"Cowspiracy" exposes animal agriculture impacts at film festival


By Hyunjee Lee It takes 660 gallons of water, equivalent to two months’ worth of showers, to produce one hamburger.

This is a fact from “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret,” one of over 35 environmental films screened throughout the Chicago area as a part of the fourth annual One Earth Film Festival on March 6-8. Northwestern hosted two screenings, “Virunga” and “Cowspiracy,” on Saturday. Over 50 people attended the screening of “Cowspiracy” in Harris Hall.

In the film, director Kip Andersen investigates the harmful environmental impacts of animal agriculture and why leading environmental organizations are ignoring the issue.

He discovers that animal agriculture emits more harmful gases than all transportation combined and uses more water than all U.S. homes. Officials from leading organizations like Greenpeace and Oceana are unwilling to talk about the matter, it turns out, largely due to legal problems that they might run into.

One prominent face in the movie was Howard Lyman, a former rancher turned animal rights activist. Lyman spent almost six years fighting a lawsuit by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association following comments he made against animal agriculture on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He wasn’t intimidated, however.

“You can’t call yourself an environmentalist and eat meat. Period,” Lyman said.

The One Earth Film Festival, which started within the Chicago metropolitan area, is the Midwest’s premier environmental film festival. Through screenings and facilitated discussions, the festival aims to inspire sustainable actions, educate on environmental issues and increase interest from people not necessarily in the green community.

Over the years, the festival has expanded its venues from the city into the suburbs; this was its first year in Evanston.

“We were looking for strategic partners and I met some people in NU Real Food who were interested in making it happen,” said Jodi Wine, 54, a member of the One Earth planning team.

The planning team reached out to NU Real Food to incorporate an “action item” into the screenings. As an on-campus organization, NU Real Food was able to provide information tables and give people an idea of how they can make a difference.

“The themes of the movies really aligned with a lot of our values, so it just really made sense,” said Kara Rodby, co-director of NU Real Food. “We would love to sustain our partnership with the festival.”

In the discussion after the film, people shared opinions on the film and animal agriculture.

“I think food is such a cultural thing,” said Andrea Ostenso, a McCormick sophomore. “If you grow up eating meat that your parents cook you, you don’t realize that you can get all your nutrients from plants.”

The documentary seems to have fulfilled the One Earth Film Festival’s goal of inspiring sustainable actions.

“I push my kids to drink milk, and [the film] made me rethink that. It was very convincing,” Wine said. “I came here not expecting to like it as much as I did.”

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