What inspired you to make Mad Cow Sacred Cow?
Anand Ramayya: I had just come back from working on a documentary in India where I had reconnected to my Indian heritage in a profound way for the first time. The trip also made me realize that I was completely in love and possibly ready to settle down with a wonderful Canadian farm girl who is now my wife. I was about to marry into a proud farm family with a long history of living on the land. We were feeding her parents’ cattle, and the Mad Cow crisis was all over the news. Farmers were going bankrupt, the public was in a state of hysteria over the controversy and for the first time I was questioning the
safety of my food, specifically my beloved burgers. I started doing research into how my food was being produced and came across one of my wife’s books called “Stolen Harvest” written by Dr. Vandana Shiva and in it was a chapter called Mad Cows and Sacred Cows. That chapter provided the framework for a 4 year investigation into food, culture, agriculture, the environment and cows that would result in “Mad Cow Sacred Cow”.
Along the way a lot of things happened that continued to inspire the journey: my in-laws announced they were going to slowly sell off the farm and get out of agriculture, the Mad Cow Crisis continued to sporadically rear its ugly head and the word “Crisis” would soon be common in our media – food crisis, agriculture crisis, economic crisis, energy crisis, environmental crisis. In my personal life, Teresa and I married and became parents to a baby boy named Owen, heightening not only my sense of fear but also my sense of purpose to make this film. We started shooting one and a half months after Owen was born.
How long did production take?
Production officially started in February 2007 and continued off and on until July of 2008. The entire process took much longer, researching the story, finding our subjects in Canada and India, financing, shooting and editing took 4 years.
How did you decide on what direction to take?
The Mad Cow or BSE Crisis was a departure point for this film; in a way it is my response to the BSE Crisis and because so much had been done about the BSE crisis – the science, politics and scandal of it, I realised early on that I didn’t want to retread that material. I wanted to connect this crisis to some of the bigger issues that affect our day to day lives, and I wanted to make that connection between food, agriculture, culture and ecology. (though oddly, I didn’t actually know that’s what I was doing until someone told me!)
Why be a character in your film?
The issues in Mad Cow Sacred Cow are all topical and timely but the thing that inspired me and really interested my supporters was the personal connections I had to this project. I am in a unique situation to be married into a Canadian farm family but having strong Hindu roots in Southern India. Both sides of my family have profound connections to the cow. As strange as that sounds, its true! And the more I learned about the Cow and its economic as well as cultural significance, the more I felt it was necessary to include my personal story to connect the dots.
How did the diversity of your crew influence the film?
My crew is the untold story of this film. My cinematographer Thomas Hale is a filmmaker, historian and philosopher who brought keen insight and saw things I only discovered in the editing room. My fixer in India was a young Muslim academic, filmmaker and journalist named Farhatullah Beig. His insight and passion really brought a new dimension to the film and helped me understand the complexities of India and its relationship with the Sacred Cow.
My co-producer in Canada, Ryan Lockwood, is a farm boy, raised on a farm with a large cattle operation. He brought a really unique insight into the world of the beef industry. His personal reactions to the farm crisis in India also made me truly realize that the plight of small farmers everywhere was common.
In the editing room the final and crucial crew member was Chris Bizzocchi. He came in with a fresh set of eyes and really made this film his own. Food is important to him and his family, having grown up in Vancouver and living there now. I feel he brought a sensitive, conscious urban perspective to the film. He really helped find the stories that would resonate.
To what extent was your story in place when you started to edit?
We had amassed a lot of material, (over 60 hours) and cutting that down was no small task. Our first assembly was four hours long and we thought all of it was interesting but you have to decide what’s essential and I had to go back to what my motivation was to make this film and stay focused on that, namely food, culture, and ecology.
The farm crisis and global food crisis are top of mind and sparking debate worldwide. How would you like Mad Cow Sacred Cow to contribute to the discussion?
I read this quote and felt this really summed up what I’m hoping people will think about after watching this film:
“How we eat determines how the world is used.” Wendell Berry
I wanted to make this film about big issues but it’s also very personal, and if the people who watch the film can have a personal experience that helps them think about how their own lives are connected to food, culture, and the environment, then we’ll have done something worthwhile.
Nettie Wiebe said “its about food but its also about how we live within our environment.” Again, I think its about making connections, recognizing interdependence between humankind and our life supporting systems, food, water, air, culture. I think that juxtaposing the Sacred Cow and the Mad Cow really allowed me to explore Hindu culture and modern corporate culture to show why these connections are important and how disastrous it can be when we ignore them. These are things we’ve taken for granted but our kids won’t be able to if we continue to behave the way we’re behaving. Every week there is a new “CRISIS” in the news; it feels like everything is reaching critical mass and on the verge of breakdown. I’m trying to make some small changes in my life and I’m hoping the story of Mad Cow Sacred Cow can connect with other normal likeminded people who just want to try and live more sustainably.
– Anand Ramayya