Last weekend we watched the latest nutrition-related documentary on Netflix called What the Health. By now, you’ve probably seen or heard of it—it’s all over the place.
I’ll share my thoughts on the film, but first, a little background.
I watched Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, Forks Over Knives, Food, Inc. and numerous other documentaries, and I was inspired to change my way of eating and consuming—because, even now, as an unapologetic omnivore, I believe that a plant-based diet is incredibly healthy and that eating less meat is crucial to combatting some of the detrimental environmental effects that factory farming and monoculture have wreaked on our planet.
And, yet, I’m so glad this film didn’t come out years ago, when I was more naïve and easily-swayed.
What the Health: My Thoughts
During the first few minutes of the film, I felt icky.
By 20 minutes, I was angry and cursing at the TV (mostly in my head, but still…).
What was with the “gotcha” journalism?
Where was the compassion? The second side of the story?
Are they really telling people that meat causes cancer and that eating one effing egg is the equivalent to smoking 5 cigarettes?
WTF are they smoking?!!!
Now, I’m not a dietician or a doctor—not even close—but I like to think I have a decent “layperson” understanding of nutrition.
I understand that the quality of the foods we eat—not just the quantity—affects our weight, propensity to develop diseases, and our overall wellbeing.
I am aware that a diet high in processed foods, sodium, sugar, and saturated fat is problematic.
And I feel my personal best when I limit sugary foods and fill my plate with lots of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and whole grains.
I have no problem with veganism. In fact, after reading the phenomenal storytelling and the delicate marriage of logic and ethics in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals*, I can’t provide a cogent argument against veganism.
What is do have a problem with is bullying and manipulating facts—in such a blatantly propagandizing way.
Kip Anderson, the filmmaker and narrator, essentially admits he’s a hypochondriac willing to jump on any old health-centric wagon. Instead of presenting the facts and arriving at a conclusion, he cherry-picks studies and manipulates statistics—while interviewing Dr. Esselstyn and other well-known vegan doctors—to prop up his claim, which is, in a nutshell, “meat causes diabetes and cancer.”
These are the issues I personally had with What The Health.
Meat/eggs/dairy are simply not more dangerous than cigarettes
Yes, meat is a carcinogen. But so are coffee and tea. Anybody can take any study or statistic and twist it into a cause of cancer. Look at all studies and scrutinize them before becoming alarmist.
Stopping medications—particularly antidepressants—after a two-week dietary change is irresponsible
Is the US an overmedicated society? Absolutely. But it’s irresponsible journalism to suggest that a vegan diet can be a cure-all for every health ailment, and I hope to goodness that the woman who stopped her numerous medications after switching to a plant-based diet consulted her doctor before doing so!
Nutrition science is constantly changing
Self-explanatory, and the filmmakers don’t seem to take this into account.
Despite the issues I had, What The Health did present some important truths.
We eat far too much processed food
I absolutely believe that the SAD (Standard American Diet) has contributed to our high rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diseases—and over-processed foods are to blame. However, demonizing food and discouraging folks who are doing the best they can with what they have isn’t the answer.
We need to practice preventative medicine
Instead of eating processed foods with abandon and avoiding exercise like the plague, we should advocate for ourselves and take back our health. It’s more expensive and painful to treat ailments than it is to make the lifestyle changes that could prevent them.
It is concerning when Big Industry and Big Agriculture fund their own studies and guidelines
We need more transparency in government and business. The beef industry funding the American Heart Association is certainly questionable, and there are too many business interests at play.
Factory farming is a large contributor to climate change—and we need to make changes
Animals in factory farms are treated terribly and emissions from factory farms are damaging the ecosystem. It does become a human rights issue to people of color and people living in poverty whose communities are surrounded by these factory farms, so I’m glad the film shed some light on that.
I guess the bottom line is: be informed and take anything promoting an obvious agenda as only half the story.
If this film leads you to make positive dietary changes, that’s amazing. But I urge you to question any science or nutrition recommendation that is presented as gospel, including What the Health.Some thoughts on #WhatTheHealth – and why you should be informed! #TOL #nutrition Click To Tweet
[linking up with Amanda for thinking out loud]
So tell me…
- Have you watched What the Health?
- If so, what are your thoughts?
- What is your biggest pet peeve about the diet/medical/agricultural industry?