Netflix documentary What The Health has impacted the diets of scores of viewers, as well as celebrities and athletes around the country. I sat there watching, rapt, thinking “Holy crap, this is it. This is the point in my life where I become a vegetarian and maybe try to eat less cheese. Maybe. Okay, maybe not less cheese. Let’s set reasonable goals.”
That nascent vegetarianism/dubious veganism would have had a chance of sticking around for at least a few months if I hadn’t come to my senses. But in fact, I was off meat for a measly eight days before realizing I’d been duped, and was embarrassed I hadn’t honed in on the film’s lack of balanced reporting from the get-go. Showing a photo of a cat’s canines next to a set of human teeth and talking about ripping and tearing raw flesh shouldn’t look as convincing as the film made it out to be; and yet it was. What’s worse, my dad called the following week, asking me if I’d seen it and proclaiming he hadn’t eaten animal protein since.
Written, directed and produced by Cowspiracy’s Kip Andersen — who, let’s be real, looks and talks like a second-year yogi — What The Health draws almost exclusively from controversial studies and vegan medical professionals. While watching, I was reminded of reading award-winning investigative journalist and author Eric Schlosser’s* Fast Food Nation in high school, with Michael Pollan’s seminal The Omnivore’s Dilemma for dessert. The one-two punch put me off fast food for life (except In-N-Out, of course) and sparked an enduring fascination with America’s food systems. What The Health is no Fast Food Nation — in fact, it may be a radical antithesis. The solution to America’s diet-based health woes is not and was never going to be presented in the format of “a formula for the masses,” and even if it were, it wouldn’t be veganism.
Again, there is no such thing as an answer to this hyped-up conundrum after humankind and its ancestors have been omnivores for tens of thousands of years. I wouldn’t trust a doctor who based his or her practice selectively on veganism just like I don’t trust purely holistic or overly pill-pushy doctors when it comes to something as subjective and important as healthcare. Nobody has to trust any one medical professional or any school of medicine, it’s about what feels and works best for each individual. We’re not all the exact same machine in a collective existence; a balance exists for everyone, and it’s not meat, eggs or dairy on their own that’s going to throw it off — it’s excess or absence. Telling people, once they’re deep in the throes of woke-style documentary-watching, that eating an egg is akin to smoking five cigarettes is irresponsible (and based on a myth debunked back in 2012, to boot). Rather than changing peoples’ minds, aggressive vegans even inspired a quarter of Britons to completely ignore them.
When someone develops a condition like high blood pressure, heart disease and/or diabetes due to a combination of sedentary lifestyle and fatty, sugary processed diet, of course going vegan is going to result in weight loss and reversal of some symptoms and perhaps full-on illness. But the definitive links between excess weight and increased risk of death haven’t even been definitively established, so if one is reasonably healthy and fit, please tell me again how exactly eating responsible animal products is going to kill me. No, not from the vegan medical professionals in the film — from a slew of other reputable, fully transparent doctors with diverse backgrounds in a non-documentary environment, please.
I’ll stick with the timeless mantra of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. There are no concrete rules, nor should there be. Don’t buy or eat commodity-grade (or excessively large portions of) meat, eggs or dairy, and diversify your diet by discovering new favorite fresh, healthy foods to help diversify America’s food systems for the better. Also, eat cheese.
*Schlosser’s 2013 book, Command and Control, is highly recommended reading for anyone who’s ever wondered about the safety procedures employed by America’s nuclear weapons facilities. It was recently adapted into a seat-gripper of an awesome documentary film by Oscar-nominated Food, Inc. director Robert Kenner.