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The interview with famous vegan James Cameron needed more meat

The Avatar director delivers a "searing message" to New Zealand farmers and an overexcited Sunday team.

So, what does he think of us so far? Sunday’s Jehan Casinader was dispatched to the Wairarapa – “World exclusive!” – to visit US film-maker and self-proclaimed wannabe Kiwi James Cameron and find out. Excited? Sunday could barely contain itself. “One of Hollywood’s most powerful men!” raved Miriama Kamo. “The genius who brought us movies like Titanic and Avatar …”; “The wealthy movie director …”

Cameron and wife Suzy Amis Cameron allowed Casinader inside their “Kiwi paradise”. “This is actually a really big deal,” he reported, lest Kamo’s efforts to fully convey the magnitude of the occasion had been in vain.

Why? Cameron scarcely needs publicity. As it turned out, he was doing the PR. He had “a searing message to our farmers, one that is bound to ruffle feathers!” Kamo might have chosen a more vegan metaphor. He is out to make us animal-product-free in two or three decades.

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Cut to Casinader at casa Cameron. He looked as if he was awaiting the dentist, or possibly an interview with God, if God inhabited a vegan Kiwi paradise. “Hi,” he chirped, as Cameron walked in. “Welcome to your own house.” They have chosen to live among us. People invite them over for tea. “That doesn’t happen in Los Angeles … There’s a sense of independent spirit … A sort of No 8 wire mentality,” said Cameron. They don’t live how people think they live, he said. “How do you think people think you live?” wondered Casinader. “Oh, palatially,” drawled Cameron.

They own 1500ha around the region, so they are a little bit palatial. But they like us. Up to a point. Cameron has some apocalyptic criticisms. “New Zealand isn’t living up to its own image of itself.” True, we’re not so clean and green. And we consume animal products. Cameron invoked a terrifying litany of health and environmental problems with this. With the authority of a man making four Avatar sequels, he declared, “We’re not coming here to get New Zealanders to change. Everybody has to change.” To carry on as we are as a species, he predicts, will see the end of democracy as we know it.

“He’s known for having tantrums on set and driving his crew to breaking point,” noted Casinader nervously. No titanic temper tantrums this time. Cameron was on a charm offensive, in his flinty way. “We know that people are going to be resentful about outsiders coming in, especially opinionated people,” he allowed. “They don’t like people coming in and taking what’s not theirs,” summed up Casinader amiably. Cameron shot him a dangerous look. Cut to a break.

Casinader spoke to a woman from Beef + Lamb NZ. No, she said, this wasn’t the end of meat. Not even Cameron is that powerful. Not all land is suitable for crops, she said, and farmers are working on reducing environmental harm. Casinader also interviewed a farmer he met up the road. “I say to James Cameron, ‘That’s bloody ridiculous,’” he said. “We are an animal that eats meat … We’re not sheep or cows. We’re humans.”

There was a clip of Jacinda Ardern at a summit that she and Cameron attended, declaring that she has no plans to go vegan. “I’m from the Waikato … And I love cheese.”

The item finished unhelpfully by having a bob each way. Kamo plugged Amis Cameron’s new book – “What if every time you took a bite you saved a tree?” says the website. She concluded by announcing, soothingly, “We also spoke to dieticians who say meat and dairy are fine eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet.” It would have been good to hear more – anything, really – about the no doubt complex science around changing rapidly to an animal-product-free world. But no. The whole thing could have used, well, a bit more meat.

SUNDAY, TVNZ 1, Sunday, 7.30pm

Video: TVNZ

This article was first published in the June 29, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.