Eating Our Way to Extinction: “I’m a Vegetarian and Pigs Are People Too”

~ by Dora Endre ~

Since the 1970s, we have wiped out 60% of animal populations on the planet. Our use of land for agriculture is heavily contributing to the fast approaching ecological collapse. An estimated 18 million acres of forest we lose each year. According to a report Nestlé has, the world will run out of fresh water by 2050. We have lost almost 90% of the large fish in our wild oceans since 1950, which makes scientists predict that the world’s fisheries will collapse in less than 30 years. None of this makes the daily headlines. But all of it made it into Eating Our Way to Extinction.

Eating Our Way to Extinction

This, primarily diet-focused, documentary sets out to wake people up, talk about cause and effect as well as possible solutions to pressing environmental issues. It also forces us to look at reality for what it is instead of chasing fantasies.

“We need to understand what we do to our ocean, we are doing to ourselves. This is all we got.”

– says one of the expert interviewees, Dr Sylvia Earle marine biologist.

A Documentary of Great Ambitions

Executive producers Kate Winslet and Sir Richard Branson with filmmakers-producers-brothers Otto and Ludo Brockway made their sustainability documentary last year. Since July 2022, the film has been available for free both on YouTube and on www.eating2extinction.com. Information is power. The more people get conscious of conservation, the better. Becoming part of a global conversation is vital, even if our views and standpoints clash.

On the movie’s official website you can not only watch the film itself, but you also get a chance to further educate yourself. You can find ways to create your own meal plan, plant mangrove trees, offset your carbon emission and learn about the work of environmental scientists and green NGOs backed by Blue Horizon. Blue Horizon was a major investor behind the documentary and helped grow a variety of organisations from French dairy free cheese making companies through South American vegan chocolate manufacturers to start-ups involved in alternative packaging.

Eating Our Way to Extinction makes a strong case for switching diets. Yet it never becomes pushy with promoting the benefits of vegan- or vegetarianism. The documentary aims to make us ponder on our individual responsibilities regarding the current climate and ecological crisis. What can we do to restore our planet’s healthier state? What can we do to shrink our ecological footprint? How can we maintain our good health? This film is not one of the many trend riding, uncompromising documentaries on veganism.

The Brockway brothers made a movie that is a refreshing mix of stunning scenes, hyper creative graphics, scientific facts, bold investigative journalism and of positive attitude. Yes, positive attitude. Documentaries about humans endangering wildlife, climate and altogether Earth tends to be negative, bleak or straight on dramatic. There is much urgency and seriousness to all these matters, no doubt about that. However, it is great to see a documentary that introduces pioneering NGOs such as The Green Warriors, talks about the green-minded search engine Ecosia as well as possible solutions to make our future brighter. Eating Our Way to Extinction offers hope, which is important.

Last month, along the sandy beaches of Sydney a baby turtle was rescued. It weighed only 127 grams. After being taken to the Taronga zoo’s wildlife hospital, it kept on defecating “pure plastic” for six consecutive days. Up to 80 marine turtles are being monitored and treated at the zoo’s hospital. Most of them suffer from injuries due to their entanglement in fishing lines or because of hooks and plastics. From The Green Warriors to Taronga, environmentally conscious organisations definitely deserve our attention.

From The Gaiai Paradigm to Artificial Farming

We all live in interconnectedness; from the indigenous tribes of Brazil through the lobbyists of the EU Commission to the climate refugees from Africa desperate to reach the European shores. Our day-to-day actions have a massive impact on a lot more than we think. Every tiny algae through our atmosphere to the mountain tops of Taiwan, everything is connected. The father of the Gaia Theory, James Lovelock passed away last month. The back-in-the-day-radical Gaia Theory states that the planet behaves like one living organism.

“Beware: Gaiai may destroy humans before we destroy the Earth”

– said the renowned scientist-environmentalist.

And that is what this documentary is about; interconnectedness and listening to everyone’s story. Stories and views of policy makers, butchers, doctors and farmers, for instance.

From using energy-efficient light bulbs to cutting back on buying unnecessary products to recycling. Every individual choice matters. Eating Our Way to Extinction, similarly to the Our Planet series and Cowspiracy, argues that switching from a regular to a plant-based diet is the most impactful choice we can make to restore forests and oceans.

“I’m a vegetarian and pigs are people too”

– suggests an irony soaked line in the movie. Pigs are not people. Neither fish nor poultry. However, learning about the way artificial farming and farmers treat animals is educational. Some of the largest fish farms in Scotland and Norway, use pesticides, antibiotics and fertilisers to rid lice and other diseases. Fish is kept in such tight spaces and cages that during its short life it is mostly sick and looks like an out of shape zombie.

70% of the fish we eat comes from these farms. Workers on fish farms spray fish with toxic chemicals or bathe them in hydrogen peroxide and azamethiphos. With these methods they disinfect but also deeply contaminate the fish, which eventually finishes on our plate. I believe shareholders of those artificial farm companies where animals are being maltreated – and tortured – this way, would need no other punishment than getting the treatment they give.

Today only half of all fish consumed comes straight from the sea, the rest is artificial fishery. Wild fishing has its own severe problems, too. According to an article published in The Guardian, May 2022, “Fish populations are already threatened by overfishingpollution, and the climate crisis. With current rates of fish consumption projected to double by 2050, waste is increasingly on the radar of regulators.” the article continues “One study showed that in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Togo, 65% of lost fish on land was attributable to poor handling, lack of storage and cooling facilities on fishing vessels and along the lengthy supply chain.” The piece concludes “North America and Oceania has the highest levels of fish discarded, lost and wasted in the food supply chain…Retailers were responsible for about 16% of wasted seafood in the US, while up to 63% comes down to consumers putting uneaten fish in the bin.” Putting uneaten fish in the bin. 63%, harrowing numbers. Immense waste.

The Brockways in Action: Flaws and Merits

Eating Our Way to Extinction, is a decent, occasionally eye-opening documentary. In the opening sequence we see a wonderful, ancient tree overlooking a rainforest with confidence and care for the surrounding plants and animals. The camera stays still. People come and cut the gigantic tree down. We are mere observers, unable to act, unable to say a word. A living-breathing creature, so helpful to our species, is gone. It took her thousands of years to grow. It takes us only a few minutes to destroy her.

Eating Our Way to Extinction

Another powerful sequence in the movie is one made entirely with graphic animation. Hands of invisible people reach for their mobile phones while flashing neon lights appear. The neon lights stay and keep on repeating the same line “I want”. People have a never-ending appetite for more. We always want something. We reach for it. We get it. We immediately want more. Most of the time, senseless greediness and conformism drives us. I want it, and I want it now.

The documentary has world class editing from sound to visuals, uses intriguing examples, well-grounded information and experiments much with genre and form. I thoroughly enjoyed the investigative approach the directing duo had. It is inspiring and exciting to see the Brockway brothers cornering politicians in Brussels with their hard questions, talking to whistleblowers involved in environmental lobbying or participating in a meeting with Norway’s Director of Fisher. The latter also happens to be a shareholder of a gigantic fish farming company. Conflict of interest, issues of accountability? She begins to stutter and asks for a chance to rephrase her answer. A real jaw dropping moment. That is filmmaking at its most powerful.

Another wonderful thing about this documentary is that it offers simple, practical alternatives. For example, I have learned that algae pills are better sources of OMEGA-3 than salmon. Fish farmed salmon is oftentimes advertised as extremely healthy yet it contains 15-20% fat and dangerous chemicals. I will definitely say no to salmon for a long time. Goodbye smoked salmon and cream cheese baguette. First world problems, right?

From deforestation to the era of post-antibiotics to water contamination, the movie covers a lot. Probably too much. In parts, it ends up being overwhelming and dense. Due to switching topics, locations and speakers rapidly, the flow of the story gets choppy a number of times. Moreover, the original score has a tendency to grow cheesy similarly to some of the on-camera interviews with indigenous people. Poeticism could be a nice counterbalance to science but in certain scenes it simply turns dull. Lengthy. Overdone. There are many clichés both in narration and in interviews. “Time is running out.” “Eating meat is huge for global warming.” or “The clock is ticking.” Maybe it is a digital clock, that is why most people cannot hear it?

Environmentalism and the Top 1%

Some of the on-camera interviewees are such celebs as Tony Robinson or Branson himself. It is wonderful to call-to-action for the greater good. But individuals hopping cities on their private jets, living a wasteful life, talking about individual choices and responsibilities? It might corrupt the message, no matter how important that is. Hypocrisy is another kind of widespread toxin.

Yard, in its most recent research, decided to compare the general population’s CO2 emission to the emission of celebrities with jet-set lifestyles. Scraped data shows that celebs have emitted an average 3376.64 tonnes of Co2 solely in their private jet usage in 2022 so far. That is approximately 482.37 times more the annual emission of an average person. According to the research, top celebrities with the worst private jet Co2 emission include: Taylor Swift, Floyd Mayweather, Jay-Z, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Blake Shelton, Travis Scott, Kim Kardashian and A-Rod.

This year, Mayweather had a flight that lasted only for 10 minutes – it emitted 1 ton of Co2. Spielberg took 61 private flights in 2022 so far, emitting 637.9 times more Co2 than the average person. He took flights from New York State to New Jersey, and Amsterdam to Rotterdam. The latter was a 48.5-mile distance. The Oscar winning filmmaker took the sixth spot on Yard’s top jet emission polluters. He said the following while on a press junket in 2018:

“I’m terrified of global warming. Global warming is a scientific reality. It’s not a political trick. It’s a true piece of real, measurable, quantifiable science.”

Yard’s research reports that Oprah, who is also a major advocate for the fight against climate change, took 14 and 16-minute private flights this year.

For instance, she takes her private jet to travel from one city to the other within the state of California. On OprahDaily.com she often writes posts about environmental protection. One such example is from 2019:

“Every morning I walk the bountiful acreage I call home. I take care of it as if it were the most precious jewel. Because to me, it is sacred.”

She adds:

“Like the sky that is its canopy and the ocean that laps at its southern edge, it’s a treasure no person could ever own.”

Unexplored Territory: The Costs of Plant-Based Diets

One way to reduce our ecological footprint is to pay attention to our choices. To the packaging of our food and other products, the transportation we choose, the nearby holiday destinations we could and should favor, the solar panels we shall invest in if possible. Or we should pay attention to such simple things as reducing our digital footprint by turning off our computers if unused or singing shorter songs under the shower. When it comes to the question of diets and reducing our meat consumption, things tend to get more complicated.

The skeleton that is very much left in the closet here is the question of additional costs that come with making the transition from a regular to a plant-based diet. How can the average consumer afford going vegan or vegetarian? And besides the lower price, what else attracts people to eat meat in huge quantities? How could policy makers regulate and change the situation? Exploring those would have been important, and probably revelatory when it comes to industry and business interests. It is a shame that Eating Our Way to Extinction did not go that far.

On one hand, the switch to a plant-based diet would serve us all, our health as well as our planet. On the other hand, if something is against current big business interests then why would the top players support it? Why would we lower our living standards, level of comfort and crawl out of our tiny bubble to take action? If something threatens short-term benefits and financial gain then why would we want it? Preserving our planet is, predominantly, of long-term importance. Today and tomorrow the sun will still rise and shine on us. But how about the day after tomorrow?

Eating Our Way to Extinction is currently available on Prime Video, YouTube and on www.eating2extinction.com.