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Meet the Californian Filmmaker Leading a One-Man Crusade to Make Music Festivals Go Vegan

‘Cowspiracy’ director Kip Anderson claims animal agriculture is the top cause of environmental damage—so he’s convincing events like Mexico’s Comunité to ditch meat.
February 16, 2016, 11:45pm
Erez Avissar

On a dusky Wednesday evening in mid-January, I slipped off my shoes and walked towards the beach in Tulum, Mexico, where a new festival called Comunité was mid-way through its 15-hour run. The air was wet and cold, and the wind whipped the roiling ocean like an angry dominatrix. I was bone-tired, having come straight from a long night of partying at The BPM Festival in Playa Del Carmen, a resort town about an hour-long, bleary-eyed cab ride away.

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While both The BPM Festival and Comunité are beachside bacchanals that lean towards the house and techno spectrum, they're worlds apart in terms of their scope, the types of people they attract, and the general mood vibrating in the air. The former is basically the SXSW of Mexico—a sprawling marathon over 10 days with over 375 artists playing in 11 venues, including a giant LED-lit outdoor stage called The Jungle and several nightclubs.

Comunité, on the other hand, feels more like an intimate, laid-back hangout, with people wrapped in long shawls hugging each other and dancing under canopies of white sails. Its two ocean-side stages, built like thatched wooden huts, were less than a minute walk from each other, and the afterparty was hosted by German label Giegling in a former mansion of one of the world's most notorious drug lords, Pablo Escobar. The fledgling festival also puts a greater emphasis on local talents, with Mexico City's rising star AAAA (doing a live set with Tin Man under the brilliant moniker Tin Maaaan), CVMR founders Juann & Jonn, and recent Magda collaborator Baby Vulture joining international headliners Moodymann, Dasha Redkina, and Andrés.

Comunité

I met Kip Anderson while sitting in a weather-beaten wooden boat moored on the beach, sharing a joint with my friends. The long-haired Californian filmmaker held out a firm hand and lifted me out of the boat so we could find a quiet corner to talk about his latest film—a documentary released during the summer of 2014 (and re-released on Netflix in September of last year with Leonardo DiCaprio as an executive producer) called Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. Anderson also oversaw Comunité's food and drinks program, screened his film at the festival, built an art installation broadcasting startling facts about the environment, and even got some of the DJs to spread the word further by wearing shirts printed with said facts.

Anderson and co-director Keegan Kuhn's film is based on a startling premise: they claim that environmentalist groups are deliberately ignoring the number one culprit of global climate change—our consumption of meat. Cowspiracy argues that animal agriculture is the leading cause of environmental damage via factors like greenhouse gases, water consumption, and wildlife extinction. The documentary also suggests that environmental groups like Greenpeace are deliberately not to tackle this issue. "They're not only choosing to not talk about it—they're almost covering it up," said Anderson with a furrowed brow.

The Giegling-hosted afterparty at Pablo Escobar's former mansion, which is being converted into a hotel

To bring awareness to how not eating meat can save the earth, Anderson worked with Comunité to help the environmentally-minded festival to develop a completely vegan food and drinks menu—a feat he claims is the first of its kind in the world. Below, I spoke to the filmmaker about why he thinks our addiction to eating meat is killing the earth, how DJs can be effective spokespeople for environmental activism, and why "green" festivals like Lightning in a Bottle and Desert Hearts are being hypocrites by selling burgers.

THUMP: Hey Kip! What's Cowspiracy about?

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Kip Anderson: It's a film that talks about the animal agriculture industry. Raising animals for food is the number-one leading cause of environmental destruction. It's destroying the plants. It's the leading cause of manmade greenhouse gases. It's the leading cause of water consumption. It's the leading cause of water pollution. It's the leading cause of species extinction and rainforest destruction. And so the whole twist is that this is happening, but the environmental groups like Greenpeace, Sierra Club—they're not only not talking about it, but they're almost covering it up.

Kip Anderson

Why not?

Well that's what the movie is about. We do awkward interviews with [these environmental groups]. Bottom line is that they don't think [getting people to stop eating meat] is money-maker for them, so they're more concerned about funding than the planet. They don't think it's a "win" campaign at all. No one wants to hear "you're not gonna win."

Are you a dance music person?

Well, not like a DJ or anything, but I'm into the music. I go to quite a few festivals that focus on the community or the environment like Burning Man.

How did you, as a California-based filmmaker, get involved with this small festival in Mexico?

The people behind the festival watched my film and were blown away, like completely transformed. So they contacted me and said, "Come out here. We want this to be truly sustainable." They're called Comunité—community—and they're all about sustainability and living beyond your own little bubble. The best, most powerful way you can do that is [through] what you put on the plate. I helped with the menu and oversaw what they have.

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When you choose to not eat animal products, meat, or dairy, you're putting something else above your own desires or addiction to that. So I think this is the world's first-ever musical festival where all the meals are vegan—not even vegetarian, but vegan. They're the first festival that's walking the talk. I go to [Californian tranformational festival] Lightning in a Bottle—have you heard of that?

Yeah.

They talk about the stuff, and then you see them serving chicken and beef. Everything is thrown out the window, because you could have solar panels, but if you're serving meat, there's nothing that even compares. It's the worst possible thing for the planet.

Detroit's Andrés

You mentioned Lightning in a Bottle, and there are a lot of festivals in the US and other places that have this environmental aspect. Do you think it can sometimes be a marketing gimmick?

It's completely a marketing gimmick. That's the matter of the film. When you see it, some of the groups, their profession is they make millions of dollars on the environment. And when we interview them, some of them really don't know this information. But it's a complete marketing gimmick, and that's what's so frustrating and a huge inspiration for making the film. How to make money on the word "sustainability," how to make money on the word "conscious." [Festivals like Lightning in a Bottle] do everything but the biggest thing you can possibly do. They don't do it because they think that's a little too extreme, or that people won't like that, or might not want to go.

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They're not going all the way.

Yeah, it's essentially calling your festival a "health festival," and you're serving cigarettes.

Where does the food at Comunité come from?

I don't know. I think locally. A lot of people are concerned with local, but whether you get [food] here or from Australia has such a minor footprint on environmental impact. The greenhouse gases [emitted by going local] is only about four percent of the entire carbon footprint. So that's another thing. People say "I'm about local" or "I'm about sustainable." Local doesn't mean that much.

Did you do anything else to help Comunité be environmentally conscious?

Yeah we have some installations that show how much—in just [the festival's timespan of] 18 hours—how much forest we saved, how much water we saved, how much CO2, greenhouse gas emissions we saved, just from being completely plant-based vegan.

Mexico City rising star AAAA

Did Comunité screen the film?

Yeah, I showed the film last night to all the DJs and all the artists. And we had a really nice vegan dinner informing [people] why this is a big part of the festival. Some of the DJs are actually wearing shirts that have facts from the film here. With Boiler Room [livestreaming the festival], there are millions of people watching—it's cool how this is where the information is.

What do you think about music festivals being a vehicle for environmentalism?

I think it's super powerful. That's why I put messages on the DJs' shirts. You have people that are really influenced, especially the cool kids. It's the cool people who are really thinking outside the box, and when people are tapped into full consciousness, they become a vehicle for inspiration for everyone else.

Cowspiracy is out now on Netflix

Michelle Lhooq is THUMP's Features Editor. Follow her on Twitter.