifestyle changes, they just focus on policy. How can policy potentially ever be shaped around this issue?
KA: Well that’s something we touch on with the Department of Water Resources and all the interviews. Eventually we’ll have the extended interviews of these organizations, and if anything, it’s actually worse than how it appears in the film. Because we go into that. They all say, “Well we don’t go into behavior changes,” but you do, indirectly or directly, you say “drive your car less” and do all these things that everyone knows what to do – don’t buy palm oil, and don’t do this. So they do say that, and that’s a cop out.
As far as policy, there is an exciting policy that’s taking place and it’s in the works now that we’re going to help develop as well. There are things that people are bringing up into legislation that there could be a meat tax or a meat and dairy tax or a warning label. It could be a very similar path as what happened to the tobacco industry. First the truth comes out, but rather than secondhand smoke, it’s what secondhand eating does to our tax dollars and our health and everything else, and then to tax it to counterbalance the millions and billions of dollars that are going to and being wasted in this industry, from environment to health to everything.
LP: Have you been threatened at all since the film’s release knowing that this film could threaten this industry’s profits?
KA: No, we haven’t, and that was the cool thing; at the time of filming was very scary because it was very true to how it was edited. We were scared. But once the film’s out, the film’s out. So I don’t think there’s anything they can do. And if they did something – let’s say, sue or whatever – it’s just going to come back tenfold to them and make a huge David and Goliath of creating so much more attention than it’s already getting. And why would they want to do that, because it didn’t work with Howard Lyman and Oprah Winfrey, and I think they learned their lesson with that. And either way it’s a win-win situation. It’s getting out there, so, I’m not worried.
LP: Good! Is there any way to prove that the animal agriculture groups donate to these environmental groups, or do you think that it’s maybe even that the people in the environmental groups themselves eat meat and they just really don’t want to focus on this?
KA: That’s a big part of it. We say it’s trifold. A huge part is their donor base. You know, since the making of the film – and I wish we had this while we were making it – we found a report, they did a full analysis, they hired a consulting firm it looked like, of pages upon pages of whether this campaign will make donors or make money or not. It’s like if a lung cancer doctor asked a consultant, “Should we tell our patients who smoke cigarettes whether we need to tell them or not, or are they going to go to a different doctor?” I mean, it’s so bizarre – that’s profits over planet.
And then as you said, the heads of these organizations, almost all of them – a few of them not, but definitely most of them – do eat animal products. Let alone vegan, but aren’t even vegetarian. And then, the top core of their funding – say the top 10 percentage of those top donors – very rarely are vegetarian or vegan. And then you also have legislation that’s shown in the film – sure, it’s a little bit scary for anyone to talk about this industry. Because that’s one of their cop outs as well is that we’re not allowed to because of the “ag gag” laws and these other things that talk about this industry to create a damage, because it could come back to them. So it’s all these things.
LP: So there are the environmental groups and the people in them that are in denial, there’s the public who are attached to eating meat, there’s the animal agriculture industry (which is so powerful they can dictate federal food policy), and it’s like this codependent relationship where all these people are creating this perfect storm. And then there’s this tiny percentage of us who are vegans, and they’re the ones considered to have an agenda.
KA: Yeah – and we’re the ones that are considered “extreme.” But you know, this tiny percentage, it won’t be tiny much longer, and it’s not anymore. The voice is so huge. It’s like I say, David and Goliath. The voices of conscious people today…it’s the single, small groups that create such big change. And we really are making a huge splash and over the next few years, it’s just getting greater and greater. And that’s what so fun, because if you’re vegan, you’ve been quieted at the table amongst your friends – and we’re now looked at as the leaders, and people are really kind of following suite after us and looking – I don’t want to say looking up to us, but looking at it as wow, they’re doing their part and they’re not the weird ones, but the ones we look to be a part of. So that’s fun.
LP: Yes. There’s still a long way to go but I can definitely sense the shift. The movie is called “Cowspiracy.” Do you think it’s really a conspiracy or is it more just an unfortunate set of circumstances that brought us to this point?
KA: We get that sometimes: “Is it a real conspiracy?” That’s why the movie, at the end it gets to a point where we don’t even go there. We’re interviewing these environmental groups and it comes to point where a lot of people say, “Why didn’t you follow the money?” We could have followed the money. We could follow the board of directors. Going to your last statement, there are boards of directors who cross hardcore with the animal agriculture industry, which is smart of them.
But if you look up the word conspiracy, it’s just conspiring to do something harmful or with a group of people, whether they’re doing it on purpose or not, they do know it’s harmful. So the environmental groups, they are not telling this on their home page the leading cause of environmental destruction, and they’re doing it because of these reasons we mentioned.
Now are they doing it because they really want to destroy the world? No. But that’s the extreme version of conspiracy. It’s more of what they’re not doing, and they don’t want to tell people this. They don’t want to show certain things that they’re doing or whom they’re affiliated with.
So I do believe it’s a conspiracy; that there are a lot of things out there that people don’t want to have known of true motives of what some of these environmental groups or this industry is doing, but it’s not the focus of the film, and we don’t want it to be. It’s about really working together and getting information out and showing that it hasn’t been done, so let’s do this now.
LP: Great answer. Were you shocked that the organic people admitted that dairy is in no way a sustainable way to feed people?
KA: Yeah, we were shocked. It was really nice to see them being so honest. And the CEO was just so caring. He truly was. And I don’t know if he even necessarily wanted to be in the industry, but he was just really caring and he was really truthful and it was just so refreshing after these environmental – let alone he’s in the industry. The environmental groups wouldn’t even just acknowledge it, and here a guy who’s the CEO acknowledging it. I mean it was just so bizarre.
And not only that, but the farmer as well talking about almond milk and these different soy milks that are going to soon replace it because it needs to be replaced because it’s so unsustainable. So that’s one of our favorite parts in the film.
LP: So there’s this whole idea that meat can somehow be sustainable. Do you think that these localvore small farm meat advocates would still advocate replacing factory farms with pastures if they realized this would mean everyone – including themselves – would have to be almost entirely vegan due to the scarcity of land and meat products this would create (which even Michael Pollan admitted in your film, which I also thought was great)? That kind of proves that it’s really just lip service to even advocate that movement, doesn’t it?
KA: Oh yeah, again, and that’s why some people say, “You put the ethics part in there with the backyard farming.” Sure, it got to the part where an animal gets killed and people don’t realize that, but it was very important to show as a sustainable part. People get sidetracked that it got killed. But that backyard farm is to show – how local do you want to get it, do you want to have it in your backyard? Well if you do, it’s around 50 to 100 pounds, according to this guy, of food for just one pound of his duck. I mean, that is so unsustainable. Where does he get 50 and 100 pounds for every pound? And if everyone did that – I mean, that’s one of the most unsustainable things you can do.
And ironically, from a sustainability point of view, factory farms are the most sustainable [method of rearing animals for food]. That’s why they’re in factory farms. It’s the most efficient. Of course we’re not for that, it’s terrible for the animal. But if you’re looking for sustainability, that’s the best way. So it’s a lose-lose situation. Let alone the ethics of pretending they love an animal but really – the Hansel and Gretel theory as I say, it’s so bizarre and twisted because she pretends she loves the kids and they think they love her, and in reality it’s just to fatten them up and kill them.
LP: Oh God, I never thought of that! One of the great things about this film is that it really goes beyond the idea of veganism being just about animal rights. As important as that is, so many are able to block that out. And so this film shows that it’s really about human rights. We’re using disproportionately large amounts of resources to produce comparably small amounts of meat and milk and eggs while billions of people literally starve or go hungry – and we’re destroying the environment in the process. So do you think people are more receptive when you take the animal ethics aspect out of the equation, and is that why you did that in this film?
KA: Yeah, and I think that’s why people love the film, especially vegans and if you are into animal rights, because here’s the logical side of it. Take ethics completely out. If you’re into human rights, this needs to be in the top three if not the number one human rights issue that’s facing the planet today. We’re humans. Are we going to be around much longer due to this industry, due to these habits and addictions that we have? So that’s why people really like it, because it’s just a really logical point of view where A equals B and what we need to do. It’s so simple. So yeah, I think that’s why people are really stoked on the film and message.
LP: Totally. The word “vegan” has negative connotations with many non-vegans. How do you feel about using the word, in the film and in your own life, and how can we overcome those negative associations? Do we need a new word for vegan?
KA: Well what’s cool is knowing at the end we purposely put it in there because…I feel like the transformation’s already happened. There have been a lot of words throughout time that had some sort of connotation and were extreme or something, and then something comes out where the information now… where now the word vegan is looked at as sustainable, compassionate, and caring – whereas a few years ago, it was looked at as just some extreme diet, and you’re just some animal rights freak.
And little things like when Justin Timberlake did on Saturday Night Live he did “Go down to veganville” or whatever that was. And so it’s like these little things where you see mainstream media, now vegan is becoming a whole other word. And it’s very simple, and it crosses everything from leather to lifestyle. So I think it’s a powerful word and we wanted to have it in there. Because some people said, “Don’t use the v-word,” but you know what? The word needs to be transformed to what it is now. And I think as you’ll probably see, over the next year and the next couple of years, the v-word is actually looked at as V for victory!
LP: Nice! There’s a large variation in the amount of greenhouse gases researchers have found livestock to be responsible for, as low as below 10% up to 51%, and some people get hung up on the percentage, dismissing the whole thing. How do you address that debate and what made you decide to stand behind the 51%?
KA: So we’ve gotten so much discussion and feedback surrounding the film and regarding the 51%. And the big thing I say in Q&As, my response is that it does range. And there are so many variances. And we’ve talked to so many hardcore scientists about this and are learning – because again… people act like I’m a scientist, but I learned a lot of information during filming myself. But since then, really discovering the lifecycle analysis and what happens if you have a different number – should the offsetting of the rainforest if it was still there be counted in? Some do put it in, some don’t, and a lot of it is theoretical.
So right now we’re considering taking the 51% out and putting some different incredible facts in there for our next edit, because we don’t want to get people focused on a number, just like you said. There are so many things – this is just one part of the issue. 50% of Americans don’t even believe climate change even exists. And I sometimes am not even sure whether it’s a cycle or not. So there are so many things that – you know, don’t get caught up on one number. What about water? What about species extinction? And that 51% number is very debatable. So that’s why we showed both numbers and we leave it up for discussion. Do you own research, what do you find out? That’s a big thing we advocate.
LP: So you’re doing another edit that takes that number out altogether?
KA: We’ve actually always planned from the get-go, with different scientists we’re working with, to constantly update the data with new edits. With China and people’s habits, a lot of things are going higher. So we want it to always be a very up-to-date film, and that’s one where we’re seriously considering changing to something that I actually feel is an even more powerful statement than that. Because just like you said, it gets caught up in this number, when there are other facts that we had to leave out of the film.
Like one example, an incredible fact, is the agriculture industry, to 2050, will be raising it’s percentage of all greenhouse gases to 80%, versus transportation and normal energy sector emissions is going to be raising 25%. The agriculture industry – the majority is animal agriculture – is raising 80%! And that’s a fact that across the board scientists have acknowledged. So there are other facts we might put in there just to not have some person say, “Oh, they have the 51% in there,” and dismiss the whole thing.
LP: Last I heard, only Rainforest Action Network had come out with any kind of campaign since the film came out addressing animal agriculture. Have there been any others, and are you continuing to follow up with them?
KA: We are, we’re continuing to follow up with them. Someday – we’re working on other projects, but we’re going to do a follow up of all the transformation that’s happened, and the things that have happened within the organizations. For example, Amazon Watch, we heard from someone within – a friend of mine who knows a friend there – that they now finally, after all these years they’ve been trying to have them, do vegan dinners or lunches, and now they finally are. So changes like that, as little as it sounds, that’s major, because first you have the organizations themselves, and the leaders need to be living a sustainable lifestyle.
But Rainforest Action Network, they did that whole campaign. But just yesterday I was on their website, and it’s still not anywhere on their website. So whether people are doing temporary damage control to offset it, or making real changes, we’ll see. But if they don’t they’re going to be left behind, because there are new organizations coming up. And just like companies come and go, you’re going to be left behind if you’re not up to date on the truth and what you’re really attempting to do.
LP: I wanted to talk about the water issue specifically because in Southern California this is very real, yet the dairy industry is still actually bragging about how many cows come from California; millions of massive water-guzzling creatures in a near desert climate. What do you think is causing such a dramatic disconnect?
KA: Again, well, the one disconnect as you saw in the film that they don’t want to let this information out about what’s really consuming the majority of a lot of this water. And it’s just another one of those – they don’t want to address the addiction or the real cause of these things because either they feel that people are so addicted or that they have to have the animal flesh and secretions that they can’t stop it, so there’s no point in telling people, so let’s just tell people to turn off their sprinklers. I mean, yeah, we live here, and it’s just shocking. It’s ridiculous. But again, I feel it’s happening, but one more year of the drought and you can’t hide that much longer. I mean, it comes a point where it’s like, “What? The cows are the ones consuming all this water when we can’t even feed our kids?”
LP: Some say Cowspiracy is or should be the new Blackfish. How can it reach an audience large enough to make the same impact? Is there any chance this can end up televised or on Netflix?
KA: Yeah, there’s a really, really good chance these things are happening. I can’t say anything yet, but some exciting developments have been happening for sure, big time. 2015 is a major exciting time for all of us, not even just the film, but the message. It’s just an exciting time; that you will see a huge transformation this next year. Because with some good help – again, I can’t say too much – but, good things are happening with this information in the film, the message is getting across the entire world with some good help with some good friends, and organizations and distribution and stuff like that, so it’s happening.
LP: That’s great! Is the goal to make Cowspiracy more than a movie, but a movement?
KA: Yeah, well what’s fun to see is once we – again, we just started. Because like you said, most documentaries just like Blackfish – well for them it was CNN, but no one had heard of it before CNN – most documentaries start at Netflix. So we have just begun to see already, again, call it whatever movement you want to call it, but a movement already has begun. And not only that, it happened years ago, but this is finally a tool where they can use, rather than a big binder, here’s a tool for this movement that’s already happening. But it’s already happening and it’s exciting because it’s just begun and it’s already this big and this exciting and this much transformation’s already taken place that absolutely, it’s just a tool for the movement that’s already begun.
LP: So finally, since this is an interview for Vegan Publishers, are there any books you recommend regarding this topic?
KA: Anything by Dr. Richard Oppenlander, if you’re really into the science of it. Dr. Will Tuttle has this beautiful book The Word Peace Diet. That’s an amazing book that covers everything from ethics to sustainability. Great book, big time, definitely recommend that one. [Editor’s note: Dr. Will Tuttle has edited a new book called Circles of Compassion available now from Vegan Publishers!] Other than that, everyone at Vegan Publishers is probably vegan, but a good movie to watch for those making the transition is Forks Over Knives, to realize we don’t need these things that have been marketed to us, and we never did. So that’s a big one.
LP: I want to thank you so much for making this film. You’ve really opened up the conversation and inspired a lot of people to change and take action. So thank you. And thank you for taking the time to talk with me today!
KA: Thank you for doing what you’re doing. Everyone’s inspiring us too!
Note: The film is said to be part of a trilogy, so look for more from the Cowspiracy team soon!