The Erasmus Sustainability Hub launched its Meat Free Monday campaign at the Pavilion last Thursday. The Dutch premiere of Cowspiracy, a new documentary about the environmental effects of animal produce, was the main event.

Before the film, special guest and geoscience professor Klaas Van Egmond gave a short foreword. His speech centred on the tension created around resource shortages and the urgency of a global and local response to these shortages. His final statement was: “If we look at ancient history, the great civilisations all saw the cause of their own demise: the problem was that the older generations, with their “vested-interests”, would not allow the young to act and solve the problem. My hope is that we will embrace social power and make a change.”

The shocking truth

The documentary took the audience on an 85 minute journey about the process of director Kip Andersen’s research of the animal industry. Andersen argues that the production and consumption of animal produce is the number one cause of CO2 emissions, deforestation, depletion of the sea life stocks and water shortages. As shocking as many of these facts were, the major controversy of the evening was the lack of response and comment from major environmental organisations on the issue. Andersen claims that the environmental organisations’ failure to act was an intentional decision to protect their fundraising capabilities. He claims that a focus on diet could alienate their support and partners, creating difficulties that they are not willing to face. Andersen also sights political power of meat and forestry industry as a large cause of the silence.

So what can we do?

Cowspiracy’s final conclusion is that there is no such thing as sustainable meat production and that there is no alternative to solve these problems other than for the world to choose a vegan diet. The film made a point of dismantling other solutions like “grass-feed beef” or even programs like Meat Free Mondays, claiming that these ideas allow people to rest on a false sense of security. Individuals think they are making a difference, but they are really still contributing to the problem.

Hard to swallow

Whilst the message is received positively, many audience members find the pro-vegan message hard to swallow. They claim that it would be unrealistic to expect the entire world put down their animal produce in favour of plant-based alternatives. One vegan student, Haylee Kelsall (IBCOM, 26), says that, whilst the documentary was a step in the right direction, animal based products are too far engrained into many cultures, especially Dutch culture, to expect individuals to make such a radical change. According to Kelsall, many things are changing but not at the rate the documentary claims they will happen. DB