If you’re interested in veganism and/or plant-based diets, you’ve probably heard about the new documentary called What The Health. It’s created by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn – the same people who had previously authored Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. While this documentary was officially released a few months ago, recently it’s been one of the top things discussed in the vegan community after it was added to Netflix.
(Please note: in case you haven’t seen What the Health or Cowspiracy, my post below contains some spoilers.)
While Cowspiracy focuses on the environmental impact of animal agriculture and points at plant-based diets as the possible solution, What The Health investigates the connection between the standard American diet and poor health. Once again, plant-based diets are portrayed as the remedy.
I’ve been loosely following the online discussions about this new documentary, and interestingly, it seems like people who have watched What The Health are now divided into two camps:
1. Those who think the movie has had a positive impact – there are quite a few stories from people whose staunch non-vegan friends or relatives finally decided to give this whole plant-based diet thing a go after watching What The Health;
2. Those who think the movie does more harm than good – there are negative opinions voiced by progressive-leaning vegans, particularly about the message that going plant-based will cure all of our diseases and make us resistant to getting sick in the future. A lot of people bring up the fact that some health improvement stories pictured in this documentary were a bit extreme. Also, it doesn’t help that the movie seems to play on our fears at times, and that fat-shaming messages are plentiful.
While I mostly identify with the progressive/liberal line of thought in my opinions on life, politics, and the choices I make (including my food choices), I have to stand up to the negativity I’ve been seeing from my fellow ‘woke’ vegans when it comes to this new documentary.
Okay, I admit: this documentary isn’t perfect. But hear me out.
First off, vegan/plant-based people are not the target audience of What The Health. There are LOTS of people who have never heard about how the standard American diet affects their health, and this is who this movie is meant for. I’m thrilled about every example I hear of people who finally decided to ditch meat and dairy after watching What The Health. Even though I was already aware of most of the facts brought up in this documentary, I’m still going to talk about it for the benefit of those who aren’t.
Second, in search of perfection we the progressive types often dismiss the ‘good enough’. Yes, there are issues, and I’ve rolled my eyes a few times as I watched What The Health (for example, I wish there were a disclaimer that the health improvements depicted in some of the people’s stories were not a typical result). But at the same time, I don’t believe it’s fair to dismiss the whole movie because of a few snafus. (By the way, the website for What The Health features an extensive list of references on a minute-by-minute basis for all the health claims brought up in the movie.) I’m going to say something that won’t gain me any popularity in the liberal circles: this is why democrats lost the presidential election in the US last year. We the left-leaning folk were so busy arguing whether or not ‘our’ candidate was good enough to vote for that we got completely blindsided when ‘their’ guy trumped (no pun intended) all expectations and got to the top. Of course, there isn’t an imminent election coming up in which we’d have to decide if we want to continue eating meat or not, but my point is, can we please stop the in-fighting because it’s not doing us any favors?! If you think that vegan documentaries can be better, please reach out to filmmakers and collaborate with them on a new one.Dear progressive #vegans: stop fighting about @wthfilm because it's not doing us any favors! Click To Tweet
Third, there are a lot of good points brought up in What The Health. In addition to talking about the connection between our food choices and our well-being – something most Americans are still unaware of – there’s plenty of useful info that this documentary brings up. Here are a few points that come to mind:
- The connection between the large-scale agribusinesses, their lobbying power, and the medical system in the Western society;
- The lack of nutritional training doctors go through in medical school;
- How the meat and dairy industry employs tactics similar to those used by the tobacco industry when talking about its products and public health;
- Why organic meat, dairy and eggs are not necessarily better for us than their conventional counterparts;
- The devastating impact of animal agriculture on the underprivileged communities of color, as shown in the example of Duplin County, North Carolina.
- The role of USDA checkoff programs in promoting meat and dairy to the public;
- How our obsession with animal-based protein is harming us, etc.
Once again, for people who have never heard of these things, this information can be life-changing. For this reason I will recommend What The Health to anyone who expresses any interest in going vegan/plant-based, followed with Cowspiracy to round out the picture. Yes, some points in these documentaries may not align with my opinions 100%, but if I want a movie that fits my beliefs completely, I’ll have to make it myself.
Anyway, what are your thoughts on What The Health? Did you find this documentary problematic, or do you think it does more good than bad? Let me know in the comments!
UPDATE 7/25/2017. This documentary has been getting a lot of attention in the non-vegan circles, including lots of negative reviews from various ‘big name’ gurus of the meat-eating world. I feel like it’s only fair to address this negativity. If this is the first time you ever hear about the negative health impacts of eating a meat-heavy diet, the connection between our society’s insatiable appetite for things like bacon and how this appetite affects communities living near large-scale animal farming operations, etc. – don’t brush it all off until you do your own research. Just because something sounds shocking doesn’t mean it’s nonsense. Yes, I may be a bit biased here, but keeping an open mind and doing the research goes a long way in all areas of life and knowledge.Re: @wthfilm: Just because something sounds shocking doesn’t mean it’s nonsense. Click To Tweet
UPDATE 8/23/2017. For people accusing doctors featured in the documentary of being biased, here’s a great response from Dr. Garth Davis, MD, on ForksOverKnives.com. Also, see my review of Dr. Davis’s book, Proteinaholic, over here.
(Images courtesy of WhatTheHealthFilm.com)
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