April 13, 2016KR BlogEnthusiamsEthics


One night last week, when my family was still vegetarian, I went to pick up my daughter Lola from her friend Rio’s house. When I got there, Lola and Rio were still immersed in a movie. I sat on the couch.

“I saw Cowspiracy,” Rio’s mom said, coming in from the other room. “Have you seen Cowspiracy?”

Cowspiracy?” I asked.

“Yeah, Cowspiracy. You know: Cowspiracy.”

Cowspiracy,” I said.

I spent some seconds in which I imagined, negotiating the slippery deck of a ship a-roll on the high seas, cows, rum-drunk, sporting eye patches and wooden legs.

Then it came to me.

“An Ag thing?” I asked. “Cowspiracy. Big Ag? Bad Ag?”

“Yes! Cowspiracy. Do you know what they do?”

“The Ag biz? Yeah. I think so. For sure. Monsanto.”

She looked at me hard.


“I don’t think you do,” she said. “I don’t think you get it. What’s really happening. How big the cover-up.”

I should have said, right then, “Yeah, for sure, you’re so right, Rio’s Mom.”

And I should have continued: “Thanks for being concerned about the planet. Thanks for your earnest passion, which manifests in disseminating to our community important information about the state of the environment. Thanks for helping to expose the wrongdoers so that we, as a people, once fully educated, might rise up against our masters and make the world, our world, a better, sustainable place.”

And I should have finished with: “As a matter of fact, Rio’s Mom, I’m gonna pull Lola right now up off this couch and away from this dumbshit movie about talking dogs and take her home and we’re all, the whole Tanguay family, all five of us plus Brandon, gonna watch Cowspiracy tonight, even though it’ll make us grumpy tomorrow, especially Mosey, on account of staying up way past our bedtime.”

But I really, really didn’t want to watch yet another documentary by yet another elitist lefty exposing the dark underbelly of Big Whatever. I already have to live 24/7 with myself, an elitist lefty if there ever was one. Also, my aversion to Al Gore, the king of pedantic know-it-alls, is real, and once I caught on to the title, it was his face that replaced the image of the pirate cows. More precisely, it was his face pressed against Tipper’s on stage at the 2000 Democratic convention, in the fakiest, forciest kiss since Michael and Lisa Marie at the ’94 Video Music Awards. It’s an awful fate, I assure you, to live a life having to recall, even if only when hearing of a new environmental documentary, Al forcing himself on Tipper.

And so I didn’t say anything bold and supportive to Rio’s mom about her earnest passion. Instead, I muttered. I kind of rolled my head to the side, as elitist lefties do, and was like, “But I do get it. There’s gonna be a guy. He’s gonna tell me Big Ag is bad. He’s gonna interview people in gorgeous natural settings. There’ll be scenes of cornfields and fields of wheat under great big blue skies. The guy’ll phone, from his apartment or grungy little office, important people who won’t take or return his calls, no matter how many times he leaves messages with their Public Relations Professionals. And there’ll be statistics proving imminent doom.”

Rio’s mom looked down, then back up at me. I’d hurt her feelings. I’d offended her. Her eyes, as they say, were on fire. “It’s bigger than you think. You don’t know how big it is. You need to watch Cowspiracy.”

I promise that when I left Rio’s house, I had no intention of watching Cowspiracy. It’s true I felt bad for hurting Rio’s mom’s feelings, but at 50, I’ve been living with guilt in one form or another for decades. That is, I knew we’d both get over it: she’d question her passion for a minute then realize I was just another do-nothing elitist asshole; I’d spend a few seconds questioning my cynicism then hit the freezer for ice cream.

But after putting the kids to bed, I found myself, carton of Moose Tracks on lap, scrolling through documentary titles on Netflix. And there it was, sandwiched between The Blue Planet (“Hold your breath. Descend into the deep. Swim with glorious and mysterious creatures in an alien landscape”) and History of the Eagles (“There’s plenty of room at the Hotel California—but be wary of success and life in the fast lane”): a huge, black, wide-eared cow staring at me through a cattle gate, backgrounded by a glorious, highly cinematic sunset. The vitals: 2014, 5 stars, NR, 1H 30M. The blurb: “A filmmaker blows the lid off a conspiracy of silence. The risks are heavy but our planet’s future is worth it.”

The risks are heavy. No doubt. By the time my companion, Sandy, came into the room, I was already fifteen or twenty minutes in.

“What’s this,” she asked, as some guy from some institute or other in front of two enormous weeping willows was saying, “If you listen to a majority of the major environmental organizations, they’re not telling you to do much besides live your life the way you’ve been living it, but change a light bulb from time to time, drive less, use less plastic, recycle more. It’s better for their fundraising and better for their profile to create a victim-and-perpetrator sort of plotline.”

Cowspiracy,” I said.

Cowspiracy?” she asked.

“Yeah, Cowspiracy. You know: Cowspiracy.”


“Yes! Cowspiracy. Do you know what they do? Do you know how big this is?”

“Sounds depressing. I don’t want to watch this.”

But watch it she did, kind of slowly backpedaling into a sitting position on the couch, her eyes never leaving the screen. It didn’t take long from there to watch the rainforests disappear at the rate of, like, one Rhode Island a day and the sellouts at Big Environmental Watchdog Group refuse to take a stand against Big Cattle (it may have been because people who take that stand keep being killed?) and to learn that man boobs are caused by cow milk. It turns out that a good half of everything bad environmentally could be fixed relatively easily if we just stopped with the cow products.

I threw away the now empty carton of Moose Tracks and texted Rio’s mom.

“watched cowspiracy,” I wrote. “sandy’s making us go vegan.”

The next day, on the porch, a box of beginnings, from Rio’s mom:

Vegan stuff

And then, from the library:

Vegan cookbooks