MADDEAUX: Netflix vegan doc is baloney
Columnist Sabrina Maddeaux says the new Netflix documentary What the Health is a lot of baloney packed into a scare-mongering sandwich. NETFLIX
SABRINA MADDEAUX/ 24 HOURS
The world of nutrition and diet advice is more chaotic than the Trump White House these days. No one can seem to agree on any one approach. Some say to cut out carbs, while others preach the evils of gluten and the hipster next door swears by charcoal ice cream. Keeping track of the latest must-eat/must-avoid ingredients is a full-time job. Buzzy new documentary What the Health - streaming on Netflix - is the latest piece of sensationalist nutrition infotainment to enter the game. It already has some of my most dedicated cheese and meat-loving friends publicly pondering whether they should switch to plant-based diets. The film embraces scare tactics and conspiracy theory-style investigations to sway viewers into veganism. It says meat, fish and poultry are making us fat, giving us cancer and Type-2 diabetes and poisoning us from within. The film also claims the FDA and health groups like the American Heart Association are largely funded by food lobby groups to hide the truth about meat products. It's essentially The X-Files for food consumption, littered with the message: trust no one. The filmmaker, Kip Andersen, reflects on a childhood of meat eating by asking, "Was this like I had essentially been smoking my whole childhood?" Here's the problem: What the Health is littered with inaccuracies, overstatements, faulty assumptions and its own glaring biases. To call it a documentary is a generous use of the label. Many of the experts and scientists interviewed have made lucrative careers out of capitalizing on the vegan lifestyle trend. A major WHO study is misquoted and distorted to fit the filmmaker's assertion that meat consumption is as bad as smoking (it's not). Widespread evidence that dairy products can contribute to weight loss, improved cardiovascular health, reduced risk of Type-2 diabetes and lowered blood pressure go unmentioned. This sort of fear mongering, fact-ignoring propaganda plagues the health industry as a whole, but it's especially prevalent in the vegan community. Of course, many vegans aren't preachy, evangelizing activists who play fast and loose with reality. But many of their most outspoken personalities and advocates are. Similar to the monied dairy and meat lobbies vegans so loathe, veganism is now also a big business with vested financial interests.
This is the very attitude that turns so many people off of anything that even mentions the word "vegan." Most people understand - or can come to understand - that including more plants in one's diet is a positive thing and processed meats aren't exactly health food. This can be supported by evidence and honest science.
But hysterically shouting from the rooftops that people must either follow a strict, one-size-fits-all food prescription or face a disease-riddled death is not the answer. The rise of vegan propaganda has influenced other food movements to mimic their tactics. The result is an increasingly loud, cluttered and fantasy-based approach to food, similar to how the Tea Party led U.S. federal politics down the road to destructive partisanship and hatred. There are serious health and wellness issues to be addressed, and our diets are far from perfect in North America. However, if we really want to learn and make progress, we must relearn how to communicate honestly and with civility, respect science and resist campaigns that place advocating a specific lifestyle over the pursuit of health.
Want to read more from Sabrina? Follow her on Twitter @SabrinaMaddeaux