Hot Documentary’s Questionable Path Making the Vegan Case

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. 

9 comments to Hot Documentary’s Questionable Path Making the Vegan Case

  • David Gumpert David Gumpert

    Late news: I’m sorry to report a terrible tragedy at Vernon Hershberger’s farm in Wisconsin, where one of their sons died in an accidental shooting:

    Viewing will be held Friday, August 11th, from 3-5pm and from 6-8 pm at Lighthouse Chapel, 345 South Cairns Ave in Richland Center.

    The funeral will be held at Lighthouse Chapel on Saturday, August 12th, at 10 am. A meal will be served after the burial.

    For lodging arrangements call Simon at 715-630-2107.

  • This is deeply tragic news….

    As a father I send my deepest sympathies.

    This tragic child play reinforces one of the problems with one of America’s freedoms….as a gun owner, I am forever, and always paranoid beyond paranoid, that no child ever points a fake gun, symbol of a gun, toy gun or heaven forbid a real gun at anyone or anything. I have pounded this into my kids heads and have taught this to everyone that has ever come to the farm to use our target range.

    There is no second chance, opportunity to bring back that fired round…it goes out and permanently enters the world.

    Lets all keep those guns locked up and teach with passion and purpose,…. safety….safety….safety. These rules must be permanent and absolutely indelible in everyone’s mind. There really is no safe cops and robbers anymore. The world is too real and pointing guns at anyone is tragic for even real cops and robbers.

    My heart goes out to the Hershbergers. Please….let us all take this lesson home. Kids can not ever point fake, toy or real guns at anyone. In this world tragedies can not be taken back. Pointing guns is never a play thing. My heart is so heavy.

    • David Gumpert David Gumpert

      Thanks, Mark. This is terribly disturbing news, and first and foremost I know everyone sends their deepest sympathies to the Hershberger family. I got to know the family pretty well during and after the trial three years ago. The family is very tightly knit, and is part of a tightly knit church community, so hopefully these support sources will help the family recover as best it can.

      The safety message you preach has credibility coming from another gun owner like yourself. I know the Hershbergers were big on safety, so I don’t know yet what went wrong in this situation. If there is any good that comes from this, it is that lots of people have surely learned a very hard lesson.

  • Ken Conrad Ken Conrad

    Thank you David for expressing our sympathies… I always seem to be at a loss for words during these times.

    Mark, as a gun owner I share your view on toy guns including air soft and paint ball guns. Unfortunately thanks in large part to Hollywood’s obsession with gun related violence etc. a good many people have become even more enamored with the use of a firearm as a weapon.

    When it comes to safety there are no guarantees, including and especially that which is regulated.

  • Cathy Raymond

    My heart goes out to Vernon and his family, especially to the 10 year old son. What a heavy load for a young boy to carry.

  • I didn’t know the Hershbergers but send my condolences. When I was 12 I was visiting an older cousin who was showing me his pistol when it discharged and sent a bullet whizzing past my ear. In that moment we both came a hair’s breadth from becoming statistics. These “accidents” happen nearly evey day in America. If you have guns you simply must keep them locked away from kids until they are old enough to handle them responsibly…or risk the terrible life-altering consequences.

  • Gary Ogden

    David: Dr. Gary Fettke has done some very interesting research into the reason vegetarianism became such a powerful force. It didn’t have anything to do with science, but with the teachings and proselytizing of the Seventh Day Adventist church and their close ties to the food industry (Kellogg’s and others) since the nineteenth century. Marika at FoodMed.Net has the story. Fascinating read.

    • Gordon S Wason

      strict vegetarian-ism = “a doctrine of devils”. I saw it destroy a friend of mine, over a decade. sure … Once upon a time she was young and beautiful. By age 50, her teeth were falling out along with her hair. Even tho’ she was a Christian, she would NOT admit her health problems were for lack of essential fats, oh no. Another tragic case of someone worshipping their own will.

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