Seven Books and Documentaries That Informed My Animal Advocacy
Once I established that I wanted to become an animal advocate, my first step forward was clear: learn. I turned to books and documentaries as I began my journey of learning anything and everything that had to do with the treatment of animals. My immersion into the world of animal advocacy and my fluency in current issues affecting animals today, would not have been possible without each of these revealing, informative, shocking, and inspiring works. I have compiled just seven titles of the books and documentaries that had an especially profound impact on me. If you want to learn more about the world of animal advocacy, I hope you will consider these works and that they will be just as meaningful to you as they were for me.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn
No other film or book has allowed me to better understand the clear connection between animal agriculture and environmental degradation than Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. Directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, this film exposes the tendency of prominent environmental organizations to cover up the excessive emissions, soil erosion, deforestation, water depletion, and other environmental issues that are developing from the production of animal products. I remember sitting down to watch this film with an offhand attitude. I had no idea that by the time the credits rolled I would be adding environmental protection to my list of reasons to follow a plant-based diet. I, like many others, was under the impression that if we want to stop pollution and energy depletion, we need to focus on using less water when we shower or walk to work instead of drive. This film powerfully demonstrated that nearly every environmental concern we face today can be linked to the way in which we produce animal products. Therefore, I learned that if we want to alter our day-to-day lifestyle habits in a way that protects this planet, changing the way we eat is a profound first step.
The Elephant Whisperer, written by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence
At first I was thrown by the slightly sentimental title but before long I was sitting spellbound on the floor of my college dorm room listening for hours to the audiobook version of The Elephant Whisperer. What drew my attention away from homework and to this book was author and conservationist Lawrence Anthony’s captivating account of his experience saving the lives of a herd of elephants on his game reserve in South Africa. His description of the intellectual and emotional capacity of the elephants in his care completely changed the way I judge the abilities of animals. I am accustomed to the tradition of viewing animals through a human lens. This means that the abilities of animals are typically evaluated through comparison to humans, for example, the ways animals communicate as compared to spoken human languages, etc. This book challenged this anthropocentric perception of animals that I have been surrounded by, and encouraged me to appreciate the unique ways that elephants and all animals interact with their world.
The Game Changers, directed by Louie Psihoyos
It was not long after I decided to eliminate animal products from my diet that the expected question of “how are you getting enough protein?” began making appearances in my conversations with others. The myth about vegans and vegetarians not consuming enough protein, as well as other oft-cited nutritional concerns, are dispelled in the compelling documentary The Game Changers. This film, directed by Louie Psihoyos, follows several top athletes who are literally powered by plants, meaning that they compete in professional sports, and frequently win, while adhering to a plant-based diet. This film helped to illuminate how almost anyone, even athletes who need excessive amounts of energy and must remain in top shape to compete, can be a champion while abstaining from animal protein. While not an athlete myself, this engaging film reassured me that I could meet all of my nutritional goals while following a plant-based diet. The next time someone asks me the protein question, instead of replying with the scientific evidence like my yearly blood test results that demonstrate sufficient protein intake, perhaps I will simply respond with a question of my own: “Have you ever seen The Game Changers?”
Every Twelve Seconds, written by Timothy Pachirat
While most people would agree that slaughterhouse conditions are undesirable, to say the least, it is often surprisingly easy to overlook just how barbaric the reality is. Every Twelve Seconds, the title referring to the frequency at which cattle are slaughtered, spares none of the gruesome details of slaughterhouse work. Author and political scientist Timothy Pachirat went undercover at a cattle slaughterhouse facility for five months during which he gathered extensive information on the operations there. Before reading this book, I did not know what the job description of a “liver hanger” consisted of. As difficult as this book was to read, as an animal advocate, it served as an important lesson about the specifics of what exploited animals experience. This technical knowledge naturally helps me to justify my reasons for following a vegan diet and promoting compassion towards animals. While accounts such as these may be overwhelming for some, they are nonetheless a necessary step in becoming an informed advocate.
Blackfish, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Growing up, I never had the opportunity to visit SeaWorld for vacation or a class field trip. After seeing Blackfish, I do not regret that my childhood lacked this experience. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Blackfish examines the treatment of orcas in sea-parks and the results, which are often deadly, of the conditions they are subjected to. While I was familiar with the atrocities associated with animal agriculture, animal experimentation, and other animal issues, this film was my first dive into the world of animals in entertainment. I was shocked as I learned of the cruel capture and confinement of these highly intelligent and sensitive creatures. More than anything, I was appalled by the psychological trauma that orcas endure in captivity. This film left me with the haunting realization that these animals are far more cognitively attuned than we care to admit. If we fail to recognize this, not only will animals be harmed, but people will suffer as well, as we see in the film’s documentation of the orca-related deaths of humans.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, written by Michael Pollan
Most animal advocates could easily sit down and have a detailed conversation about the various plights facing animals today, especially when it comes to the effects of industrialized animal agriculture. However, understanding the cause of these issues is often more complex. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, served as a useful introduction to the history of the current American food system. Among other topics, his overview of how certain foods are produced in the United States sheds light on the effects of chemical fertilizers, the subsidization of farming, and economic implications of industrialization. I was fascinated as I learned how the aftermath of World War II changed the way crops are produced and how that, in turn, altered the diets of livestock animals. By tracing the path of American foods from farm to table, this book helped me to understand the nature of the current food system and begin to question how we can promote change from an informed perspective.
Sharkwater, directed by Rob Stewart
Getting back in the water after seeing Jaws was not difficult for me, but that does not mean that I am immune to the traditional belief that the ocean is swimming with sharks waiting to take a bite out of me the moment the opportunity arises. Sharkwater, directed by Rob Stewart, dispelled this myth. In this film, he examines the stigma against sharks that pervades our culture. Specifically, the film explores the capture and slaughter of sharks for their fins, used in shark fin soup, and other threats facing sharks today. Before watching this film, I was not aware of the need to add the overfishing of sharks to the unfortunately long list of cruelties facing animals. Stewart painfully but powerfully exposes the underbelly of the unconscionable shark finning trade. Ultimately, my experience with this film demonstrated that my woeful misunderstanding of these animals and my ignorance of the conditions they face is what truly warrants my fear.
Sources: Blackfish, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, The Elephant Whisperer, Every Twelve Seconds, The Game Changers, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Sharkwater