Last month I wrote an article for my friend’s blog about eight must-see food and health documentaries now streaming on Netflix. Each documentary left me unsettled, but none have been as impactful as this latest full-feature documentary, What the Health.
What the Health is a disturbing look at greed, corporate interests, and just how crazy it is that so many doctors refuse to see diet as a contributor to our healthcare epidemic. I’m beyond disturbed.
Editor Update: While I will share with you more about the film and tell you about my disgust with what I learned, I do recognize that this documentary paints a very one-sided picture of the detriments of eating meat to our health and our society. I do, however, want to say that I recognize that meat is not the only food group to blame for the growing health crisis our world faces and that many ideas presented in this documentary are only half-truths.
Filmmaker Kip Andersen, and his co-director Keegan Kuhn (the same guys behind Cowspiracy, which was executive produced for Netflix by Leonardo DiCaprio), are at it again to expose the detriments of our meat-hungry society.
Andersen tracks down experts at leading health organizations, such as the American Cancer Society (ACS), American Diabetes Association (ADA), and American Heart Association (AHA), to ask them why they continue to promote a diet that they know leads to the very diseases they’re trying to prevent and cure.
The Hypocrite of the Year award goes to Dr. Robert Ratner, the Chief Scientific and Medical Officer for the ADA. I almost threw up after watching Anderson interview this man. I mean, I felt physically ill as I watched this interview in horror.
Dr. Ratner says the ADA’s mission is to “identify prevention of and a cure for diabetes.” Great!
But then, when Anderson asks him questions about what a proper diet for someone with diabetes looks like, Dr. Ratner becomes extremely agitated.
“I can’t tell you what a proper diet is,” he says. Oh, really, aren’t you a doctor?
Dr. Ratner goes on to say in his most child-like tone that he “won’t get into diet” nor will he talk about “diet’s impact on diabetes.” Whoa. Seriously?
You can watch this trainwreck interview unfold in real time in the following video clip:
The truth is Dr. Ratner, like so many doctors, doesn’t know a darn tooting thing about nutrition. They don’t study it, they don’t care to study it, and nutrition is not part of their med school curriculum. Ask any doctor friend you know how many nutrition classes they’ve taken… the answer will shock you.
But what’s even more disturbing is when Anderson uncovers what might be behind Dr. Ratner’s hissy fit… it might just be that he doesn’t want to bite the hand that feeds him.
Anderson Googled “American Diabetes Association Sponsor.” He found that the organization accepts money from Dannon, Kraft, and other food manufacturers pushing animal products that have been linked in numerous peer-reviewed studies to diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. This is like the American Lung Association taking money from cigarette companies!
And how fun is it to see pharmaceutical company after pharmaceutical company “sponsoring” the ADA? Not cool at all if you ask me. I thought these organizations had my back?!? (Editor Note: I have not been able to verify these claims independently.)
What the Health claims that these organizations take money – a lot of money – from pharmaceutical sponsors as well. Yep, these pharmaceuticals make about $1 trillion each year treating diabetes, heart disease, and cancer with their drugs. This is BIG business. I’ve always believed that pharmaceutical companies are more interested in creating customers than preventing and curing diseases, but that’s just my humble opinion.
The ADA is not alone, says Anderson, when it comes to accepting money from corporate interests. The American Cancer Society and American Heart Association allegedly do too.
What the Health is now streaming on Netflix… but I can save you some time by sharing some of the key points made in the film:
- If a child gets diabetes, you take 19 years off his or her lifespan. Sad, I know. Why aren’t we ALL more angry about this?!?
- Meat is one of the most detrimental foods to our health – not sugar (this is debatable to me – they’re both bad, but added sugar has no place in our diet). Sugar, GMOs, processed food, bagels and many other “foods” we consume are detrimental to our health. Our appetite for meat, no doubt, plays a role in disease, though.
- The ACS, ADA and AHA all share recipes on their websites that include meat (even processed meat, like bacon, which What the Health says has been classified by the World Health Organization as a carcinogen). These recipes promote the consumption of something that has been linked to creating the very diseases they are trying to prevent and cure. It’s bothersome, no doubt.
- The meat industry may be using the tobacco playbook to create “doubt” – even though mounting research exists about the ill effects of meat in the Standard American Diet. (I believe sugar uses these same tactics to confuse, distort and cast doubt.)
- Dairy and milk do not build strong bones. That’s just marketing jargon. Countries with the highest dairy intake also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. We find that building strong bones can be done just as well with calcium found in plant-based foods. (I tend to agree milk is not the magic ingredient for strong bones.) Dr. Aviva Romm’s article, Need Milk? Probably Not, gets it right.
- The USDA is responsible for creating our health and dietary guidelines (food pyramid, MyPlate) WHILE AT THE SAME TIME is responsible for promoting animal product consumption. This is a well-known conflict of interest.
- Get familiar with the Checkoff Program. This is a federally funded program that promotes meat, egg, and dairy consumption.
- The ag lobby is powerful. Wanna know just how powerful? The film talks about laws (Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act) that criminalize whistleblowers and activists who attempt to “damage or interfere with the operations of an animal enterprise.” (Also see Food Disparagement Laws – it’s what got Oprah in hot water with the cattleman.)
So you might be asking, “What the health am I supposed to do about this?”
I feel the same way.
While the film makes a strong case for veganism, I do not believe that avoiding animal products altogether is the solution. However, there are some small changes you can make over time to limit your meat consumption, which will only result in a healthier and more sustainable world. Here are some suggestions:
- Become less dependent on animal products. Meat and cheese don’t always have to be the star of your dish. Enjoy a full plate of vegetables and whole grains, and add just a little meat on the side of your plate.
- Eat mostly pasture-raised, organic animal products. These products cost more money, but they are better for you because they don’t contain hormones, antibiotics, and “sick” animals treated cruelly.
- Make meatless meals a few nights a week and build your vegan recipe repertoire over time.
- Stop thinking vegans are weird. We all have choices on this planet, and everyone is different. You can make a big difference in this world when you judge vegans less. I’ve learned that all protein comes from plants (and animals eat plants, so it’s just recycled protein when you eat it). So vegans are getting protein and know their bodies best. I also learned that some of the biggest mammals on earth are herbivores – buffalos, elephants, rhinos, cows, giraffes, and zebras – so if you thought you’d be weak and frail without meat, you’re wrong.
- Try dairy substitutes, like coconut milk or almond milk, instead of cow’s milk. Just make sure you get ones that aren’t overly processed and do not contain added sugar. You can also get things like yogurt and pudding made with coconut or almond milk.
Disclosure: Evolotus PR sent me a DVD of What the Health. All opinions are my own, and sometimes I’m confused by all the conflicting nutrition advice. My advice, take everything presented here with a grain of salt … and maybe eat less meat too. Good luck!
Dr. Ratner is now Chief Medical Officer at VIRTA, an organization that is highly successful with diabetes reversal using nutrition. They promote Keto based diets for weight loss and diabetes control.
Wendy @ Plantivores says
Welcome to the plant-based revolution Jenny! We vegans aren’t so weird are we? That was my favorite line in your post. ? I haven’t seen this movie yet but will definitely check it out.
It’s so sad how much corporate interests impact our health. Even down to how the cafeteria lady forces kids to take milk at every meal because it is on the food pyramid (influenced by big business and well-funded food lobbies) and even when I tell her my kids are allergic. So kids take the milk, don’t drink it and throw it away–but the dairy industry has made their money. ?. I believe this is how they got pizza verified as a “vegetable”.
And definitely be suspicious of medical studies showing the health benefits of meat, dairy and butter–you always have to look at where the funding comes from.
Thanks for sharing this information!
Ansh Dhar says
I haven’t watched the documentary yet, but I agree that most doctors here do not know anything about nutrition. Most doctors in the western medical system have no clue how to cure a disease , they only look at symptoms. My dad was a doctor and he actually studied ancient medicine like ayurveda and Unani systems to heal his patients through food and nutrition.
However I also do not believe in demonizing any food. Today it is sugar and meat, yesterday it was fat. We need to take a deeper look at our environment and food producing practices and we need to think deeper on our consumption practices.
In my opinion, the “i want it here and now” and I want it dirt cheap is what the problem is. We don’t eat seasonal food, we don’t wait for local food to show up in the grocery store and we don’t cook anymore. That has to stop. The economy of abundance at dirt cheap prices has to stop.
Being vegan is not a solution if we will keep asking for processed almond and coconut milk. How many people will actually make their own almond milk? and use the nut meal for making other things?
Teri Virbickis says
Sad but true! Another good documentary to watch is Diet for a New America, scared me in to becoming a vegetarian for 6 months after watching it!