Filmmakers Keegan Kuhn + Kip Andersen discuss the illusion of eco-beef, the hard facts, and how their new film What The Health is going to shake it up even more. (One of the most important interviews you’ll read all year.)
Interview: Antoine Level
Q: Our founder, Maranda Pleasant, sat on panels with Leilani Munter at environmental conferences and then they serve beef for lunch. This continues to blow us away. What would you say to all of the environmentalists who are still eating meat?
Keegan Kuhn: It is really troubling to see environmental organizations still actively promoting beef consumption in this way by having it at their events and conferences. There is a popular notion right now that only “factoryfarmed” beef is bad and that as long as you buy “free-range” beef, it’s okay. I think that’s one of the main reasons we still see self-proclaimed environmentalists eating meat. Unfortunately for all the people who have bought into this idea of “eco-beef,” there is very little evidence to back it up. In fact, raising cattle on grass (their natural diet) instead of grain uses 35 percent more water, 30 percent more land, and can produce 500 percent more greenhouse gases! Grass-fed cows require around 50 percent more time to reach market weight and so consume more resources in the process. But the major issue I see is the land use conversion that is taking place to make room for grass-fed cows. Massive area of old growth and tropical forest are being cleared to make room for “grass-fed” beef. Up to 91 percent of Brazilian Amazon destruction can be attributed to cattle raising. The cattle industry has been making claims recently that raising cows responsibly can actually sequester carbon from the atmosphere and be good for the planet, but they are ignoring the obvious fact that native forest sequesters carbon even better. If we are really interested in sequestering carbon, saving water, promoting biodiversity, and saving the planet, we will be vastly better off growing trees than cows.
Q: Major American environmental organizations and government agencies actually avoid the subject. Do you think that had an impact on you before releasing the movie?
Kip Andersen: It definitely had an impact upon our desire and necessity to get this film out to the masses ASAP! To ignore the number one destroyer of the environment all while making millions of dollars through their environmental organizations is unfathomable and dangerous at that. We look up to these enviro groups to tell us the truth of what is happening in the planet, and for them to avoid the subject nearly entirely I feel is near criminal for what it does to divert the focus of true sustainability, or as we say “thrivability.”
Q: For people who have not seen the movie, what is the most important thing that you would like to relay?
Keegan Kuhn: No other single daily lifestyle choice we make has a bigger impact on the planet than our diet. By boycotting animal products and eating plants instead, we can save 1100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forest land, and 20 pounds of CO2 equivalent every day!
Q: For those who have never seen the movie, it may be difficult for them to believe that organizations like Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, etc., are consciously hiding a part of an issue they’re suppose to be fighting. What can we do to get the message out?
Keegan Kuhn: We all look to the large environmental organizations to tell us what we need to do and change to live better on the planet, so for groups like Greenpeace to not have a large focused campaign against the animal agriculture industry, when it is the leading cause of deforestation, water pollution, water consumption, land use, topsoil erosion, species extinction, largest consumer of GMOs, and primary driver of climate change, it seems something else is going on.
Kip Andersen: A good way to get the message out is through social media. Go on to their websites and when you see a fact they post (about, say, fracking, or climate change, or species lost, etc.), comment with a fact from cowspiracy.com/facts or from another source to show the comparable impact eating animal products has on the environment to all these other popular issues to show how they don’t quite have the same impact. It’s important to note, all these other factors are indeed important, it’s not as if once you go vegan you can drive a Hummer and all is good, it’s just that eating animal products is so far beyond the culprit in totality of all combined environmental damage that everything else is a distant second.
Q: What do you think is the biggest thing most Americans don’t know about the environment and factory farming?
Keegan Kuhn: People aren’t aware how damaging their diets are to the planet because large environmental groups aren’t telling them and the government does even less.You’ll see massive campaigns from the government and organizations about saving water at home by taking shorter showers, but just skipping one burger saves as much water as almost two months’ worth of showers! You could skip showers every day, put solar panels on your house, drive a hybrid car, and only buy local food, and you still wouldn’t have the same sort of environmental savings as simply giving up animal products; it’s that massive.
Q: Again, a logo on packaging can be misleading, even if this is not only related to a plant-based product, but seeing a Rainforest logo or vegan logo does not mean cruelty-free. Does this influence consumers’ purchasing behavior and potentially mislead vegans? How do you this should be addressed?
Kip Andersen: I believe these logos are a wonderful start and we need to keep going further with them so we can see the full truth of what we are eating. A label we are really pushing for, especially once our new film What The Health comes out, is to have carcinogenic warning labels on meat products. For example, nearly all chicken found in the grocery or in restaurants are found to have carcinogens and the WHO (World Health Organization) just declared processed meat (bacon, hot dogs, all deli cuts) are now classified as a Class 1 Carcinogen—the same class as tobacco, asbestos, and plutonium! Soon you will see labels on meat like you do cigarettes, so one day it will be considered child abuse to feed a child under 18 any of these meat products. That is where I see labelling going in the very near future, and the lawyers are getting ready to pounce all over that, as by law anything that is a Class 1 Carcinogen has to be labelled as such.
Q: The plant-based diet is growing faster every year, but still it seems complicated for some new vegans to be accepted in their family, communities, friends. I remember my French grandparents freaking out, thinking I was into some sort of cult. Do you have any words for them?
Keegan Kuhn: The transition to a plant-based diet can seem daunting at first, but once people embrace it, an incredible transformation takes place. I feel the important thing for new vegans is to remember that they weren’t always vegan and that it took time and for someone to educate them of why living this way is so powerful for the planet, animals, and our health and to share that same sort of patience with their community.
Kip Andersen: I am always jealous of new transitioning vegans because I remember when I went vegan how I made it into a game of what new vegan food would I find today. One day it was a new cookie, or a new cheese or restaurant, and I really had fun with it. It was like Pokevegan Glow! Also, I say to new vegans how incredibly easy it is to be vegan, and that finally we are on the right side of history. And, whereas once we were looked at as some kind of weird anomaly, now we are looked upon as noble, compassionate leaders leading this transformation into these next levels of evolution we are literally in the middle of transitioning through now.
Q: Any films you’d recommend to a non-vegan, besides Cowspiracy?
Keegan Kuhn: One of the single most powerful films made on the subject of animal agriculture is EARTHLINGS from director Shaun Monson. It delves deeply into our relationship to fellow animals and the ethical implications of using them for our own desires.
Kip Andersen: Forks Over Knives, and our new film What The Health (coming out in a few months), and Peaceable Kingdom.
Q: Any other upcoming projects? What is the biggest thing we can do to bring awareness and change right now?
Keegan Kuhn: We have been working on a new film for over a year now, called What The Health, whatthehealthfilm.com, that we are really excited about! It follows Kip once again on a journey of discovery, finding out about the health implications of eating animals on our personal health as well as the greater community.
Kip Andersen: AUM Films (non-profit that produced Cowspiracy) is also producing some new exciting films and series, Seaspiracy and Raft The Amazon. Follow AUM Films on Facebook and sign up to Cowspiracy’s newsletter.