Reaction to What The Health Documentary
Quick disclaimer: this post is 100% my opinion. I have no formal education or training to back up my opinions, just my experiences :).
As a former vegan during multiple parts of my life, I put off watching the What The Health Documentary for as long as possible. I was afraid it would cause me an immense amount of shame for returning to my meat eater ways. I have been accused of being a "failed vegan" and for "doing it wrong" when I shared on my instagram that I went back to eating animal products. I have come to learn that my body craves meat and especially EGGS. And anyone who knows me well knows I'm a huge nerd who researched the vegan diet inside and out and I definitely wasn’t "doing it wrong" and that’s enough for me.
So back to the documentary… there were a few things that I would like to point out that I think anyone should consider as they watch. That said, I'm so glad I watched it and I think everyone should. Knowledge is power and we are all better off when we learn more about our food and how it gets on our plates.
- The executive producer is Joaquin Phoenix who is a notoriously polarizing figure.
Phoenix is quoted as saying that the meat and dairy industry is, "the greatest health cover-up of our time." Could just be me, but that sounds a bit dramatic. Phoenix could possibly be extremely passionate about vegan diets, but any time a celebrity is behind a project like this I'm instantly skeptical of the project.
2. They use obvious scare tactics to make people think that vegan diets are the only healthy option.
Comparing death rates for eating processed meats to graphics of crashing jumbo jets is obviously frightening, especially if you are someone who hasn’t done a lot of food research prior to watching What the Health. I am not naive. I know that all documentaries are biased, but it seems like What the Health was particularly aggressive in their attempt to scare viewers into eating a plant based diet. From the graphics of crashing jumbo jets to the extremely sick people they profiled to the images of factory farming, What the Health hit all the typical sticking points for the vegan diet. Processed meat is making us sick, dairy is even worse and what you’re eating is ruining our environment. In general I actually agree with some of these points, but the way they were presented was turned me off so much it made me want to race to the closest fast food joint and get a double bacon cheeseburger. I'm obviously kidding. I think we should all try to live close to the Michael Pollan model "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
3. We can all agree that FAST FOOD IS NOT REAL FOOD.
They spend a whole segment talking about how there should be warnings about the carcinogens in the KFC Chicken, as if KFC was going to put a sign on the wall outside that says "Eating our chicken gives you cancer!" I'll be the first to tell you fast food is bad for you, but that doesn’t mean we should look to KFC or McDonalds or Burger King to save the health of our nation. These companies are in the business of making money and they will do what they have to to keep things that way. Food education starts in schools and at home, not on the wall of a KFC.
4. Eating one egg is not equivalent to smoking five cigarettes, but if you can afford it you should be eating pasture raised eggs.
There is an image in this documentary where they literally show a cracking egg, an equal sign and five cigarettes. The filmmaker then states that, "There is even a study that shows the effects of eating one egg is equivalent to that of five cigarettes." I don’t doubt that this study exists, but I do doubt its validity. Multiple studies and countless doctors have come out with research showing that consumption of cholesterol in foods (like in eggs) has little to NO effect on cholesterol in the body. So keep eating your eggs at breakfast!! But with on caveat, if you can afford it, purchase pasture raised eggs.
Unfortunately we have all been tricked by the food industry into thinking that "Free Range" eggs come from hens running around in a grassy field, but US News and World Report sums it up best in this article where they state that free range eggs are classified as hens that are, "Allotted less than 2 square feet per hen, these animals have more space than their caged and cage-free peers, but they don't get outdoors as much as you may think. Some seldom get to see the light of day and many eat a corn- or soy-based feed." That’s certainly not ideal and I can see where the What the Health makers take this information and run, but if you can get pasture raised eggs like Vital Farms you will truly notice a difference.
5. Everyone can stand to eat more plants and less processed foods.
I have tried aaaaalll the diets. Vegan. Vegetarian. Pescetarian. KETO. LCHF. IIFYM. Etc etc etc. I felt my best when I ate a variety of plant foods accompanied by grass fed meats, wildcaught seafood, pasture raised eggs and limited dairy. I acknowledge that eating this way IS NOT CHEAP, but for me it is the most important expense I have. If I took medicine for my arthritis and psoriasis it would cost me far more each year for my medication than for my groceries. If you can afford to eat a diet full of these foods and limit processed foods then you are on the right track. I'll repeat it, I have been a vegan and you do NOT need to be a vegan to achieve ultimate health.
All of this said, I know many people cannot afford to eat and live this way. For these people my hope would be that they start with the processed and fast foods. Many times a fresh load of groceries cost less than convenience foods, but it all starts with awareness and education. If watching What the Health encourages at least a few people to drive away from the McDonalds drive thru or put down a bag of processed crap, then it has done some good in the world. It is up to the rest of us to figure out how to put balanced nutrition information into the world and eliminate food desserts so that we can get healthy groceries to those most underserved in our country.