“Cattle consume more fish than all the people in the U.S. The cow, which is vegan, is the largest predator in the ocean,” said Gary Null. He was expounding on the subject of his new documentary, Saving the Planet — One Bite at a Time, which details his research on how our habit of eating meat contributes to the degradation of the environment. He believes that the simple step of removing meat from our diet is the easiest way to make a difference.
Null will be in Woodstock on Saturday, June 20, for the 7 p.m. showing of the film at Mountain View Studio in a fundraiser for Woodstock’s non-profit public radio station, WIOF 104. This event will be the film’s second screening, following the June 17 premiere in Manhattan, a benefit for WBAI, which, like WIOF, airs “The Gary Null Show” five days a week.
Known for his TV and radio shows, books on alternative health, and investigative reporting on environmental and health issues, Null is a controversial figure. Labeled a dangerous quack by members of the medical profession and pharmacological industry, he is seen as a hero by many natural health advocates. He is not afraid to be provocative in discussing what he considers the biggest problem involved in eating meat: not the health effects or the moral issues, although they are also important considerations, but the practical chain of consequences of raising and killing animals for food.
Concern about the global effects of mass meat production is not new. In 1971, Francis Moore Lappé’s best-selling Diet for a Small Planet launched a vegetarian movement by arguing that factory farming of animals was a major cause of world hunger. As environmental concerns multiply, Null links resource-intensive cattle farming with planetary devastation, beginning with what cows are fed, such as massive amounts of genetically modified corn and soybeans. Because of their tolerance to herbicides, Null believes, GMO crops encourage the extensive use of poisons to kill weeds, devastating food sources of pollinators such as bees and butterflies and thereby endangering human food supplies.
A 2013 article in the progressive journal Mother Jones lists several surprising ingredients of the bovine diet, such as sawdust (treated with nitrates to break down cellulose); chicken manure; bulk candy (gummy worms, candy corn, hot cocoa mix, etc., some of it including the wrappers); and the guts and other undesirable parts of fish, crabs, shrimp, and crawfish.
Corn and soy remain the most important foods for cattle and are grown with nitrogen fertilizer that is washed into waterways. “The nitrogen depletes oxygen and causes massive fish kills,” said Null in a phone interview. “There’s a dead zone at the outlet of the Mississippi River, where nothing can live. Another one has been found in the middle of the Atlantic.”
The plight of the Amazon rain forests is well-known, as cattle feed companies clear land to grow GMO crops, deplete the thin soil after a few years, and go on to clear more land, leaving behind patches of desert and contributing to climate change by depriving the atmosphere of oxygen-producing trees. Add the effect of methane produced by cows’ digestive systems, estimated to be fifteen times more heat-inducing to the environment than carbon dioxide.
As of June 12, the long-term drought in California prompted the governor to curtail the right to divert water for agricultural purposes, bringing into focus the vast quantities of water required for drinking, cleaning, and cooling on cattle ranches.
Reducing many of these effects would be simple, said Null. “I’m asking people to give up any food with a heartbeat or a face.”
He pointed out the challenge of getting people to change their habits, even though they may acknowledge the harm these habits may be doing to the environment. “We’re not going to stop driving cars, flying planes, having commerce delivered on trucks,” he said. “It’s not possible to give up fossil fuels, and the people who control our industries are not going to stop fracking. People say they want solar or wind power, but if you ask if they’re going to invest in it, they say, ‘Not right now.’”
There is, however, a chance that some people will take the small step of taking one item out of their diet, and the impact could be huge. He figures about five percent of the U.S. population are open to his message, or 16 million Americans. “Imagine 16 million people working together to get something done,” he mused. “We all want a better world. What can we do?”
Youth is the hope
Having owned a farm sanctuary for abused animals in Stone Ridge for 15 years, Null is no stranger to Woodstock, which he considers “one of those little oases of reason,” with plenty of residents open to progressive ideas — a perfect place to show his film. “I don’t try to change people’s minds. I’m not there to open a closed mind. I’m only interested in giving a message to people who can use it to go one step further to improve their life.”
Randi Steele of WIOF said donations at the showing of Null’s film will help the radio station pay bills and buy automation equipment so it can be on the air for more hours during the day. The station on Meads Mountain Road has been up and running since September 2014 and broadcasts daily from 3 p.m. till after midnight. Programming includes town board meetings and other community events, talk shows on local topics, and national programs provided by Pacifica Radio, including Null’s show.
“Gary Null is a renaissance man,” said Steele. “He does radio, research, movies, and he does them all quite well. He has a lot of information that no one else will give out. He has it first, and he vets it to make sure it’s accurate.”
Null places his hope in the young. “Youth are not yet corrupted by belief systems. If you show a video in a school just before lunch, show them how animals are treated at factory farms — cramping, disease, physical abuse, emotional isolation, the terror and trauma of slaughter — and you watch their faces. They don’t have defense mechanisms to cope. Then you say, ‘How do you feel about the chicken you’re about to eat?’ It changes them. It’s a form of trauma, it can leave a negative impact, but it’s also an awakening. Once they know the truth, they can use their youthful idealism and capacity for outrage to change things.”
Saving the Planet: One Bite at a Time will be shown on Saturday, June 20, at 7 p.m. Mountain View Studio, 20 Mountainview Avenue, Woodstock. Gary Null will be present at the event, a fundraiser for Woodstock’s non-profit public radio station, WIOF 104. A suggested donation of $20 is requested, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. All attendees will receive a free DVD of the film.