Discovery's "Life" A Glorious Follow-Up to "Planet Earth", but Party Smacks of Hypocricy


Discovery and the BBC’s new series, “Life” is knock-your-socks off fantastic. Seven years in the making, the all-animal cast performs feats of daring, acts of subterfuge, and engages in fantastical flirting, all captured with crazy high-def cameras that had a lifelong devotee of nature programs like myself practically gasping out loud at the NYC premiere event last week. I’m talking totally amazing cinematography and painstakingly-procured shots (one of which- an English forest scene only a minute long – was two years in the making!) of animals and plants doing what we love to watch them do.

Narrated beautifully by Oprah Winfrey (David Attenborough narrates the BBC/UK version), I was lost in wonder for the length of the screening, which began with a cheetah hunting an ostrich, and ended with a dolphin’s narrow escape from an Orca. In between mantis stretched it’s legs in Madagascar, chameleons showed off their insance colors, Ibex fleed from foxes in Israel, flying fish in slo-mo skimmed the waves, hippos clashed over mates, grebes walked on water just for the joy of it, poison arrow frogs went to great lengths to protect their young (and an octopus gave its life for the next eight-legged generation), capuchin monkeys used tools and so much more.

Tune in at 8pm on Sunday March 21st to catch the magic on Discovery and other channels (check local listings).

A sneak preview of “Life”: Here’s how one of the planet’s smaller creatures makes a getaway.

BUT. To walk out of a beautifully put-together film highlighting “life” in all it’s multifarious beauty – which goes without saying is in peril worldwide, primarily due to human beings and our actions – to walk out in a sense of wonder at the life that surrounds us, and to smell cooking hamburgers, well it just stole the magic. Yup, mini-hamburgers and the smell of meat were what greeted us after the showing. And I feel compelled to write about it, because it is EXACTLY this disconnect between our actions and our intentions that has brought us to the brink of the major extinction that we are at the helm of.

As omnivores, we have the choice to eat and enjoy a terrific variety of foods, and can live very healthfully (probably even more so) eschewing meat from our diets. And before you mention it, please don’t compare me or the other well-dressed attendees of the Lincoln Center premiere of Life to wild animals we watched who must eat what they can catch, when they can catch it. We humans have developed agriculture, food processing and cooking, and even restaurants.

And however you feel about the eating of animals (I’m not even going to go into animal cruelty here), nobody can deny the fact that meat takes an incredible amount of energy – and produces tons of emissions, compared to veggies: Cows produce more methane (a greenhouse gas), takes more fresh water, and create more CO2 per pound than almost any other food. Climate change directly affects the viability of animals’ habitats (and less habitat means fewer animals, plants and insects). Cattle farming is responsible for rainforest destruction in South America, and pork farming here in the US (and abroad) is so polluting that some local water supplies are rendered undrinkable near hog farms. We also poach and eat (especially in the case of fisheries) other animals out of existence or nearly so.

While this might not convince everyone to be a vegetarian tomorrow, is it so much to ask that a film celebrating life (and PR team promoting it) would respect it a little more? Would a single veggie meal make anyone feel terribly deprived or something? We are NOT the wild animals we watched on the screen, we have choice.

I let my consternation be known to the Discovery team. I wrote: “We are very healthfully able to eschew carbon-producing, energy intensive foods like beef and fish, who have enough pressure on their populations and habitats-thanks to our voracious appetites-as is.”

Amber Harris, Manager of Digital Communications at Discovery had this to say in response: “We certainly support everyone’s ability to make their own dietary decisions (including cheetahs, Komodo dragons, humpback whales and humans, too). That being said, we offered a variety of options for everyone to select from.”

Serving meat and fish at an event centered around the gloriousness of life is the very definition of cognitive dissonance. My date and I left disgusted, but not surprised, and walked uptown to Blossom, where the proprietors truly care about life – and animals- by not eating them.

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick.com and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.