At vegan film festival, animal rights filmmaker argues for no dairies in park

02/07/2019

Surrounded by dairy farms and cattle ranches, vegans made their case for plant-based eating at the Mindful Eating Food and Film Festival held at the Dance Palace last Saturday. The festival, the first of its kind in Point Reyes Station, aimed to “get the conversation started between our connection to food, health and our humanity,” said Miyoko Schinner, a Nicasio resident, vegan cheese maker and one of the festival’s organizers. The hall was packed with vegans, few of whom identified as local. The most controversial film of the day targeted the practices of dairy farmers in the Point Reyes National Seashore: “The Shame of Point Reyes,” by Skylar Thomas. Although Ms. Schinner stressed that the organizers and filmmakers “are not here to attack agriculture practices—we’re here to start a conversation: a cordial conversation,” the film elicited hisses, boos and head shakes at each statistic or emotional appeal. Mr. Thomas, a filmmaker with an interest in sharks, focused on the environmental damage he believes dairy farms cause in the seashore and their impacts on elk and other wildlife, along with the treatment of calves, which are separated from cows soon after birth and housed in small pens. The latter practice is unjustifiable, he argues, as it isolates the young and prevents them from drinking their own mothers’ milk. (In the last section of the film, Mr. Thomas shot images of himself shirtless inside the cow pens to draw a parallel between the sanctity of a young cow’s life and his own.) Most controversially, Mr. Thomas questioned the very presence of dairy farms and ranches in the seashore, saying the park would be better off if agriculture were removed. Not in attendance were Point Reyes ranchers who had expressed displeasure to the organizers about the film. Several had seen a rough cut of the documentary and believed it portrayed their farms in a light that was not only unflattering but untrue. Mr. Thomas admitted he hadn’t spoken to any active ranchers for his film. “To me it’s really unfortunate that they didn’t have any balance—it was the sound of one extreme talking to the same extreme,” said beef rancher Kevin Lunny. “They’re patting each other on the back about what a good point they made without any counterpoints. There’s an entirely different way to view animal agriculture.” Organizers had invited ranchers to speak during a Q&A session, but they declined, some fearing the audience would be hostile. Organizer Dave Osborn, a plant-based diet proponent who lives on a ranch he describes as “in transition,” said he hoped environmentalists and ranchers could have a round-table discussion down the road to present a more holistic view of the issues. Ms. Schinner said the goal of the festival was not to denigrate the agriculture industry, but to create a conversation. “We’re not anti-farming,” she said. “We like to think of the future of food coming from plants.” (All of the food for sale at the festival—from burritos to chocolate to cheese—was vegan, made from seitan, soy and cashews.) She hopes that dairy and beef farmers will move away from animal products and diversify into creating plant-based foods, for which there is a growing economy. Mr. Lunny said that while he was interested in such a conversation, the park does not allow ranchers to diversify into crops. Ultimately, he said, “Ranchers out here care deeply about their animals: it’s home. We want the public to look out over our pastures and say, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful.' But you’re not going to get that from certain people who just want you gone.”