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How I watched “What the Health” – cringing all the way

What the HealthIf you haven’t heard about What the Health, I’m imagining you probably aren’t reading this.

It’s a sort of documentary/expose on links between several industries that may be harming our health and how they contribute financially to the people who make health decisions. It seems pretty popular in the essential oil crowds for reasons unknown.

I watched it the other day as a 33+ year vegetarian who got seriously burned by faux documentaries in the past. I entered with some skepticism and within about 10 minutes most alarm bells were ringing.

The first thing I remember in this was the guy doing gotcha journalism via phone on a receptionist followed by arguing with someone about a diet-based cure that some studies show works, some don’t.

It’s fairly obvious at the beginning by anyone who’s being objective that the guy running the documentary has set out with an agenda – promote veganism – interview and showcase only medical professionals that don’t dispute veganism, cite studies the promote veganism as completely accurate and indisputable, drop out that the people aren’t going to talk about diet because he’s actively promoting a diet as the cure all, and act like any officials that don’t promote veganism are evading all these questions because they’re part of a conspiracy.

Did anyone but me wonder why he bothered to tell all the people he was going to interview that he was going to talk about vegan diets before going to interview them? “I’m going to interview you for a health documentary,” “great, appointment is at 11am!” “I’m going to ask you about why the vegan diet isn’t being promoted and how you’re part of the cancer.” “yeah no, we’re cancelling the interview”.

Seriously, why did he broadcast this to places?

If you don’t think he’s actively promoting veganism and is presenting this fair and balanced, go talk to five doctors and see if you can’t find one or two who actively say that veganism leads to some health issues. I suspect strongly you’re going to find within five interviews at least someone who disagrees with your eating habits, and not one disagreement among medical professionals is ever mentioned in any of the interviews except “the bad guy.”

I got this at 10 minutes. I’m as close to being a vegan as a vegetarian can come and I cringed. You know a sure way to make your cause unappealing? Lie about it. Disillusioned former torch bearers are never an aly again. They hadn’t actually lied at this point so I was … oh nevermind, anyone with Google could catch a false or incorrect statement by about 12 minutes in.

By 20 minutes or so both me and Kim were randomly checking out the various blogs and articles that debunked many of the claims. The term “cherry picking” was used in nearly all of these, so I initially thought perhaps they were cut and paste vegan-hating forums. Nope.

I was watching in horror as he showcased a couple of people with serious health issues magically cured in two weeks by veganism. Two weeks… you know what, you want to be a vegan for two weeks to see if it feels healthy and you can get off 26 medications go for it. It’s not going to hurt you.

I mean really, there’s no harm, be a vegan for two weeks. Maybe you’re allergic to dairy and don’t know it. Maybe you’re one of the rare people who chicken products make you have hypothyroidism.

One of the people I think had a milk allergy and the other was just generally unhealthy and started eating better is how it looked. I think the interviewer would have seen that if he hadn’t been suspiciously looking 2 feet over one of the people’s heads for a reason that veganism was the cure all.

Yes, there’s a weird interview in which he’s looking two feet over the woman’s head the entire time.

You know the best way to find a food allergy? Switch to food you most likely aren’t allergic to and start adding back in things and see how it works. Was this discussed as a possibility? The possibility that these people were undiagnosed severe allergy sufferers and the vegan diets they were on contained none of the things they were allergic to? No.

There were some good tidbits in there, but man. If I was pro-meat this is the sort of debunkfest propaganda I’d just post everywhere. It was an amateurish dietary lifestyle promotion effort built on making it seem that organizations were covering up a grand conspiracy because they didn’t want to debate or promote veganism as the one true cure.

You think veganism cures cancer? Go vegan, but don’t believe that a cancer fighting organization is suppressing the cure because they’re not going to be dragged into a dietary debate by a guy who will always act genuinely concerned and surprised that you’re not going to talk about it.

Speaking of cancer, there seems to be a big misconception and fight on the net about his statement that eating meat = 15-20% increase in cancer rates. You’ll see people saying no it’s 1%. Both are true. 6% of people get colorectal cancer. Among meat eaters this is closer to 6%, vegetarians/vegan 4-5%. This is a 1% difference in percentage, and 6% is 18% more than 5%.

You want an accurate assessment of whether veganism works? Do a documentary study with 100 vegans, 100 vegetarians, and 100 meat eaters. Attempt to get people with similar health issues and body types. Use the vegans as a control, have the vegetarians become vegans, the meat eaters become vegetarians, see what health benefits happen in two weeks, then transition the meat eaters into veganism, two weeks later see where everyone’s at.

After that switch the vegans to meat for two weeks. Bam. Not a perfect study but you’ll have a good data set to actually do a documentary one.

Having a sample size of two or three people is like meeting two black guys on the street in a new town and assuming the entire town is black. It’s not statistically relevant.

I don’t think you can call What the Health a documentary as it’s mostly a directed narrative that always was directing you to meat is bad, veganism is good.

The movie ends with the director deciding to go vegan. It surprises me that he expects people to believe he wasn’t vegan the entire time. Of course veganism gives him greater abilities and he runs some races with less training and better times than he had before.

Picard facepalmI remember sitting there at the end of the movie wondering what good is going to come when you make something that will disillusion anyone with a basic understanding of search engines who bought onto your movie?

That this is seen as representative culture, education, and dietary understanding of anyone who decides to put down the McWhopper… just sort of sleazy “reporting” that goes right into people’s “yup, and that’s why I’m not a vegan” files.

Paul King

Paul King lives in Nashville Tennessee with his wife, two daughters and cats. He writes for Pocketables, theITBaby, and is an IT consultant along with doing tech support for a film production company.