By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
A variety of films have recently raised awareness of the importance of shunning meat, for health and environmental reasons. For example, Cowspiracy pointed out that animal husbandry creates more greenhouse gases than all the cars in the world combined, and What the Health taught us how major ‘health’ associations like the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Association continue to encourage the eating of meat although it has been associated with serious health issues, including cancer.
Now, there’s a new free film about veganism that’s both heart wrenching and inspiring, and it will make you think twice about your diet. H.O.P.E. What You Eat Matters, by Austrian filmmaker, Nina Messinger takes you on a cinematic journey through Europe, India and the USA to investigate the consequences of our diet.
H.O.P.E. stands for Healing Of Planet Earth, and it uses the accounts of experts in nutrition, medicine, science, and agriculture, as well as with farmers and people who have recovered from severe illnesses, to show the importance of changing our eating habits.
You’ll hear from the likes of Dr. Jane Goodall (Primatologist, UN Messenger of Peace), Dr. Vandana Shiva (Physicist, Scientific Adviser, Environmentalist), Dr. Thomas Wendt (Cardiologist and Rehabilitation Medicine Specialist) and many more.
But this is not a documentary that’s easy to watch – the movie alternates distressing images of tortured animals with inspirational stories of people who switched to a plant-based diet. Breaking all the rules of film distribution, Nina Messinger decided to make the film available on YouTube, free of charge to allow everyone to see it and be encouraged to take action on their diet.
In this Exclusive Interview with H.O.P.E’s director, Nina Messinger, we ask her who inspires her work, what she hopes to achieve with this new production, and why she went vegan in the first place.
When did you decide to remove animals from your diet?
I have not eaten meat for nearly twenty years. As a child, I witnessed the slaughter of a cow, and for the first time, I became aware of the connection between a living creature and the food on my plate. It was at this point that I lost my appetite for meat.
In my early 20s, I began to attend lectures, seminars, and training sessions in the health field, where I repeatedly heard of the healing power of a purely plant-based diet. I found this fascinating, and as a result, devoted myself to studying this topic intensively. In the process, I gradually changed my own diet – with astonishing results.
By renouncing animal products and eating a whole food, plant-based diet I not only felt better spiritually but also physically – my agonising psoriasis and my migraines disappeared, and I felt considerably more energetic.
How do you feel people are best persuaded to change their eating habits?
Diet is very personal and everyone wants to control personal decisions themselves. Therefore, I believe a change in eating habits is best accomplished by presenting factual information and allowing individuals to join the dots and make a more informed decision themselves.
It can often also be useful to frame things in a way that serves the individual personally. For example, when I speak with people who eat a lot of meat, I explain it is better to eat less meat as this has been shown to improve health and has less of an impact on the environment that forms the indispensable basis of life for them personally and for their descendants. The fact that fewer animals will have to suffer is, for many people, unfortunately merely a welcomed side effect.
An important point to note is that, to me, when talking about a plant-based diet its important to convey its not about ‘giving up’ anything, because we get so much from it; health, compassion and a lifestyle that has less impact on our environment.
In 2011 you released your first book about going vegan. What response did you get from your readers?
Many readers wrote to me to say that, because of my boo, Thou shalt not kill! A plea for a non-violent diet,” , they changed their diet and see animals in a new way. This was a great encouragement to me and was a huge contributing factor in deciding to make the film. I wanted to do more on this issue, to delve even deeper, and felt the medium of film would allow me to convey what I wished to more emotionally and would reach a wider audience more easily.
What was your main goal making the film?
After my book was published, I felt the need to do more. There had already been many important films made about the destruction of the environment due to animal agricultural and the effects of animal products on our health. However, a key component that I felt was missing was the animal abuse by the agricultural industry due to greed. So I decided to make a comprehensive film to show both the power of the individual as a consumer and the far-reaching consequences of consuming animal products.
I wanted to make it obvious that an animal-based diet harms everyone – that it endangers our health, creates incomprehensible suffering for animals, destroys our environment, promotes global hunger and forced migration. I believe that recognising these relationships is crucial for the psychological as well as the physical survival of humanity. These challenges have motivated and inspired me to make my film. Too many people are unaware of these important connections.
My goal is to help people realise that each one of us can have a tremendous impact through our daily actions by shopping as a conscious consumer, choosing organic products, and eating a whole food, plant-based diet. These daily actions have the ability to create positive change on a global scale and make this world a better place for us all.
I wanted to use the power of images of convey these messages – not only are images faster to take in, they also have a longer lasting impact and can still be effective weeks, months and even years after viewing. That’s how I came up with the idea to make a film. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I started to bring my film to life in 2012.
What do you think differentiates H.O.P.E. from other documentaries about animal cruelty?
There are several differences between H.O.P.E. What You Eat Matters and other documentaries on animal cruelty, but I think one of the most significant is that my film shows the sad lives and deaths of animals on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, as well as the joyful lives they could be living. I felt it was important to not only show suffering, but to also make the audience aware of animals’ deeper emotional lives and how humans can have more compassionate, kinder relationships with animals – these scenes give hope.
Another significant difference between my documentary and others of this kind is that H.O.P.E. What You Eat Matters looks at the three main areas of damage caused by animal agriculture; the impact on our health; the impact on our environments and most importantly, the impact on the lives of the animals, rather than focusing on one aspect.
How did you choose and select your interviewees?
I wanted to interview people from all over the world who are experts, come at the topic from different perspectives and support the film’s key messages. It was important to me that everyone I interviewed be critical of the animal-based western diet and mass animal husbandry.
I believe I brought together some of the best in the field in my film and was lucky to interview Jane Goodall, T. Colin Campbell, Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Vandana Shiva, Melanie Joy, Marc Bekoff and many more. There was no one individual who struck me above the others, I feel that every encounter was equally valuable and significant, and that everyone involved brought something unique to the film. I am immensely grateful to all the interviewees for their time, knowledge and passion.
What was the most challenging aspect of making this movie?
The greatest challenge I faced making this film was the extreme difficulty of obtaining filming permits for factory farm facilities. This problem did not occur with vegetable or fruit farmers. I found that both questionable and surprising. Should we not all have the right to see how and where our food is being produced? If we are not allowed to see how our food is made, do we really want to eat it?
Your home country features a lot of meat in its traditional diet. How will it adjust to veganism?
Meat consumption in Austria is, to my knowledge, no greater than in Germany or the U.S., for instance. But we’re having a lively debate here about the topic, seeing increasingly stricter animal welfare requirements come in, and, among the younger population, seeing a sharp increase in the number of vegetarians and vegans, just as in many other industrialised countries.
As the population learns more about the connection between meat consumption and the destruction of the environment, as well as about the astounding sentience of animals, the way people think and feel is starting to change. And by trying something new, experimenting, and exchanging information, more and more people are discovering delicious, healthy alternatives to animal products.
Where has your film been screened so far?
H.O.P.E. What You Eat Matters has been screened all over the world. People have organised screenings in the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, India, Bali, Russia, Luxemburg, Latvia, Hong Kong, Poland, South Africa, Brazil and many other countries, and the reactions have been fantastic! I have received a lot positive and moving feedback, and every comment is a gift that I am incredibly grateful for – because every individual counts!
What was most rewarding in making the film?
There were many rewarding aspects! I am very grateful for all of the stimulating and informative conversations that I was able to have – with internationally renown experts such as T. Colin Campbell, Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jane Goodall, Vandana Shiva, Melanie Joy or Marc Bekoff. Just as rewarding have been the conversations with farmers and people from all different walks of life who have recovered from severe illnesses, simply by changing their eating habits.
These encounters and conversations led me, my family, my team and those who have watched my film to become more conscious of the food they eat. I was also able to experience the blessing of seeing my own father’s health improve by switching to an organic, whole food, plant-based diet. He radically changed his diet during the making of my film in 2012 after a cancer diagnosis. His condition improved and he is fine today despite the negative prognosis of doctors and his refusal of conventional cancer treatment.
This film has been, and continues to be, an incredibly rich and rewarding experience for me personally, and I am so grateful to those that made it possible and all those that have watched it so far.
What are your expectations for future of the plant-based movement?
The human race is growing at an explosive rate, and in view of climate change, which animal agricultural plays a significant part in, it is clear that, if we continue along this path without change, there will not be enough food on this planet for all of its inhabitants.
This year, Earth Overshoot Day came on August 1. On that day, the human race had consumed all of the resources available to it for this year, and for the remainder of the year, it will be stealing the resources of future generations.
A plant-based diet is an important factor in shrinking the ecological footprint and reducing resource consumption. More and more people desire this, and since, at least in industrialised countries it is no longer a problem to subsist on plants in a way that is tasty, healthy, and rich in variety, more and more people are choosing this path.
To watch H.O.P.E., a free film about veganism, just click below.