There’s a new foodie movie just out, and I have to admit, it really had me going. As in, “Maybe I should think seriously about shifting to a totally vegan diet.”

A few friends and family had highly recommended the movie, “What the Health”. The fact that it’s been released on Netflix and is getting top billing there ensures exposure to many millions of subscribers around the world. 

It provokes very skillfully, by making the case that major charities like the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Heart Association promote particular foods and dietary choices based to a significant extent on the huge food corporations that provide major donations.  I’ve long been dubious of these charities, for similar reasons, so the film’s tack in questioning the charities’ credibility helped build its credibility with me. 

The film’s problems start when it uses the questionable food-dietary recommendations from the charities to launch into arguments that any recommendations of meat and dairy are flawed because these foods cause cancer and/or diabetes and/or heart disease. The film reinforces the connection by showing these charity organizations to be very reluctant to go on camera with the documentary producer and discuss their dietary recommendations. 

Before specifically documenting the connections between the dietary recommendations and the corporations providing sponsorship, the documentary seeks to make the case for vegan. It goes through study after study, interspersed with interviews of several very sick individuals taking lots of pharma drugs, supposedly making the case that any diet with dairy and meat, and even eggs and fish is highly toxic and thus dangerous. Only a completely vegan diet promises minimal risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. 

As I said, it’s all very skillfully done. For example, it uses studies showing the risks of consuming processed meats to apply to all meats. It uses studies showing an association between processed meats and diabetes to suggest that all red meat (rather than sugar and carbs) is responsible for rising diabetes levels. It even goes after fresh fish, suggesting through photos of fish being harvested from dirty beaches that all fish are full of toxins. So skillfully is it pulled off cinematically that the only accurate label for this documentary is propaganda.  

Fortunately, I don’t need to provide a complete list of the research problems with the film, but two opposing bloggers—one a Paleo expert and the other a vegan dietitian—have done the work for me. 

It’s too bad, because I think there is a lot to be said for a diet heavy in vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and complex grains. Some of the best material in the film includes individuals who had serious chronic diseases, and saw dramatic improvement after switching to a vegan diet. Unfortunately, that stuff tends to get lost in the research mess.