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#UNLITTER The Food System: Seaspiracy Thoughts and Clarification

By Tessa Whitby @UNLITTER Team

The good thing about the latest Netflix documentary Seaspiracy is it has everyone talking about something that they were not talking about a few weeks ago -the horrendous impact of industrial fishing and plastic presence in the ocean. For those who have seen the film, it is undeniable that commercial industrial fishing companies are a major culprit in destroying the biodiversity of our oceans. Still, many scientists, marine biologists, activists, and other viewers are criticizing the film for some of its scientific inconsistencies and misrepresentations of cultures and communities (especially indigenous peoples), as well as small-scale sustainable fisheries.

Seaspiracy Netflix Documentary
Image sourced from @seaspiracy (IG)

While sometimes sensationalism plays a positive role in raising awareness on important issues to target audiences and help shift consumer choices, it's still crucial to watch environmental documentaries like this with a critical eye. In order to truly #UNLITTER our oceans, our eco-systems, and our food system, we must focus on solution-oriented goals that are rooted in restorative science and take action in influencing systemic change.

We are certainly responsible for our own lifestyle choices and how they may affect the environment, but we can’t forget that ‘big industry’ is the true culprit and is always looming over our consumer biases. We also must remember that certain communities are not as privileged as others, and shaming individuals can divert attention that should be directed toward the industry itself and government policies. In order to provoke true systemic change, we need to remain inspired and continue to take action to push our representatives to hold corporations and manufacturers accountable for their actions. Division helps nothing, proactive initiative and open communication can.

The truth about the climate crisis is already horrifying enough and certainly, something that does strike fear, it is still vital to always watch environmental documentaries with a critical eye and be wary of one-sided perspectives backed by questionable facts. When filmmakers twist the facts and dramatize already scary issues, this can end up making the rest of the film untrustworthy and leave viewers confused, even when some of the major points are true. This can have a ripple of negative effects that counteract progress being made by those who are working hard to discover sustainable solutions rooted in restorative science and regeneration. We must consider the great impact movies like this have on racial injustice and the misrepresentation of underserved communities who are already victims in the wake of western culture. When we think about sustainability, we must consider not only the environmental impacts, but the economic, societal, and cultural factors, that have been disproportionately affected by capitalist demands.

Scientists have enough difficulty convincing society to change behavior and consumer demands to secure the future.

When you have a movie like Seaspiracy that is made so accessible to the mainstream world, it’s absolutely imperative that the facts are not only right but present a pro-active silver lining that accurately represents the very real efforts being made by conservation activist groups and science. Additionally, it should give a voice to cultures and communities who are disproportionately victimized by western culture demands. This does not nullify the call to action of the movie for the intended audience, but it does create some misinformation that should be acknowledged and clarified.

What truth does Seaspiracy highlight?

  • Industrial fishing is an enormous issue.

  • Overfishing is absolutely a serious problem.

  • Fishing is a very dangerous job.

  • Fishing gear is a large factor in macroplastic pollution.

  • Sharks do regulate ecosystems as apex predators. They are a critical part of the balance in our oceans. Bycatch and finning is a real threat.

  • Trusting labels is not guaranteed. (This is a problem for many things aside from industrial fishing.)

  • Anyone who has the privilege and means to not consume seafood should absolutely take responsibility.

Major points to clarify:

  • The statistic that claims 48% of plastic in oceans is from fishing nets, is taken from one specific study of one ocean gyre by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This does not take away from the fact that fishing gear pollution is a big problem. A Greenpeace study in 2019 claims that 10% of plastic in our oceans is from fishing gear, and 70% of macroplastics is related to fishing gear. However, it does not mean we should write off caring about the influence of microplastics, soft plastics, and single-use plastics- they are an enormous problem that should not be overlooked.

  • The film implied beach clean-ups are hardly effective. Beach clean-ups are very impactful and essential! Eunomia’s report on plastics in the marine environment shows that the largest amount of plastic litter (over 80% of the annual input) comes from land-based sources. 94% of plastic pollution entering the ocean ends up on the seafloor. “The amount estimated to be on beaches globally is five times greater” - 2000kg/km2, compared to 70 kg/km2 of the seabed (compared to >1% of marine plastics floating on or near the surface). The review suggests that focusing efforts on regular beach clean-ups has a great impact. It’s important that we keep #UNLITTERING beaches because it DOES make a difference!

  • The movie misrepresented and falsely accused groups like the Plastic Pollution Coalition. When corrupted by greed, capitalism creates a lot of complex issues where sometimes activist groups like PPC, have to work with the 'enemy' in order to influence them. We should support these groups because they are some of the only groups making the effort to directly impact corporations and manufacturers and hold them accountable, and they are already extremely underfunded. We will not see change if we don’t support the people active in pushing policies through legislation and enforcing systemic change from within. Currently, the Plastic Pollution Coalition is actively working on a National Plastics Ban in US Congress that is very important and deserves support! We can not let misinformation damage the hard work these groups have put in to influence systemic change within our governments.

  • Other groups that were falsely demonized in the film include The Marine Stewardship Council, Oceana, Earth Island Institute, and others. These groups all play a crucial role in fighting the plastic industry head-on and restoring our oceans. The image depicted of them in the film was twisted to fit the movie’s narrative better. It is not the time to debate whether or not we should support these groups. If you are questioning their motives and actions, it is important to research more deeply to see for yourself the direct impact they have had on major changes on government and industrial levels. Many of these groups are now receiving hate mail and death threats, while they are just trying to do all they can under the difficult circumstances created by industrial demands. The impact they have already made amounts to a very measurable difference.

  • Sustainable fishing is possible. Many small-scale sustainable fisheries and marine biologists are working first hand on regenerative sciences that can help restore our oceans and tackle large-scale problems head-on. Seaworthy Collective’s roadmap for a regenerative blue economy is a great place to learn some of the detailed systems of solutions that can benefit ocean biodiversity and regeneration. Their collaborators Regenerative Resource Co and the Climate Foundation are making great strides in carbon sequestration through mangrove afforestation and marine permaculture. These efforts contribute toward restoring ocean circulation and life in the oceans, while also taking on climate change and offering food security and economic security to millions of people who rely on the ocean for a livelihood.

These are just a few examples of scientists and people doing great work, who do not deserve to be shamed or misrepresented in the important efforts they are making toward restoring our oceans. If this change inspires you, apply to become a co-founder today!

  • The film also greatly overlooks indigenous cultures and the daily obstacles many face who are disproportionately affected by capitalism in indigenous ancestral lands and underdeveloped coastal communities. Not everyone has the privilege or sources accessible to make the shift to a plant-based diet. The target audience of the film was intended to be the privileged western society, not for indigenous cultures whose traditions have been respecting the biodiversity of our oceans for millennia before industrialization. It's vital not to shame or attack people who have been practicing restorative lifestyles long before we commercialized our food system. These cultures do not deserve to be misrepresented.

Whatever conclusion you drew from the film, consider the ways how racial injustice is a major issue directly fueled by the industrial food system. If we continue to overlook these factors, even to support a narrative we like, it can be very damaging to future progress on so many levels. Blogger and podcaster Kristy Drutman (@browngirl_green), has some great content and educational interviews that analyze environmental racism issues and racial inequities in the food system. She has an upcoming podcast episode that will directly address the "Seaspiracy issues" topic in more detail.

The truth is, all of our consumption habits are inherently linked to nature, and the industrialization of ALL parts of the food system needs to be acknowledged and drastically changed. We can not consider industrial fishing to be more or less of a threat than industrial meat, or even industrial agriculture. There is an inherent relationship between all of these infrastructures. It’s crucial that we develop a better relationship with how our food is sourced, no matter what it's made of.

So, for those who are privileged enough and have the means to choose a plant-based diet, make sure you have a good understanding of where your food sources come from. Supporting local farms that use regenerative and organic practices should be a priority for shifting lifestyle choices to better the environment. Make sure not to support processed plant-based foods without knowing the sources, as many of them can be grown unethically and destroy wildlife and biodiversity. Whole foods are not only better for your health, but they can be better for the environment when holistically managed and harvested. Also, consider your climate when shopping for produce. Over purchasing imported foods is not without its dangers. So, if you were moved enough by this film to commit to a vegan diet, make sure that the actions you are taking don’t actually contribute toward a different devil.

Keep in mind, that as we debate about “meat or no meat” with each other, the industrialization of the food system prevails as one of the biggest threats to biodiversity, right alongside corporate plastic manufacturers and the oil industry. The scale at which we mass-produce every type of food, wrap it in plastic, and ship it across the world, is quite literally the driving force in the climate crisis, the health crisis, and social injustice. Whether you dine on shrimp, big macs, or tofu, the industrial influence on the food system needs to be drastically dismantled and redirected toward sustainable and restorative practices. The global goal should be focused less on “go vegan” and more toward “food sovereignty”, otherwise we will be just trading one evil for a new one.

Though fear can be a great motivator to overcome big issues, when facts are dramatized or twisted to evoke an emotional response it can blind us to the truth in the even bigger problems. The truth about the climate crisis is that it is scary enough on its own, without any spin on the facts. There is no benefit to fear-mongering, or guilt-tripping, or shaming each other, when there is so much work to be done to take action in changing the system. Still, if Seaspiracy inspired you to research more deeply and self-educate about the realities of the environmental disasters we are facing, then this is a good thing.

We encourage checking out our list of "#UNLITTER Solution-Oriented Netflix Picks" that focus on regenerative sciences and positive progressive options. There are many environmentally destructive aspects of “big industry” in our food system that should not be overlooked. It’s our responsibility to lift up and empower groups and individuals who are solution-oriented. There is a huge movement of people who recognize this and are doing their best to influence a shift toward regenerative and sustainable practices that deserve to be heard. The more we learn, the more united we will be. Let's stand together to #UNLITTER the food system and restore our Earth.

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