Tuesday, 31 October 2017

My Thoughts On The Netflix Film "What The Health"

At the urging of a friend, I watched the Netflix movie "What The Health".

Initially, I thought I wouldn't be able to sit through the entire hour and a half, but after a while, I was hooked. The film is nothing if not gripping.

You can watch it here.

Plot, dialogue, humour - the film has it all, not to mention a crop of the most chilling villains you'll ever come across

The basic message is short and simple enough: A plant-based, vegan diet is good for our individual health, for public health and for the environment. A vast conspiracy involving powerful corporations and corrupted institutions that should be watching out for citizens' interests is preventing us from learning this simple truth.

There were many surprising or shocking pieces of information contained in this documentary, some of which I knew and some of which I didn't.

For example,
  • The conditions under which poultry and livestock are raised for dairy and meat are cruel, unhygienic and ecologically devastating. I knew this already, and the shocking footage only reinforced this knowledge.

  • The institutions that are meant to provide health advice (The American Cancer Society, The American Heart Association, Susan G Komen, The American Diabetes Association) are completely compromised due to their sponsorship by corporations in the food and pharmaceutical sectors. I knew this already, but it was good to see some actual names and funding relationships. The interview with the representative of the American Diabetes Association was particularly damning.

  • The entire healthcare system is oriented towards helping people live with disease through medication and surgical procedures (all of which are sources of revenue to powerful industry players), rather than towards helping people prevent or overcome disease (which would cost society a lot less but would also end those sources of revenue). I knew this already, and this was reinforced quite strongly by interviews with people across a spectrum of roles.

  • The strategy used by the food industry is to sow doubt in the minds of the general public, which works brilliantly at blunting even the most adverse research findings. I knew this too from my past knowledge of how the tobacco industry worked.

  • Whistleblowers who attempt to unearth evidence against livestock companies can be charged with crimes and jailed. I didn't know this, and it was particularly shocking to me, even though I am familiar with how lawmakers have been coopted by industries in the past.

  • Doctors are only exposed to 7 hours of instruction relating to nutrition during their 4 years of undergraduate study, even though their patients trust their doctors as authorities on nutrition. There is corporate-funded legislative opposition to doctors being provided more instruction on nutrition. I didn't know this, and this was the single most shocking piece of information I received from this video.

  • A lot of the farms and livestock-raising facilities are located close to poor neighbourhoods and pose a severe health risk to certain demographics, which happen to be ethnic minorities. I did not know this, and I agree with the viewpoint expressed in the film that it is a civil rights issue.

  • A number of athletes claim that their strength, endurance and ability to recover from injury improved after they started on a vegan diet. This was surprising to me, and I intend to research this further. A couple of the athletes interviewed, who said they were close to 50 years of age, looked to be in their thirties, which is pretty impressive.

  • Moderation isn't actually a good strategy. When the evidence is clear-cut that certain things are just bad, then it makes sense to cut them out entirely rather than consume them "in moderation". What is being achieved by consuming them at all? This was an interesting argument that made me think, because I have always unconsciously accepted the idea that everything in moderation is probably the right way forward.

There were a couple of areas where I think the video overstated the case.
  • For example, I don't think sugar can be let off the hook that easily as a risk factor for various diseases.

  • And I'm not sure that eggs are as bad as they're made out to be in this film. Of course, it could just be my personal biases at work, since I cannot do without eggs for breakfast.

What I liked best in the film were the three case studies of individuals who had serious health issues earlier, but who showed dramatic improvements within a few weeks of switching to a vegan diet.

Here is a mildly critical review of the film from Time. There are more strongly critical ones, which I suspect are funded by the organisations exposed by it.

In sum, the film has sensitised me a little bit more to this most important topic, and I will do more research, especially into the benefits of a vegan diet and lifestyle.

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