This is the latest mind-bending film from the makers of 'Cowspiracy,' and the topic is no less controversial this time round.
If you thought the film “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” was controversial when it came out in 2014, then prepare yourself for the inevitable uproar caused by its sequel, “What the Health.” This new film, made by the same intrepid filmmakers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, blasts into territory even more delicate than the animal agriculture/environmental connection explored in “Cowspiracy.” This film turns the very notion of healthy eating upside down, challenging almost everything we’ve been taught about diet. In fact, it’s one of the most uncomfortable films I’ve ever watched.
I nearly jumped out of my chair when, within the first few minutes, several doctors asserted the idea that sugar and other refined carbohydrates do not cause diabetes. My initial reaction was, Are they crazy? But no, this is the basic premise of the film: High consumption of animal products (not sugar) is killing Americans at a rate that would be unacceptable by any other cause.
The immensity of the problem is indisputable. Two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. If current trends continue, one-third of Americans will have diabetes within 25 years. Already one in three Medicare dollars goes toward treating diabetes. Cardiovascular disease kills 17.5 million Americans annually. That’s the equivalent of four jumbo jets crashing every hour, every day, every year. Most U.S. kids have fatty streaks in their arteries by age 10.
The doctors and researchers interviewed for “What the Health” refer to numerous studies linking meat, dairy, and fish consumption to heart disease, cancer, diabetes (types 1 and 2), obesity, infertility, and dementia. They point out that eating eggs increasing risk of colon and rectal cancer, that dairy increases risk of breast cancer by 29 percent in women, that eating 1.8 ounces of processed meat daily increases one’s risk of cancer by 20 percent, that processed meats like salami and bacon are categorized as carcinogens alongside asbestos and plutonium, that chicken is the primary source of sodium and cholesterol for Americans. The list goes on.
And yet, despite these peer-reviewed studies in well-respected journals, groups such as the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, and Susan B. Komen continue to promote the consumption of animal products. Suggested meal plans on their websites are staunchly pro-meat, with no mention of connections to the very diseases these groups are claiming to fight.
When Kip Andersen asks why, nobody wants to talk about it. People cancel interviews once they realize what he wants to discuss or say they’re not qualified to talk about diet in relation to disease. Andersen digs deeper and discovers that all of these groups receive money from the animal agriculture industry, as well as pharmaceutical companies and the government. No wonder they don’t want to explore the connection! It’s not in any company’s best interest to heal sick people if they can keep them sick forever, eating meat and buying pills.
While it’s apparent that the film’s overarching goal is to promote a vegan lifestyle, it does a convincing job. In addition to numerous interviews with medical experts, it follows three very ill individuals suffering from diabetes and severe arthritis, tracking the healing that occurs within two weeks of switching to a vegan diet; some of the patients are off their medications completely and mobility has improved drastically.
I was particularly interested in the athletes featured at the end of the film. Three out of the four do strength-based training and bodybuilding, which was a refreshing departure from the thinner endurance athletes that are typically profiled in pro-vegan films and books.
To be completely honest, I don’t know what to think of this film. It was well-done, but it was a mind-bender. It’s more the exoneration of refined carbs than the vilification of meat that threw me for a loop, and I feel like I need a few weeks to mull it over, to absorb this fresh distortion of the nutritional facts I thought I understood, and to do further reading of my own (which will be easy, thanks to the list of sources for every statement and study mentioned in the film).
You can watch “What the Health” online. Currently available for purchase.