‘What the Health:’ a persuasive yet dishonest argument for veganism

Dissecting vegan fact from fiction

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‘What the Health:’ a persuasive yet dishonest argument for veganism

Katherine Mayo/Collegian

Katherine Mayo/Collegian

Katherine Mayo/Collegian

Katherine Mayo/Collegian

By Chandley McKenzie, Collegian Staff

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If you’ve seen “What the Health,” you know it delivers some shocking information about eating animal products. It aims to persuade its audience to switch to a plant-based diet, warning of increased risk of disease, even on the average American’s meat consumption. Kip Andersen, co-director and co-writer, also attempts to uncover deception in the health and pharmaceutical industries. While a vegan diet is certainly a healthy option and some information from the documentary is factual, many doctors, critics and experts in the health field have criticized “What the Healthfor cherry-picking information and misinterpreting existing data to support the creators’ claims.

Because cancer and heart disease are the leading causes of death in the United States and diabetes is more prevalent than ever, Andersen wanted to explain how this is related to meat and other animal products. Primarily, the documentary explains that processed meat is linked to these diseases. It claims sugar is used to dissuade the public from worrying about meat and diabetes is caused by the buildup of fat in the blood from animal products instead. The documentary proceeds to find several statistics supporting these claims.

The viewer must be mindful of the purpose of this documentary and take all the information with a grain of salt. While the documentary claims sugar is not a major health threat, several studies have found links between sugar and diabetes and heart disease. A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found the sugar industry funded research that whitewashed the dangers of sugar and accentuated the threat of fat.

The documentary also claims that eating processed meat is the equivalent of smoking cigarettes. The International Agency for Research on Cancer declared processed meat a carcinogen, a cancer-causing substance, however this does not mean that it is as threatening to the body as cigarettes. “What the Healthhighlights studies that prove milk’s link to cancer, ignoring the majority of studies that have found no strong correlation. The assertion that an egg a day equals five cigarettes a day has also been disproved by health professionals such as Stacey Mattinson.

Of these experts, many are disheartened by the lack of honesty and evidence from the presented information. “There is a growing movement to create a more honest and evidence-based approach to vegan nutrition,” said Virginia Messina, a vegan health professional. “We need the non-vegan world to know that it is possible to stand in support of animal rights while embracing scientific integrity.”

Another large part of the documentary features Andersen confronting large health organizations. After researching recommended recipes on the American Diabetes Association’s website, Andersen discoveres a bacon wrapped shrimp dish and various others featuring processed meat. After more research, he discoveres that many of these large organizations are corporate partners with animal product companies. For example, the American Diabetes Association partnered with Dannon and the American Cancer Association partnered with Tyson. This is perhaps the most alarming part of the documentary. If the previous claims about processed meat and animal products are true, these large organizations that are meant to be fighting prominent and threatening diseases are ignoring statistics and taking money from these companies for profit.

When Andersen arrives at the American Diabetes Association’s headquarters with various studies in hand, prepared for conversation, he does not get very far before he is asked to leave. Messina argues that she understands the American Diabetes Association’s unwillingness to discuss the topic, saying that many professionals do not have time to waste on individuals who do not understand the complexity of the research behind the subject. Andersen was shut down over the phone by the American Cancer Association, and his interview was cancelled when they found out that he wished to discuss the link between cancer and diet.

Since the effects of processed meats and dairy on the body are still being researched, no definite conclusion can be made on the integrity of nation’s largest health organizations. The bottom line is that “What the Health,” like every documentary, is a persuasive essay in video form. Directors Andersen and Keegan Kuhn clearly wanted the audience to walk away shocked, disgusted and ready to make a change. In the end, it’s up to the viewer to discern the information for his or her self and to decide if switching to the plant-based diet is really as critical as “What the Health” claims.

Chandley McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]