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Rethinking Our Diet to Transform the World


Rethinking Our Diet to Transform the World

Kip Andersen

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, , written by Keegan Kuhn and Kip Andersen (with an introduction by Chris Hedges) and based on many of the ideas and insights contained in the 2014 documentary film, Cowspiracy, now available on Netflix.


Thank you, CD, for publishing this. Cowspiracy is easily the most informative documentary on global warming/climate change ever produced. Whenever I quote a fact from this movie, the meat-eating herd here at CD treats such facts with contempt, posting photos of charred meat labeled "yummy" and other such childish responses. I know people hate being called hypocrites but that is what a meat-eating environmentalist is. And calling me a jerk, an asshole, a poor Zen practitioner, etc., does not rebut the charge of hypocrisy nor does it change a single scientific fact. I hope every reader of CD will watch this movie and engage in some introspection. We need individual accountability and acceptance of personal responsibility for the problems that face us.


You hear a lot about Brazil - whoopiee olympics coming up. Also having already come up are the meat factories, feedlots like 5rivers of JBS. The corner of the packaged meat markets held by JBS has to be see to be believed. In counterbalance the major gagantuan agribusiness suppliers are engaged in genocide of the Kaiowa Guarani Indians whose land has been usurped, with the aid of the government. A worldwide campaign has been launched to boycott products grown on Guarani Kaiowa lands and to pressure the Brazilian government to guarantee the return of the lands that have been confirmed as theirs and by Constitutional law should have been returned years ago.
Facebook page for the campaign:


zenpractice, I like your commentary. It is clear and simple, and pretty well in line with my own, what?, practice? I stopped eating meat about 45 years ago. I understand that the global demand for meat is steadily increasing. I feel fine without it, which tells me that eating meat is certainly not necessary. It is a choice. Also, being 'out of the loop', so to speak, hsa given me the space to just observe, ie. I'm nobody's judge. But I can offer that the 'western' take seems to be that it is appropriate to believe it's OK to have whatever we want, if we can get it. Maybe through a lens of social judgement, we might decide to be happy with less; stop eating before we are stuffed; ride a bike or walk instead of driving; and so on. Some reflection might steer us to the conclusion that this is the way to live 'anyway', which takes the sting out of such minor adjustments to lifestyle. It can only be a contribution to the future of life and peace on this beleaguered planet. And no one can do it for us.


Hypocrisy is endemic to human nature. Diet change in an order of magnitude needed to slow global warming will not happen through individuals seeing the error of their current ways and starting to making better food choices. Industrialized agriculture is a huge part of the global food supply for the seven plus billion of us, many of us living or having lived in circumstances where we count ourselves lucky to have access to enough calories to keep ourselves from starvation.

Laying guilt trips on people for the consequences of their eating choices will, in my never humble opinion, cause people to clung defensively to whatever they're currently doing about food. What's needed is a new religion that can sweep the globe with a kind of Green Jesus showing everyone the way, but that's a set up for Pied Piper charlatans to gain popularity without real solutions.


I couldn't agree with you more. I have been a pescatarian for 5 years and have recently come out as vegan. The reason I hadn't done so before was because I was living in Japan where it is really difficult to get by without at least eating fish.That's what I thought anyway. Turns out I was wrong. It was difficult at first and I especially missed cheese but it is not as difficult as you would think. Thanks to my wife, I'm eating incredible meals everyday. I understand that it's everyone choice and people's diet is a very personal thing. What I DO NOT understand though, is people on what is supposed to be a progressive site refusing to be what's that word...... ah, progressive?!

You can forget about having progressive politics or changing your energy sources because you could do all of that and it WILL NOT make a difference unless we change our diet. I get it that people don't want to be told about their diet but in my humble opinion, the time has come that we forget this insanity. that is what it is. people pretending to be environmentalists but wholeheartedly helping to destroy the planet through mass deforestation, pollution of rivers, the air and of course the emissions. The time to be passive about this is over. Zenpractice is right. You cannot eat meat and be an environmentalist. you are fooling yourself if you think you can. It's becoming difficult for myself to keep my opinions to myself about this as I am subsidizing everyone elses cheap meat through my taxes and why should people making the effort to avert this crises sit back and watch others blindly contribute to the problem while banging on about progressive politics etc. You are living in a farcial dream. All I hear on this site is "We need to wake up sheeple". Well sheeple, the meat industry has been pushing meat down our throats since we were born so maybe you should take your own advice a bit more seriously!


Remove the subsidies the meat industry enjoys from hard working people and let the free market take control of the prices. The price of meat and dairy would triple overnight. That would certainly make people eat far less meat. Separate the regulators from the industry and enforce the industry to pay for the damage they cause to the environment and people's health as was done by the tobacco industry. That would work for starters. Not so difficult to implement. Would just need the willpower of the so called environmentalists to begin with.


GO VEGAN everybody. Be humble. Live simply. Lets stop poisoning our atmosphere.
And please be kind to refugees and disaster victims... The next disaster could be in your neighborhood.


This whole argument is based on a fundamental conflation of two separate issues with the result - "stop eating meat to save the planet" - that's logically flawed and possibly a profound mistake. The problem is not eating meat. The problem is the way the meat is raised. It's industrial agriculture that's causing the problem NOT the eating of meat. We need these animals. We've destroyed so much of the planet's topsoils we haven't a hope in hell of being able to repair them without the essential participation of herds of grazing animals. Managed properly by man working with nature instead of against it, grazing animals can repair degraded topsoil immeasurably faster than nature alone. Please check out the work of Gabe Brown and other ranchers who are following similar ideas before you make any conclusions. Animals managed properly not only repair degraded topsoil, but because they're getting a far better and more suitable diet, no longer produce vast quantities of methane or need shedloads of pharmaceuticals to keep them in a state with a passing resemblance (though little else) to 'health'.


If I had any solutions to any of our current problems I'd be beating the bushes, shouting them from the rooftops, printing out and passing out flyers, buttonholing everyone during my every waking hour.


well, i watched cowspiracy when i was still eating fish and i never felt it was looking down on me for eating meat. It made a rational argument in a logical way and it showed greenpeace and other green organisations to be huge businesses just like the meat industry and fossil fuel companies. interested in their bottom line. It was a call to arms in the desperate race we have in front of us. If we could erase more than half the CO2 emmisions, i would say that is a pretty good solution. Far better than switching to electric cars which people seem more than happy to do. Of course, the car companies still get to make their profits with that choice. Will the meat industry stand to gain from veganism? eh, no. Perhaps that is why no one seems so eager to make that change?


To feed all the people who want to eat meat in the world, do you seriously believe that grass fed cattle can do the trick? It is very simple, if everyone wants to eat meat then industrial farming is the only possible way to feed that many people. Otherwise we would have to cut down every forest and knock down all the cities just to graze the cattle. An absolutely crazy argument if you do not mind me saying so. And that is without the demand from China and India who are beginning to come on line. The problem is animal agriculture. Full stop!

And if humanities’ great minds can’t deal with the problem of top soil degradation, do you really trust us to find solutions to our problems when we go above and beyond 2 degrees of warming? geoengineering etc.


Also, Sweden is presently considering putting a high tax on meat. Partly due to the cost to the health service due to the illness a meat intensive diet accrues.


If we expect civilization to survive, people cannot eat anywhere close to the amount of meat per capita that people in the US eat now. Even that small percentage of people eating meat in the amounts they are, is causing immense damage, and it's not just the industrial system, although that certainly has to go. Pasture-fed beef, for example, causes at least as much GHG emissions per pound of beef as industrial feedlot-finished beef, and it's enabled by and exacerbates inequality, poverty and starvation as well as all the ecological degradation that inevitably goes along with it. (See Overshoot for some of the reasons—ghost acreage, for example,)

Whatever people here say, not everyone will stop eating meat so there's no point arguing about that. The best diet ecologically will vary depending on where people live. Most land, where the vast majority of people live, has the right conditions to produce more calories per acre using a plant-centered production system than a meat-centered one. Only that land too dry, too cold or too rocky and high should be used for meat-centered production, and that will only feed a small percentage of people on Earth.

The rest needs to be turned to perennial plant-centered polycultures like edible forest gardens, in which whatever animals there are serve the plant-production. The yield from such systems is more like what the vast majority of humans have eaten for the vast majority of our time on Earth—an average amount of meat far less than the SAD, maybe a meal per month that has significant amounts of meat, and some additional dairy products and eggs, in larger quantities in some places. This will become more true as we go along, because the oceans are dying, and the billion plus people who depend on fish to varying extents will have to eat something else.

We need to work on the ways to get there, but as important as personal change, integral personal, professional, activist and inner lives are, personal change is not going to solve the climate crisis. Only political change can, so that everyone will be living more ecologically. The reason rich people (including most posting here) don't live more ecologically is because society supports—forces, for all practical purposes—an extravagant, wasteful, destructive, consciousness-destroying life. We need to reverse that, but it's a long process. What we can do now to accomplish the logistical changes we need to make (immediately) for the survival of civilization is to change tax and subsidy policies, require and prohibit what we need to to survive, educate both children and adults, and begin to heal people psychologically through mass, group and individual strategies—symbolic communication, therapy, and everything in between. The immediate logistical changes are to replace fossil fuels with clean renewables, and to sequester carbon by reforesting the planet, and transforming agriculture and industry. The other changes we need to make will be projects of generations.


The problems mentioned in the article: pollution and water use, only arise with factory farming practices. Farm properly and you will not need to give up steak. Since our big brains evolved in large part from changes in our ancestral diet, think what damage the progressive cause will sustain if we collectively give up fat-soluble vitamins, non-denatured cholesterols, and fatty acids crucial to our brains, and available only from animal products.


No one has suggested outlawing the production or consumption of meat. We vegetarians are merely suggesting that you meat eaters stop it.


Utter nonsense.


I have yet to watch the film (though it's on my list) and I am sure I will have some thoughts to share on it, but for the meantime I feel the need to point out an error in one of your points (and also the source you cite for it - which is just another opinion by the look it, not data).
You claim:

raising animals for food consumes a third of all the planet’s fresh water, occupies up to 45 percent of the Earth’s land,

This sounded fishy to me so I checked it. According to the Our World in Data site (http://ourworldindata.org/data/food-agriculture/land-use-in-agriculture/)

"The Land Area of the World is 13,003 million ha. 4,889 million ha are classified as ‘agricultural area’ by the FAO (this is 37.6% of the Land Area).
The agricultural area use is divided into 3 categories: arable land (28% of the global agricultural area), permanent crops (3%) and permanent meadows and pastures (69%) which account for the largest share of the world’s agricultural area."

So of the 37.6% of the world's land that the FAO says is used for agriculture, only 69% of that is used for "permanent meadows and pastures".

I am curious.. did you make this film AFTER becoming vegans/vegetarians or before?


WendyH is right.

Anyone advocating veganism or (strict vegetarianism) as a solution to the problems of industrial agriculture has yet to attain a deep enough understanding of the issue - and thus the solutions.

Yes, industrial agricultural meat production is horrendous. It is unethical, inhumane, environmentally destructive and it must end. So too however, is industrial agriculture when we're talking about plant products. The pollution of waterways, the draining of aquifers, the loss - and active destruction - of soil life, the damage to ecosystems, the loss of biodiversity, erosion, habitat destruction etc etc (I could go on).

But taking the mentality that by rejecting the product will solve the problem unfortunately a) isn't likely to work b) is misguided because even if you succeeded it wont solve the actual problem c) forces one to also reject eating plants (and fish aren't doing so well, so where does that leave you?) and d) is a waste of energy attempting to convince committed carnivores to give up meat.
Instead it would be a far better use of energy and time to get them on side to tacking the problems with actual solutions.

Producing food sustainably requires understanding - and working with - ecosystems in all their function. (It is the narrow mentality of looking at nature and only seeing what we want to get out of it / good & bad things etc that got us into this). Ecosystems require animals to function in a healthy way - they are intrinsic. Large herbivores have an important part to play in regenerative agriculture and (when managed correctly) can not only build soil and sequester carbon but also re-green degraded land and contribute to healthy water management. There are plenty of people doing this kind of work around the world with proven, positive results. I wonder if these were included in the film? (I suspect not).

As part of a regenerative, perennial, polycultural system (producing a diverse mix of plant, tree, vine, root, animal and aquatic crops) you can 'stack' your vegetable, fruit, nut, root, vine crops etc in a way that manages it's own fertility (just like in nature) - but without animals that is very very hard indeed.

For those that want to learn more, research permaculture design, regenerative agriculture, key line design etc. Leading exponents are people like: Mark Shepard, Darren Doherty, Sepp Holzer, Geoff Lawton etc.


It's truly a shame that this unethical filmmaker has done an incredible disservice to an important cause. Big agriculture is a huge problem for the entire world. Awareness needs to be raised, yes. However, unethically attacking environmental NGOs and making ludicrous assertions that they are getting funds from corporations to "hide" the issue is false and frankly pathetic. Anderson's film asserts a conspiracy that doesn't exist and he KNOWS it doesn't. He ASKS - "gee, could these groups be getting funds from animal agriculture...?" Then never provides the answer he could easily have determined - NO THEY ARE NOT. But rather than take on the animal ag industry directly he drums up anger towards part of the environmental community actually working for good. In fact, many of these groups DO address the issue (here's Greenpeace's response for example: www. greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/food-for-life-cowspiracy/blog/54404). Anderson's tactics devalue the film because his methods prove he can not be trusted. Many of the statistics have been challenged - in fact the FAO report he uses for most of his "math" has been proven wrong in many areas. Unethical filmmaking bent on raising anger around false controversy helps no one but the animal agriculture industry itself. Is that what you had in mind, Kip?