August 22, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Brian Kateman and Journey Wade-Hak
Culture Representation: Taking place in various U.S. cities, the documentary film “Meat Me Halfway” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) discussing the factory farming industry’s effects on the environment and individual choices on whether not to eat meat.
Culture Clash: The debate continues over choices to be a meat eater versus being a vegan/vegetarian.
Culture Audience: “Meat Me Halfway” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in getting various perspectives on how the food and drinks we consume not only affect our health but also the environment.
“Meat Me Halfway” is not a preachy documentary that pushes a one-sided animal-rights agenda. It’s a well-rounded film with diverse viewpoints and options to help people decide if they want to be meat eaters or non-meat eaters. The filmmakers are very up front with their intent to give information to meat-eating people about why and how meat eating can be gradually reduced or eliminated from someone’s diet. However, the filmmakers also realisitically know that eating meat is a human lifestyle choice that isn’t going away anytime soon.
“Meat Me Halfway” co-directors/co-writers Brian Kateman and Journey Wade-Hak make their feature-film directorial debuts with this documentary and are also two of the movie’s producers. Kateman also serves as the documentary’s narrator, interviewer and on-camera guide during his cross-country journey in the U.S., to look at various sides of the meat-eating debate. As the co-founder president of the non-profit group Reducetarian Foundation, Kateman believes in the approach that getting a lot of people to stop eating meat can be effective if people gradually reduce their meat consumption, instead of pressuring people to immediately stop eating meat.
In the beginning of the documentary, Kateman appears on camera and makes this statement: “One of the reasons why I wanted to make this documentary is I’m confused. I’m a guy who wants to end factory farming. And I start a non-profit organization to make that happen. And so many people seem seriously pissed off about it. There are so many alarms going off from scientific bodies about the problems with our food system—particularly factory farming. And yet, meat consumption continues to climb.”
Factory farming, as opposed to organic farming, puts an emphasis on mass producing animals that can be slaughtered for meat or used for dairy products. Most people have seen photos or videos of these types of farms, which keep the animals in tightly confined, often unsanitary quarters that can only be described as cruel. However, whenever big money is involved, don’t expect there to be immediate changes to the factory farm system when the system is allowed under the law.
That leads anti-factory farming activists to take the approach that the best way to make changes in the system is to reduce consumer demand for meat. That doesn’t mean that the majority of the world will become vegetarians or vegans in a short period of time. But groups such as the Reducetarian Foundation want to educate people on the individual and environmental benefits of reducing meat consumption.
It was a good creative decision to make Kateman appear on camera and share his thoughts and reactions to what he finds out during the making of this documentary. He brings an engaging, likable tone to the film that will keep viewers interested. Kateman also reveals some of his own personal stories about how pressure from peer groups and his family (he was raised as a meat eater) affected his diet and nutrition decisions over the years.
Let’s face it: A lot of pro-vegan/vegetarian documentaries use either or both of these off-putting approaches: scare tactics with a lot of gruesome slaughterhouse footage or academic/scientific lectures with a lot of dull talking heads. Thankfully, “Meat Me Halfway” takes neither approach, which makes this documentary very accessible and relatable to everyone, regardless if you eat meat or not. The movie also makes excellent use of animation to illustrate many of the facts and figures mentioned in interviews.
“Meat Me Halfway” doesn’t shame people who eat meat but gives valuable information to anyone who might want to choose to reduce or stop their meat intake. There have already been many documentaries that go into the scientific details about the direct ties to meat consumption, carbon emissions and global warming/climate change. “Meat Me Halfway” quickly reiterates these scientific findings, but climate change not the main focus of the film.
Bill McKibben, a Schumann distinguished scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College in Connecticut, comments: “A fight is on to see not if we can stop global warming—at this point, it’s too late for that—but to see if we can stop it short of the point where it takes out the kinds of civilizations we’re used ot having.”
Dr. Marion Nestle—who is a Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University—thinks it’s kind of outrageous that in this day and age, when it’s been proven that diet is directly linked to health that this outdated practice is still going on: “Doctors are not taught nutrition in medical school.” She also believes that when it comes to the U.S, food industry, any system that benefits corporations the most will be the hardest to change.
Nestle also asks this question that she thinks animal-rights and nutrition activists need to answer in order to better communicate their agendas to the general public: “Who [in the business world] would benefit if people ate more heathily?” Nestle describes herself in the documentary as a responsible meat eater and someone who is in a “privileged position” to be able to seek out and buy food that didn’t come from a farm factory. She acknowledges that not everyone has those privileges, usually for socioeconomic or location reasons.
Dr. David Katz, founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, believes that U.S. culture runs on an unholy alliance that was made between the corporate manufactured food industry and Big Pharma. After all, if people are more likely to be unhealthy from eating mass-produced food, the pharmaceutical drug companies benefit from all the prescription medication that they can sell. It’s cycle that’s extremely difficult to break when billions of dollars are at stake.
“Meat Me Halfway” also includes a brief exploration of the history of human food consumption. Experts who are interviewed say that meat eating has always been part of human history, but that today’s humans eat more meat that humans in ancient times simply because mass production of meat has made it more accessible than ever before. Experts such as journalist Maryn McKenna point out that the mass production of food on factory farms also coincided with the rise of anti-biotics use on farm animals to get the animals to become have “more meat on their bones” and less likely to get sick.
Other academics interviewed in the documentary include Dr. Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum in London; Dr. James McWilliams, professor of history at Texas State University; and Dr. Paul Freedman, Chester P. Tripp professor fo history at Yale University; Authors and journalists who weigh in with their thoughts include “Meathooked” author Marta Zaraska, journalist/food historian Bee Wilson and journalist Mark Bittman.
Several animal-rights activists are interviewed in “Meat Me Halfway,” such as Toronto Pig Save founder Anita Krajnc, Animal Outlook executive director Erica Meier, Beyond Carnism president Dr. Melanie Joy and Farm Sanctuary president/co-founder Gene Bauer. Among the people who advocate for animal welfare, there are those who believe that meat eating and meat sales can’t be realistically eliminated, so they instead are pushing for better treatment of animals that are raised to be sold as meat. Meanwhile, others think that meat eating is never ethical and should be stopped completely.
Meier says, “Supporting any level of slaughter is wrong.” During Kateman’s interview with Krajnc, he asks her if she thinks it’s acceptable for people to decide to gradually stop eating meat, on their own terms. She replies, “I don’t think it’s an acceptable premise to say one should eat less meat. When we go to slaughterhouses and see the animal victims, every individual matters.”
Krajnc then invites Kateman to a protest gathering that takes place at a Farmer John slaughterhouse in Los Angeles. The purpose of the gathering is to line the streets with animal rights activists, as the pigs are being transported in trucks to the slaughterhouse, and spray water into the thristy pigs’ snouts and mouths, to give the pigs some comfort before they’re killed. The activists do not do anything illegal, such as block traffic, but they sometimes carry signs to show their condemnation of slaughtering animals.
Kateman expresses trepidation at first about going to this activist gathering, because he doesn’t think he wants to experience what he knows will be disturbing sights, sounds and smells of pigs being forced to die. But he ends up going anyway, and it’s an extremely emotional experience for him. He’s moved to tears. The movie includes the sounds of pigs squealing in horror as they are driven into the slaughterhouse.
Kateman said was most painful to him was to make eye contact with a pig inside one of the trucks, and he felt the pain and fear that the pig was experiencing. He also expresses disgust at the slaughterhouse’s outside wall mural paintings , which depict pigs frolicking on a farm, as if Farmer John is a happy and peaceful place for pigs. Kateman says these murals make a hypocritical mockery of what goes on inside the slaughterhouse.
However, the documentary includes the perspectives of people who are trying to make the meat industry more humane in how it treats animals who will inevitably killed for meat. These advocates want better living conditions for animals and less painful ways for the animals to die. One of those people is Daisy Freund, ASPCA director of farm and animal welfare, who monitors farms and gives them ratings based on how well these farms treat animals.
Freund recommends to Kateman that he visit White Oak Pastures, a non-factory farm in Bluffton, Georgia, because White Oak Pastures has received among the highest ratings in the U.S. for its humane treatment of farm animals that are raised for future meat consumption. White Oaks Pastures owner Will Harris III, with his Southern drawl and wry sense of humor, is one of the more memorable personalities in this documentary.
Harris gives Kateman a tour of White Oak Pastures and allows the documentary cameras to record anything except the actual slaughter of animals. Harris explains that what sets his farm apart from most other farms is that the animals are not confined into tight spaces and are instead allowed to roam in their natural habitats. “Animals need to express instinctive behavior,” Harris says,
In addition, Harris says that White Oak Pastures has its own slaughterhouse on the property, so that the animals raised on the farm won’t be transported in a truck for long distances. The documentary has footage in the slaughterhouse of dead animals (such as cows and chickens) being skinned and gutted. Harris says that White Oak Pastures uses a heart electrode device to paralyze and kill the animals, and he claims scientists have told him the animals experience quick and painless deaths using this method.
“Meat Me Halfway” clearly endorses the idea that people should be eating more plant-based food instead of meat. It also responsibly acknowledges that the types of food that people have access to are usually determined by socioeconomic status and location. And that often means that low-income areas (especially those populated by people of color) are frequently at a disadvantage.
One of the people who talks about this problem is Eric Adams, who was president of New York City’s Brooklyn borough at the time he was interviewed, but he has since gone on to become the Democratic nominee and widely predicted winner of the 2021 New York City mayoral race. Adams comments, “I believe, depending on where you live, your zip code determines the quality of fruits and vegetables you’re going to receive. Far too many quality stores and supermarkets really don’t believe that inner city communities will like that quality of food.”
Of course, it’s a myth that lower-income people don’t want quality food. It’s just that the closest food stores to them might not have the high-quality food stores that are more in abundance in higher-income areas. Olympia Auset, founder of the mobile grocery seller Süpermarkt that services low-income neighborhoods, is one of the people interviewed in the documentary. She says she’s seen first-hand how low-income people are often deprived of getting fresh fruits and vegetables in their neighborhoods, because many of her customers tell her how far out of the way they would have to travel to get this type of produce that’s easily available in other neighborhoods.
One of the reasons why the mass-produced meat industry is such a juggernaut is because food that is mass-produced tends to be less expensive than organic food. Plant-Based Food Association founder Michele Simon comments that the three most powerful deciders in food choices are taste, price and convenience. It’s mentioned multiple times in the documentary that people are more likely to change their eating habits if it will cost them less money. The problem for a lot of people who don’t have the luxury of spending whatever they want on food, healthier food is usually more expensive than less-healthy food.
So what are meat eaters to do if they want to become a vegetarian or vegan but they don’t want to give up the taste of meat or dairy products? That’s why there’s currently a boom in companies that make and sell plant-based food that tastes like meat and dairy products. Several leaders of these companies are interviewed in the documentary, including Beyond Meat founder/CEO Ethan Brown, Miyoko’s Creamery founder/CEO Miyoko Schinner, Clara Foods founder/CEO Arturo Elizondo, New Age Meats founder/CEO Brian Spears and Finless Foods co-founder CEO Michael Selden.
“Meat Me Halfway” also takes viewers inside a few food labs where these vegan foods are crafted and perfected, like food scientists putting together the right healthy ingredients for a recipe. New Age Meats director of biological Dr. Nicholas Legendre says that these foods go through similar testing processes before being put on the market that any other meat and dairy products would have to go through to get FDA approval.
There’s a scene in the movie where Kateman visits Eat Just headquarters in San Francisco and gets to be one of the first people to taste a meatless chicken nugget that the company is testing. Kateman gives this new product his a positive response by saying it really does “taste just like chicken,” Eat Just vice president of product development Chris Jones seems very happy with Kateman’s reaction and says it’s the highest compliment to hear that this meatless “chicken” tastes like real chicken.
Not everyone is a fan of vegan “meat” products. New York University’s Nestle says that she doesn’t really trust what kind of experimental ingrdients could be in these types of products, and that she would rather eat real meat instead. The documentary also mentions that there have been some reports (unverified by any major scientific organization) that making vegan “meat” uses more environmental resources than what it takes to process real meat. These are claims that Beyond Meat’s Brown vehemently denies and says that the opposite is true, at least for his company.
One of the most personal aspects of “Meat Me Halfway” is when Kateman interviews his meat-loving parents Russell Kateman and Linda Kateman at the parents’ home on New York City’s Staten Island. Both parents are skeptical that eating less meat can help the environment. Russell says, “I think it’s a joke.” Linda adds, “We haven’t seen any proof.”
Russell also admits that he’s not very concerned about global warming. “I’m more concerned about the temperature in the house.” Russell and Linda (who are both in their 60s) also say that’ve never heard of avocado toast and they’ve never eaten avocados before in their lives. The documentary includes footage of David serving Russell and Linda some avocado dip with potato chips, and the parents have a lukewarm reaction to the taste of avocado.
About two years later, Russell has undergone a transformation that won’t be detailed in this review, but it’s shown in he documentary. Let’s put it this way: There’s a scene later in the movie of Russell and Linda at a dinner table with plates filled with avocado. That scene looks a little too staged, but the point is that Russell and Linda have become more open about eating more fruits and vegetables, compared to their first interview that was shown in the documentary.
At 80 minutes long, “Meat Me Halfway” is a well-paced and informative film that will give people of any food persuasion a lot to think about what their food choices can be. The movie’s greatest strength is how it includes an admirable variety of perspectives, so that viewers can make up their own minds on the meat-eating debate. The commentators are passionate about what they believe without being overbearing in trying to convince people to agree with them. It’s never easy to do a documentary about the intersections between food, health, environmental issues and animal rights, but “Meat Me Halfway” presents it all in a cohesive manner that can resonate with plenty of viewers of diverse backgrounds and food lifestyles.
1091 Pictures released “Meat Me Halfway” on digital and VOD on July 20, 2021.