I wasn’t really planning on writing a review of the new vegan documentary What the Health. I watched it; I fumed; I complained on my personal Facebook page and more directly to my science-based colleagues. And then I figured I’d move on.
The thing that changed my mind is that the film is getting considerable (negative) attention from the non-vegan sphere. Some of these reactions are just anti-vegan diatribes and some are aimed purely at being offensive. But some are thoughtful and informed. And the fact is that it’s not possible to defend this film against the thoughtful and informed criticisms. Not from a scientific point of view anyway. And there is little to be gained by making weak, exposed efforts to defend bad science when we are being called out on it.
Instead, I think it is crucial to let the world know that this kind of junk science does not represent the vegan movement and should not be associated with animal rights. To that end, we need to hear critical perspectives about this film from vegans, not just from anti-vegans.
When I told my friend Erik Marcus that I was writing this review, he encouraged me to publish it on his website vegan.com. As I write this blog post, people are already reacting to the review. Predictably many vegans are enraged by it. But I didn’t write this to change the minds of those who love the film. I wrote it as one small part of our effort to change the minds of non-vegans about who we are. We are not a health cult driven by conspiracy theories and by poorly-supported dietary philosophies. We are a social justice movement – and hopefully an increasingly sophisticated and effective one.
Please head over to vegan.com and read my review of What the Health, written from my perspective as a dietitian and an animal rights activist.
A Few Other Reviews of Note
Even at 2500 words, I couldn’t address all of the problems in the film, so if you are interested in knowing what others are saying about it, here are a few more reviews that you might find interesting:
[edited in November, 2017 to add new reviews]
Video from Unnatural Vegan
Review by vegan dietitian Sharon Palmer
Radio interview by vegan dietitian Matt Ruscigno
Plus this review which includes quotes from vegan dietitians
Of those written by non-vegans, the best is the one on the Vox News website.
There is also a reasonably sound review on Science Based Medicine. The one on the LA Chefs website also makes some good points, although it meanders off into Crazy Paleo Land with comments about alleged dangers of vegan diets.
I read your review on vegan.com. Thank you for providing the scientific perspective. I’ve hesitated in talking to people about What the Health because I was worried that junk science was used.
What would you recommend as a decent vegan documentary with science that passes muster?
Y’know, I actually have not seen any of the other health-related ones! So I can’t make a recommendation. I think some of the ones oriented toward animal exploitation like Earthlings are compelling, but they are really hard to watch.
I went from vegetarian to vegan after watching Peaceable Kingdom. Not very graphic at all
I’m so happy to read your review of the film. When I watched the film, I was left gobsmacked by the inaccuracy, exaggeration, conspiracy theory and overall lack of basic knowledge of human metabolism, especially the notion that carbs strictly get stored as glycogen. It does not do veganism one lick of good to be deceptive, and misleading. With the data we have, it stands on it’s own. Thanks again for providing a much needed, true, expert opinion.
Thanks VeganScientist. It’s always nice to see you. 🙂
Wow what a refreshing review. Thank you for clarifying those things!
Thank you so much for writing about this! (I was hoping you would). I found it to be laughably bad and upsetting because we have good evidence to be more plant-based – there’s no reason to misrepresent, exaggerate and lie about the information available. It doesn’t represent veganism and our community well at all. At least I know I can send confused friends links to your writing to clear up misunderstandings.
Thank you, Sara. I have to admit I laughed a couple of times, too!
I just finished reading your thoughtful critique of What The Health. I haven’t seen the movie, and don’t plan to, but I wanted to respond to let you know how complicated my reaction to your review is for me because of my own journey with eating plant-based. I have been a low fat vegan for 9 years now. I DO have multiple sclerosis. It started 12 years after my diagnosis. I have never taken any meds for it, always used alternative therapies, until they also began to fail and I came across the Swank Diet for MS and decided to do it vegan for a variety of reasons. There was no Forks Over Knives at that time and I had never heard of any of the “famous” plant-based doctors either. I HAVE experienced a life saving turn of events in terms of symptoms by eating vegan and very low fat. I basically follow a lot of recommendations of Drs. Esselstyn and McDougall, but I DO have a (very) small amount of flax seeds and so forth. This has worked amazingly well for me. I learned how to cook oail free from Susan Voison and we became friends online. In 2012, she invited me to write a blog on her site about my experience, which, embarrassingly now that I read your section on “miracles,” I call Plant-Based Slow Motion Miracle. I know Drs like McDougall make wild claims I don’t agree with or even like, but also embarrassingly, I am one of those people who felt, just two weeks in, a profound shift of feeling all the way down to the cell level–as if I had been fighting a fever for 12 years and it suddenly “broke.” That is an authentic experience for me, though it can’t be documented clinically. At that time I had no idea who Dr. McDougall even was, but I was creating a version of the Swank Diet that is vegan, based on reading his book. Maybe it’s true that the research on low fat eating is outdated, but every time I try to eat “more” it backfires on me. I am also personally very intolerant of dairy, so feel better than ever not eating that. I also hope it will contribute to helping me not get the breast cancer my grandmother had. I do not follow everything these doctors preach. I DO take B-12. I DO need to take vitamin D, but had to work hard to find one I could assimilate successfully. I DO take some magnesium. So I am not supplement free, as some of these Drs claim is possible. I remember also reading something you wrote or referenced about older women/vegans needing more high protein sources. I have found that to be helpful, though lentils and tofu and a bit of tempeh here and there do that trick for me just fine so far.
When I find myself wedged between these two views of veganism, I feel profound conflict. I is in fact keeping me very stuck in my efforts to write a memoir from my blog. To credible folks like you my experience sounds fake I guess, because it cannot be clinically proven. I first started writing about my experience in the journal section of the McDougall site and all my readers there urged me to write to him. So I did. He was basically uninterested in it, and didn’t even seem to understand what I was saying, if he read it carefully at all. I believe that is because the arc of my progress doesn’t follow a conversion tale of finding him and then turning everything around strictly by following his prescription. Yet I have improved so much that when I saw a new neurologist a couple of years ago after moving she said my exam fell within normal neurological range. It turned out my original MRI was lost or not kept, unbeknownst to me, back in the place I was diagnosed so she said there would be no baseline to prove I ever had it at all. All I have is a letter from the neurologist I saw who said he was 95% sure it was multiple sclerosis. While she did not disbelieve me, and said she would support if the possibility of losing my medicare benefits ever came up, it was rather traumatic to find my years of struggle and then (to me) miraculous improvement erased because medical records I believed were in my file had not been kept.
I still have mild forms of many of the debilitating symptoms I once had but they are so mild they are no longer debilitating. Some are completely gone. If I rest, use my service dogs, eat the way I do, I have been able to do some tremendous things I never thought possible again or ever. My blog is full of these epiphanies and experiences. Yet I also realize I could be experiencing some kind of silent progression—of course now with no clinical baseline there’s no way to know.
I don’t even know why I’m telling you this; I know Susan respects your point of view deeply. I guess I just felt like saying your view and the views you criticize as expressed in What The Health both end up leaving me somewhat at sea with no port to sail into. I can’t tell a story of how the inaccurate hype failed me and medical science saved me, but I can’t completely tell the story of how I was “converted and saved” through a plant-based change, though my story comes fairly close to that, and can’t be backed up by hard science. Even when a condition can be documented, doctors and scientists sometimes say it wasn’t ever really the case if amazing improvements are made, as is described and documentedso movingly in a chapter of The Way The Brain Heals by Norman Doidge, about a man in South Africa with Parkinson’s who taught himself a system for how to walk and control his shaking symptoms. He ended up being attacked by the medical establishment despite his mountain of medical verification.
Once I figure out how to negotiate this all the way, I will be able to make more progress on this memoir. I hope anyway, and feel it coming however slowly. I suspect as an artist and a poet it will have a lot to do with living the mystery, beyond the hard facts. Hopefully that will appeal to both camps of my so-called audience and beyond, for my story is basically a human one. f you would like to read about the complexity of my experience, here’s one starting place on my blog:
Not all of my posts are about plant-based eating, but the ability to write them is fundamentally supported by the fact that I do. And this is not the whole story here. Just a heartfelt reaction to your review.
Thank you for your time, and your good work on behalf of committed and informed vegan living.
Maria Theresa Maggi
Maria, thank you for sharing your experience. A couple of thoughts. First – I love that you mentioned Norman Doidge! Until two weeks ago, I had never heard of him. But recently, I mentioned to a friend that I was doing mindfulness meditation and was kind of interested in neuroplasticity and she mentioned Doidge to me. So that’s an interesting coincidence.
Second, you suggested that your experience might sound fake to science-minded people like me. It doesn’t. It’s your experience and I trust that it’s real. The reasons for your experience start to get a little fuzzy for me, though. That’s because people eating all kinds of different diets report relief from all kinds of symptoms. If you google “multiple sclerosis” and “Paleo diet” you’ll find people who say they healed their MS through that dietary approach. That doesn’t mean that a low-fat vegan diet isn’t best for you; it doesn’t mean your experience isn’t legitimate. It just means that anecdotes aren’t enough evidence for making general recommendations to others about diet. That may be the same kind of criticism that was leveled at Dr. Doidge (I don’t know because I haven’t actually read his book.)
I don’t think you should feel as though you are at sea without a port, though. You have found a dietary approach that works for you and that’s wonderful. That doesn’t change the fact that for the general public, we have to make recommendations based on more solid research. These are not incompatible concepts.
At any rate, I’m glad you feel good now. Thanks again for sharing your story.
Brilliant review. Thank you so much for it.
I skimmed the movie on Netflix. The good stuff is not new information and the bad stuff I think really hurts vegan advocacy.
Yes, my reaction, too.
I have been reading through the comments and I must admit…I am a little confused. My understanding is that a vegan diet is both extremely beneficial to animals and to our health? After being a vegetarian and an animal activist for many years….’What The Health’ pushed me to make the move to a vegan diet. Whilst my transition is slow I fully intend to adopt a wholly vegan lifestyle in the near future. I am not sure why people, especially vegans, are refusing anything that may assist in the cause? I have previously meat eating friends adopting a vegan diet as a result of watching ‘what the health’ and im of the opinion that, I don’t care what prompted them or why they are doing it, the more people, the better. Is this the wrong attitude to have?
Francesca my thoughts exactly!
I was one of the people that converted after accidentally watching What the Health!
Bravo for speaking up!
I was a vegetarian for about 15 years- though not a very good one. I was inspired by some new age book about the quality of the energy we put in our bodies. I was in my 20s and at the time that philosophy made sense to me- however odd it sounds. I stepped away from being a vegetarian when my husband was diagnosed with celiac and low iron stores. Our poor high carb and low protein diets just didn’t seem compatible with celiac, so we took a break.
As a documentary filmmaker myself, the inaccuracies you’ve pointed out and gotcha journalism overall was disconcerting. It’s not a route I’d feel comfortable following in my own work. At the same time, I don’t consider this form of documentary as anything more than one person’s perspective. It’s not a voice for the entire vegan community. In this case, it’s one person who is documenting his own discovery process. The quest storytelling arc is a common and effective structure for laying out this discovery process, and it is often contrived. I don’t see it as dishonest so much as just a structure for low budget films that remains successful in commercial documentary production.
Watching as a non vegan, what I heard was that it is possible to be healthy on a plant based diet, and some argue it is preferable. That, much like Food Inc. and other documentaries have expressed, corporate farming is having an impact on the quality of our food sources and the messages we receive about nutrition. That animal cruelty has become an accepted norm and that agriculture continues to have a devastating impact on the environment. Those were my takeaways.
Is “What the Health” effective in inspiring audiences to consider looking more closely at veganism? Frankly, yes. It inspired me to do more research, reconsider my position and talk with others about it openly. The food industry “conspiracy” angle just reminded me that sometimes we don’t hear the whole truth and that there are multiple reasons why. Every industry lobbyist bolsters their position with cherry picked and dubiously funded studies. I don’t care that this duo did the same. It’s up to me to question their angle as much as the industry angle. (But I can tell you one thing as a documentary producer- these guys, unlike the lobbyists, aren’t trying to get rich on this story.). Documentaries are a labor of love with an understanding that you will likely walk away with less money in your pocket than you started with.
You have to take these docs for what they are- entertainment with an opinion. Personally, the takeaways I listed above were enough to inspire my husband and I to return to a plant based diet. It also inspired two of the most committed meat, dairy and gluten eaters in my family to try veganism after years of begging them to consider a more healthy diet.
Rather than focusing on the negative impact this film will have on veganism, celebrate that the conversation has been stirred and that it is inspiring non-vegans to consider the benefits. Honestly, asking people to change habits is an extremely daunting task. Simply stating the benefits of veganism in a culture whose diet is largely meat based via the scientific method won’t necessarily work (or be distributed on Netflix). Drama- even fueled by overstated “scientific facts”- drives emotion. People act in emotion and rest in logic.
As I continue to research and test drive veganism, I sincerely appreciate the inaccuracies you’ve pointed out. But honestly, I look at documentaries for the big ideas. I don’t rely on a person who doesn’t present himself as a nutritionist for science or absolute accuracy. These docs have biases and they are meant to motivate change. Rather trying to tear it apart, just be the resource we need to provide clarity and appreciate what the film and filmmaker are doing to stimulate the conversation.
Susan, I appreciate your perspective, especially as a film maker, but I can’t agree. Bad information about nutrition is potentially harmful. We know this on the one hand because of all the people who fail at being vegan (although obviously, nutrition is only one reason for this). And I know it personally because of all the vegans I hear from who are struggling with their health because they’ve been following some of the more popular advice in the vegan sphere.
By asking me to celebrate what the film does, you are making an assumption that more good than bad will come out of the film. And of course, you could very well be right. But I might be right, too — that in the long run, this will cause more harm than good to the animal rights movement and potentially to people’s health as well.
Re: the money issue, I don’t know whether the film makers are making money or not. They have a bit of a supporting industry going with shirts, a book, and meal plans. But I don’t begrudge any animal activist the right to make a living! And I agree that this was not about money for them. I trust that their intentions were to further the cause of veganism.
According to LA Chefs’ Cowspiracy review, he was a vegetarian and then vegan for over 20 years. Robb Wolf, a biochemist, who wrote another detailed critique also was a vegan for a significant period of time. Many so-called “paleo” practioners were once vegans. (As a sidebar, paleo is really a misnomer, many follow evolution based dietary patterns which aren’t so dogmatic in macronutrient ratios). Many of these “paleo” types (not all of course) are also conscientious or ethical omnivores meaning they make a concerted effort to understand how ALL of their food was raised, caught and grown. There are many deleterious ways (monocropping, tillage excessive NPK inputs, massive blue water irrigation, etc) to grow crops including organic crops. So being conscientious from a health and environmental poitnt of view is much more complicated than a simple binary system of meats “bad” and plants “good.”
Anyway, here’s Wolf’s review :
Here’s another that looked at the underlying science:
Finally as you noted, when such blatant propoganda is pushed as “science”, it dilutes the “cause” whatever that cause may be and may also result in a backlash against the “cause.”.
Thanks, Stefhan. I’ll take a look at Wolf’s review in just a little bit. I do know that many “Paleo” practitioners are former vegans. It’s one reason I do what I do –trying to help vegans stay vegan. 🙂
I also understand and appreciate the effort to be an “ethical omnivore.” As an animal rights advocate, though, I don’t agree with it. But yes, it’s way more complicated than plants “good” and meat “bad.”
I also wrote a review as a fellow vegan RD and science advocate: http://susanmacfarlanenutrition.com/actual-nutrition-expert-thinks-health/
Thanks, Susan. It’s an excellent review!
Thank you for the review! I find the movie to be similar to how some in the pro-animal community think and comment about vivisection. I wrote “FAQs about the use of animals in science” in 2010 and explained that many uses of animals in science is scientifically viable the ethics notwithstanding. This generated many complaints from activists who had no understanding of science and who were largely opposed to science as a paradigm. They were throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Better science education for everyone is needed in the US.
Thanks so much, Ray, for this comment. And it’s great to hear from you! Do you remember that about a million years ago we spent several days at some farm in Virginia developing a nutrition guide for the HSUS. This was you, right? Michael Greger was there as well I believe. I think I still have your book somewhere.
“FAQs about the use of animals in science” in 2010 and explained that many uses of animals in science is scientifically viable the ethics notwithstanding”
so we should just ignore the ethical ramifications of torturing and killing sentient beings in the name of science? it seems that instead of better science education as you suggested, it is the moral and ethical education which is severely lacking, not to mention basic empathy and compassion.
Dr. Greek has been actively opposing vivisection for decades. You misinterpreted a comment from someone you know nothing about.
RE: Your spot-on review of “What Then Health” film. Right on the money, Ms Messina. As a host home for Vegan Outreach’s courageous leafters for many years in Utah, we are in the fight.
Bravo! I do completely agree with your assessment. The filmmakers obviously had their heart in the right place.We do subscribe to Vegan Outreach’s tenant – paraphrasing here: “The only sustainable argument, period, is to spare these poor animals from the agonizing torture they are subject to. NOT the health issue.” Our sweet kitty is also a 7 year vegan, it can be done! We just had a full blood-work panel done on her, puurfectly fabulous.(pardon the pun). If you need advice, please contact us (see below)
There are plenty of extremely healthy meat eating athletes around, so health cannot be the issue.
Thanks again for all you do, Virginia!
Sincerely, The Campbell Family
Please keep up your good work- we need you. Thank You, The Campbell Family, email@example.com / 801-230-4352
Thank you so much for this comment and for being a Vegan Outreach host home. VO is one of my very favorite AR organizations as you may know.
i think the suggestion that VO (which advises people to eat cows instead of chickens to “reduce suffering”) is an animal rights organization is ludicous to say the least. would you also consider a group who says “instead of torturing and killing 10 chihuahuas, torture and kill one great dane” as an agency which advocates for dogs?
First of all, Vegan Outreach does not suggest that people should “eat cows.” You are confusing them with a different organization (One Step for Animals) which has been accused of telling people to do that. But in fact, they doesn’t say that either. You are parroting things you hear on the internet (and getting them wrong to boot) rather than looking at actual facts.
“There is a growing movement to create a more honest and evidence-based approach to vegan nutrition”
Where can I sign up? 🙂
“those of us who value this effort need to be a more visible presence in the animal rights community”
I haven’t been extremely lucky with this one so far :/ … In my experience many of the “established” groups and long-term vegans seem to be closed to helping with this. And some new activists are more open to it 🙂
Haha — I’ve already signed you up!
I checked out your review on vegan.com. I follow you on Facebook and I remember when you first commented on WTH after the vegan conference you attended. Full disclosure. I have not watched the film yet. Plan to very soon.
But, I wanted to add that this documentary is making waves in the Black community online in a positive sense. I have friends that for the first time, are determined to change their lifestyle in this way. It’s just a fact that most of us Black vegans came into this through the health route first. That’s how I did 27 years ago when I went vegetarian.
Diabetes complications took the lives of some close family members. I went vegan 10 years ago, for the animals.
So, I guess I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this. For the most part, communities of color(Blacks especially) won’t even consider becoming vegan or plant based unless it’s for health reasons. If this documentary and others like it are not trustworthy, when are other professionals in the vegan world(like yourself for example) going to put together a film that will be acceptable? I know that you and others have written some great work. I have all your books! Except for your newest one.;) But what about the people who will never pick up your books? People love film. It’s such a powerful medium.
I do understand this dilemma since there are many people who will only eat a vegan diet for their own health. I’m just not convinced that overstating the science is the right response. I’d rather be honest about it and tell them that it’s important to cut way back on animal foods and processed foods for health. And then show people that every further step they take also benefits animals and the environment. And hopefully, as they start to explore more meatless and vegan meals, they’ll be open to these other concerns, too. It’s a message that can’t really be challenged and I think that’s what we need to focus on in vegan activism. I’m interested in knowing your thoughts about this, too.
I am a Board Certified Holistic Public Health RN in private practice and part of the Imperfectly Vegan Movement. I’ve dedicated my life to addressing our overall public health victories as well as our shortcomings and spreading the messages far and wide. Our food supply is all tangled up in politics, greed and corporate lies and cover ups.
The health revolution is upon us now and is reprogramming our big collective unconscious sleeping brain right out of complacency. Health movements always begin with education. Always.
When documentaries like “What The Health” and “Forks Over Knives” are released and promoted in a way that changes our collective thinking, I have to applaud the movie makers who have the courage to make a difference. These enormous efforts are capable of pulling us out of our public health crisis, one person at a time. All despite the resistence that constantly tugs on them from fearful critics who make desperate attempts to keep things the way they are.
I think that a lot of the information presented in this video is quite exaggerated, but I do appreciate its intent to show that there are many secrets the meat industry intends to hide through payments to the health and food industries. I really like that you have a fresh, unbiased, and practical perspective on this documentary, as I think it’s so important to have these kinds of voices in the vegan community.
The thing that upset me the most about this film is that they failed to make a distinction between the two types of diabetes. They said you can cure or reverse diabetes with a vegan diet. I have type 1 diabetes and this is so utterly false it makes me angry! Don’t get me wrong, I eat a plant based diet though I’m not vegan but you can’t lie and give false information! The only thing I can do is to take my insulin because my body doesn’t produce it, there is no cure or way of reversing Type 1. It was very irresponsible of the people in this film to say that you can! Also, Neil Barnard misrepresented himself as an expert in endocrinology which he is not. He is a psychiatrist, big difference! They are doing alot of damage to the animal rights/vegan movement imo.
Neil Barnard is an MD, a fellow at the American College of Cardiology, and adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
“Yes, there is. There is at least as much evidence that plant-based (but not vegan) diets can reverse heart disease as there is evidence indicating vegan diets can reverse heart disease.”
Your link above is misleading. The study you link to shows improvement in CAROTID artery function. The carotid artery feeds the brain, not the heart.
There are many studies that specifically show improvements in CORONARY artery disease (heart disease) and most involve vegan (see e.g. Esselstyn) diets. Some approaches are not vegan (see Ornish), but still emphasise predominantly plant-based diets, extremely low in fats (10% or less of daily calories), animal and otherwise.
Yes, I should have specified that I was talking about artery disease in general. But the study I cited is actually the only one that has shown that a vegan diet (in addition to other diets) reverses artery disease. There were too many variables in the Ornish program to be able to say anything about the effects of the diet. And Dr. Esselstyn didn’t use a control group or publish any data on different health parameters among his patients. The findings are interesting but they don’t carry much weight among more science-minded people. The paper I cited is better evidence for effects of diet on artery disease.
Great article, Ginny! When we use arguments that are not true, we undermine our credibility and our effectiveness. I have mentioned at conferences that if people find one of your statements to be questionable, they will then be more skeptical of everything else you say.
Few people have the expertise to interpret quality quantitative research. Whether it’s the ultra-complex nutrition and health field or even consumer opinion, only a very few have the training … certainly not mainstream media. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen people saying that the number of veg*ans in the U.S. is increasing, despite that fact that we have no statistically significant evidence that that is the case.
Thanks for helping us all be more thoughtful consumers of information!
Thank you, Caryn! I’m interested to hear more about your take on the claims that number of vegans is increasing. My impression has been that people are comparing findings from different surveys, which you really can’t do. Are you going to be addressing this at the AR session in any of your sessions? I definitely want to learn more about this!
Hello Ginny – I just found your critique of the WTH movie and was so grateful to see this coming from a vegan. I have recently started to dabble in veganism, mainly due to health issues and the urgent need to lose weight. I have tried a paleo and low carb approach before – I am a type 2 diabetic – and lost in the vicinity of 90 lbs but, alas, over the course of a couple years they all came back. Would the vegan diet be my panacea? It sure sounded like it… to keep myself motivated I have been seeking out pro-vegan books and films but have been increasingly suspicious of some of the claims. I have a degree in a science based field and the WTH movie just really rubbed me the wrong way. It has been discouraging to find that all the advocates for certain diets, most recently for me the paleo folks and the vegans are more interested in perpetuating their almost religious beliefs instead of finding out the truth. I had been unsuccessful so far in finding someone who reports research findings in an unbiased way but I think that may have changed :-)Thank you! — Deborah
Thanks, Deborah. And I hope you’ll still give a vegan diet a try. It has certainly helped some people lose weight. And the nice thing about veganism –unlike Paleo — is that it lends itself to a lot of different approaches. You can do a low-carb/high protein vegan diet (moderately low-carb at least) or a low-fat approach or something somewhere in the middle. You can play around with that to see what works best for you for weight loss and managing your blood glucose. (And whichever approach you use, of course, it still saves animals and helps the environment. 🙂
I read your review on Vegan.com, a site by the way that does a huge disservice to animals and to veganism with its promotion of “happy” animal exploitation. I’m sad to say that I think it’s rather disingenuous of you since Michael Greger wrote the forward for your book and forgive me but I see this complete panning of WTH as a rather unfortunate attempt to get attention for your latest book “Even Vegans Die”. Despite this panning of WTH, Michael Greger who wrote your forward was in What the Health and probably could confirm any of the nutrition claims made in What the Health. And despite your unfortunate hit piece on What the Health, it’s going gangbusters. Sad that you want to run down a documentary in view of my points.
Where does Vegan.com promote “happy” animal exploitation?!
Ginny, have you read Dr. Michael Greger’s book, “How Not To Die?” I wonder if you would consider blogging a review of that book. Many people argue, including Harriet Hall at the web site Science Based Medicine, accuse Dr. Greger of exaggerating the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet. Do you think his categorization of foods into Green Light, Yellow Light and Red Light foods is helpful to people attempting to consume a healthy diet? Thanks.
I have dipped into it, but haven’t read it cover to cover. I just looked at the green – yellow -red light discussion and I think it’s good. This is actually an approach that is often used to teach kids about healthy eating, but it obviously works for adults, too. I like the fact that it doesn’t say any food is completely off-limits (form a health perspective) but that there are definitely foods that should be limited in healthy diets and some that should be greatly minimized.
I doubt that I would agree with everything in the book but I don’t think it’s especially over-the-top in its claims or recommendations. As always, I don’t like to see so much negative perspective on foods like olive oil, but at least he makes it a yellow light food! That’s where I would put it, too.
Olive oil is junk food — no better than sugar. If you want health, eat an actual olive.
Thanks for what you do, Ginny. Your review of What The Health is just one more example.
My own approach is to differentiate between the sufficiency argument and the necessity argument. The sufficiency argument, following the position paper of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says that we can be healthy on a properly planned plant based diet. The necessity argument says that a plant based diet is necessary to achieve good health. The sufficiency argument allows us to highlight the environment and compassion reasons for going plant based.
One question, please. I apologize if I have this wrong. Back in the days when the tobacco industry was claiming there was no scientific evidence that cigarettes cause cancer, they said that there were no studies with humans that were double blind with random assignment to conditions. If such studies are the gold standard and the only source of “proof,” can we ever achieve that for nutrition studies, and if not, how can we “prove” anything? Thanks again.
Thanks, George. You’re right about this — it is next to impossible to “prove” anything in nutrition. For so much of what we “know,” the information comes from observational studies. It’s especially hard with looking at causes of chronic diseases since they happen over a long period of time. It’s much easier to do clinical trials looking at treatment of diseases. But even where we don’t have proof, or clinical studies, we can at least make some good guesses from the observational studies. I would never say that we should refrain from making recommendations until we have clinical trials — just that we need to look at all of the evidence.
And yes, I like the sufficiency versus necessity argument. Although one way I like to look at it is to say a vegan diet is sufficient for health and necessary for compassion.
“a vegan diet is sufficient for health and necessary for compassion” That’s going to be my go-to line. Thx a lot, Ginny.
Just found your website and saw this topic, I watched the movie last week and while I did really like some of the points discussed I also thought that they should have focused on fewer topics and really explored those such as the animal ag in poor communities. Thank you for an insightful article.
Hi, Nice review. One question, you say “There is at least as much evidence that plant-based (but not vegan) diets can reverse heart disease as there is evidence indicating vegan diets can reverse heart disease.”
What is a plant based (not vegan) diet? It is the first time I have heard anyone say such a thing. Everything I have read about plant based assumes it is a subset of vegan (avoid processed foods, no oil, sugar, reduced salt)
“In the nutrition field, “plant-based” is defined as a diet that emphasizes plant foods, primarily whole plant foods. So a healthy lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is plant-based and so is a traditional Mediterranean diet.
Very good review. I agree people are looking for reasons to discredit veganism, a co-worker of mine referred to it as vegan propaganda. Your insight is amazing and your objectivity is admirable and unfortunately unusual for our society. Veganism leads to healthier choices and generally lower calorie intake and better nutrition. I am on my 3rd year no, dropped 50 pounds, more active, and my stage 3 colon cancer (which is why I went vegan) seems to be gone. One dislike I have about being vegan is people assume for some reason that my politics is far left, I’m a republican, but why do people correlate veganism with progressivism?
You’re citing the Vox News review as being credible? Really? It was total garbage. Here’s one review of that review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHpmgo9pQI8
Hi Ginny, thanks for the great review! I wrote one which make a lot of the same points (obviously), but I tried to have a bit more information about the actual health effects and disease risks, because there are so many misconceptions about that. I hope you like it! https://lowcarb-vegan.net/what-the-health-review/
Thank you, Martine. It’s an excellent review!
“What the Health” did have a point on protein and lysine. On the VeganHealth.org web site in a discussion of protein, Jack Norris writes: It is very hard to design a vegan diet that meets lysine requirements for a person who does not exercise daily without including legumes, seitan, quinoa, amaranth, pistachios, or pumpkin seeds without having too many calories.” But it’s really not hard at all. With four foods, brown rice, broccoli, collards and oranges, one can get all of the essential amino acids and meet all nutritional requirements except for B-12 and D. A 5 feet 10 inch active 150 pound male might need about 2,700 calories. With 6 cups of steamed brown rice, 2 large stalks of broccoli, 2 cups of collards and 3 medium oranges one gets 2,700 mg of Lysine and less than 2,000 calories. So there are calories to spare. Why tell people that adequate Lysine is hard to obtain?
I’m not Ginny, but would like to reply anyway. The reason it’s hard, is because you have to eat specific foods to meet the requirements. Legumes are the easy way in my opinion. Your example says to eat two stalks of broccoli and 6 cups of brown rice. Who does that? That’s not a realistic meal suggestion for most folks. Left to their own devices, most people like to eat bananas, pasta, crackers, potatoes and other low protein / low lysine foods. They don’t measure their lysine intake and feel encouraged not to by messages such as yours that say it’s ‘not hard’. Dietitians warn people to eat the right foods, because that’s their job and it saves people from having to rely on bad advice from internet strangers…
I am not a vegan by any standards, but your review of the movie was a very nice find for me, as it shows vegans as level headed people with sound arguments.
In my personal experience i have not come across any hardcore / nuts vegans but online it seems its all there is. So reading a little of yours is such a nice experience and i am happy you make the effort as i feel a lot of good things / perspective / ideas can come from the vegan community.
I was just really put off by the movie and i fear that a movie like that will stop most meat lovers from even cutting down a little on their meat consumption due to the false info and fear mongering.
I have to politely disagree with your review of What the Health. While I may not disagree with every point, as I am not going to claim to understand all points, I don’t see how the research and science are conflicting. I think the only reason different studies may conflict with the results of those showing a plant-based diet being a great answer for not only stopping many chronic diseases, but also reversing them is due to the money funding these studies.
While I do agree some things are certainly exaggerated, how else would you go about reaching the younger generations? You know, those in need of drama and instant gratification just to survive in this world, not those being raise properly by two parents.
Just my two cents, which probably isn’t worth much. Personally, What the Health was one of many that convinced my wife and I to go fully Vegan. Cowspiracy was another. I believe we need at least two solid reasons and weight loss and health only count as one.
Thank you for trying to discredit the information in the documentary What The Health. The fact remains that you yourself admit to not having read some books/studies or seen some documentaries. I suggest you do. I have seen over 20 people around me who have benefited on a whole-food plant-based diet. Even people recommended knee replacement surgery don’t require it any more. I have totally lost faith in what “science” has to say. I myself have felt the tremendous benefits of a whole-food plant-based diet, so couldn’t care less about what anyone has to say. I suggest you attend one of the many seminars and courses held by The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine or other plant based doctors to understand the “miracle” of so many patients with debilitating diseases. It’s very easy to write off these dramatic changes when one is not suffering from these diseases themselves. I’m very disappointed in the very flimsical reasons of your disagreement with what the film is educating people about.
Ginny actually used to work for PCRM so I’m sure she’s familiar with their work and has seen whatever studies they have
I watched “what the health” and decided to become vegetarian and am now working my way toward eating vegan. That movie has changed my life and I’ve personally spoken with others whose lives and diets were changed because of that movie. I thought it was great from a layperson’s perspective. Reading “Vegan for Life” at the moment.
Thanks for the review. I got a big kick out of the film, and I enjoyed Cowspiracy as well. These are documentaries but they are also films. There is a little bit of shtick to them, I get it. Kip is a vegan and an advocate otherwise he wouldn’t be making the film. He uses the meme of calling organizations up as a way to launch into a topic. It works for me, I don’t expect more out of that. Overall though three themes emerged for me. First, a plant based diet promotes better health. Second, current agricultural practices (both plant and animal) present sustainability issues for the soon to be 8 billion people on the planet and entrenched special interests in agriculture and food production will l be very difficult to displace. Finally, plant based diets are economical and practical for people to follow. What’s wrong with any of that? Now, we can argue over specifics and I am sure if Ginny was in a room with all the people shown in the film, they could spend weeks, months maybe even years debating the details. But none of them would alter their opinions on the three main themes.
Another reason I watched the film was that I have been in contact with Esselstyn for awhile, and always like to see him. I reached out to him via email after I had a significant heart event, and at 6:00 the next morning he called me. I have had multiple calls with him since. I have never been his patient and he hasn’t received any money from me. He is a wonderful man, a highly regarded doctor and a compassionate human being. I know following his plan has helped me return to health. I also respect his research. He worked very closely with a group of cardio patients who were literally on their last legs, for well over 15 years, and could witness directly the effects of a low fat plant based diet on their health. His followup paper using over 200 patients is solid as well. I am a retired econ professor and with my background in statistics and research, I must say that I am more impressed by direct, hands on – observational work like Esselstyn’s then in the “gold standard” double blind multi year 100,000 plus member studies that get funded and published today. Remember, Louis Pasteur had very small sample sizes. But he had a strong idea, and needed some data to prove it. No one waited around for 10 years to see if a randomized study showed that rabies vaccines work.
Thank you for your perspective. I felt the same way and you articulated it perfectly.
Best wishes to you.
Thank you for the insightful article. Much appreciated!
The movie as a whole does more good than harm. If you say more harm, then you you align yourself with a meat based diet. Therefore, more good then equals a plant based diet. The main theme of the movie is plant based versus meat based. One can quickly skim your rebuff and easily see that you align yourself with the majority of the movies main points that plant based is better than meat based. The movie presents itself well to educate people about plant based versus meat based. Suppose you have the resources to make a movie, let’s see you do better. Your movie still falls under plant based versus meat based. Call the makers of the movie, get their budget, then you raise those funds, and with ‘their’ same budget, make a better film about plant based versus meat based. I look forward to your ‘better’ film. – Mark
Giiiiiiirl I read your review and while I am not a vegan (though am plant based), I am a dietitian and all I have to say is that was a great review. I couldn’t even get through it because of the nonsense that was being spouted at the time I walked in on it was not consistent with anything I’d learned during school or in my years as a dietitian so I immediately dismissed it as hodgepodge and turned it off. Nice to read about what a fellow dietitian had to say about it!!
Thank you for always being a voice of reason in the vegan community! I also wanted to thank you for stopping by the Animal Legal Defense Fund reception we held at the Animal Rights Conference.
It is so frustrating that the vegan community promotes inaccurate information. We already have a great reason to go vegan (for the animals)! We don’t need to rely on information that isn’t correct. I know it can’t be easy to stand up for science in our community, but know that many of us appreciate what you do!
Thank you, Kelly. And I really enjoyed the ALDF reception!. Also am a fan of the wonderful work your organization does.
I was waiting for your review. I knew it would be thoughtful, reasoned and informative. I also wanted to add how much I enjoyed Even Vegans Die. Such important information.
I will not address issues about this documentary particularly, but some issues regarding veganism in general. I agree that bad science, misinterpretations, and scare tactics are not the way to promote what veganism is, what animal welfare is. These tactics introduce labels like religiously, militant, or oppressing. As a long time vegan, I have to admit that for me it was a road of few mistakes and mishaps at the beginning (for which I was sometimes judged), but I always kept in mind my reasons and goals. My main reason was health, but along the way, I found compassion, I started to appreciate cruelty-free aspect of it all.
And now I’m in a place where I feel satisfied and fulfilled. Veganism is not and should not be some scary word. Propagated dubious facts should not scratch all the good that comes out of this cruelty-free and environmentally friendly lifestyle.
In conclusion, I think that everyone should find what’s best for them. Even if they don’t end up “on our side”, if they pick up compassion, or just become more conscious about their influence on other living beings along the way, it’s a step in the right direction, its’s a win for a society as a whole. We should influence with our example, not our judgement.
Hello, I’ve only very recently turned Vegan, and I found you initially from Unnatural Vegan’s youtube channel. I see you link back to her from this article too, so I’m going to comment back to you some feedback about my experience on her channel. I did buy your book It’s Never too Late to Become Vegan along with many others too long to list here. I have some science background doing Civil Engineering research at the Univ. of Texas doing the research and publishing with graduate researchers. I watched two of your youtube presentations that I thought were excellent. So, I sincerely respect your work in this field knowing you’ve been doing this in various capacities for decades in a fully committed and passionate way.
I’ve always been interested in nutrition and considered going into the field, and I read many of the popular books way back then in the 70’s and 80’s. The science aspect with Dr. Roy Walford’s books Maximum Lifespan ’83 and The 120 Year Diet in ’86 really fascinated me. I participated in the Calorie Restriction Society’s email-list exchange for a few years in the early 2000’s to learn more about how people were using the Calorie Restriction science for their own personal diets. I was certainly trying to optimize my RDA’s using software while also trying to do it on less calories. I learned a lot about how difficult that can be without supplements.
And, wow, the debates that were used back then throwing nutrition science papers around to try and find the ideal diet were quite intense with their personal human “lab rat” experiments. It sort of satisfied my nutrition science interests to learn more, though I just couldn’t personally drop my weight to those levels to do such a diet. Why am I rambling on about this?
It comes back to the youtube channels, and, wholly crap, what a sea of toxicity between many of the popular Vegan channels. I thought many of the Calorie Restriction people had issues, but the Vegan community of different “competing diets” is a snake pit of venomous infighting that takes it to a whole new level of craziness. I can tell you that Unnatural Vegan has definitely contributed to the infighting and has escalated the toxicity rather than deescalated it. That needs to change and stop if she expects to be taken seriously.
I think you should reach out to her to stop the kind of character assassination she sometimes engages in so she remains just science based without all the emotional wording she sometimes uses towards other popular Vegan’s on youtube.
I’ve watched almost every youtube video that Unnatural Vegan has posted, and I got caught-up in all the recent controversy over What the Health (WTH) and other less important infighting issues. If you think WTH is doing serious damage, then you’re sadly mistaken. The younger generations (and older) are getting their information from youtube versus a silly Netflicks like What the Health. This style of the lone man docu-drama on a personal journey has never been taken very seriously by people that enjoy watching these forms of entertainment. It started with 2004’s Super Size Me and many others afterwards. You can watch hundreds of Ancient Aliens shows on the History channel for years now. With the recent politics we have now Fake News, so I really can’t take it seriously there is much harm being done by WTH. Unnatural Vegan may be harming in ways that are potentially more destructive.
UV is now playing politics with InfoWars and Alex Jones in her introduction to a B12 issue she found on youtube with another Vegan’s channel. And, this is just one example of the personal attacks of character assassination that take place that have absolutely nothing to do with being Vegan or the science topic. Here’s the link:
In another critique in her intro she belittles the Vegan’s she disagrees with, and later in the same video she says she’s not doing that sort of thing herself. And, on and on it goes with the back and forth. I have plenty more examples.
Here’s my thinking about WTH…
What The Health was just a tad over 1-1/2 hours long, and it was not meant to be a nutrition course. The Vegan doctors had zero control of the final editing, and the time limits and range of subjects covered prevented more information from being included about causes of diseases like diabetes or good fats vs bad fats and plenty more. Also, why possibly confuse a general audience unfamiliar with these subjects about such details? WTH, that’s not the purpose of this film.
For example, What the Health only spent 3 minutes on diabetes and it’s related metabolism w/fats, etc. WTH was 92 minutes long, so it would be very easy for anyone to critique ANY EXPLANATION they gave within those editing time constraints. Again, the intended audience would not even understand a more complicated explanation, when the main idea was to get across that the SAD diet and it’s high saturated fat animal products are the main genesis of starting T2D for most people.
By focusing on the high saturated fat animal products it would spark debate, and anyone could deduce from this that their fats should come from another source. So, that would definitely lead them to plant based fats without even having to go into those details. Think of the context, its limitations, and the targeted audience, which is definitely not a few nutrition-wise Vegans concerned about the details that would be impossible to convey in this kind of docudrama. Time limits and editing, my friend, will never satisfy people like us. We want the full Monty!!!
Any “normal person” should be able to understand that these kinds of home-grown grassroots “personal journey of discovery stories” are meant for entertainment value and already understands it’s not a science course or “the word” on truth. The main reason why HCLF is highlighted is because the target audience (recall the sick patients) tends to be overweight, already has or is heading for T2D and/or CVHD, and, *MAINLY*, there are no other well known Vegan Medical Doctors willing to treat their sick patients with T2D or CVHD at some other Vegan Macro of F/P/C percentage.
With these limitations how could one present a case for a Vegan HFLC or a HPLC diet? Are there any Vegan medical doctors doing better reversing T2D or CVHD on a Vegan HFLC or a Vegan HPLC diet? They don’t exist. I wonder why? I mean, there are at least 5 well known Vegan medical doctors treating T2D and CVHD using their own Vegan HCLF plans. This can’t be a Vegan Conspiracy of Medical Doctors trying to sabotage their own reputations and medical practices by doing this kind of HCLF diets?
Or, maybe it’s also because their patients got sick not eating enough veggies and fruits vs SAD P & F??? They’re going to have to eat way more of these healthy carbs at 4 calories per gram vs 9 for fat. They already have plenty of overweight fat in storage on their bodies to burn. They need their sick patients to recover from years of malnutrition and excess calories, and, also, change their tastes and cravings for foods.
Dr. Michael Greger responds to criticisms of What the Health.
Plant Based Throw Down w/ Dr. Michael Greger youtube link below:
To save time go to the 16 : 45 mark at link below. That’s 16 minutes and 45 seconds.
DEBUNKING WHAT THE HEALTH FILM w/ Dr. Neal Barnard
Dr. Garth Davis reacts to ZDogg’s criticism of What the Health.
Is a debate coming??? More from Dr. Garth Davis…
Excellent Intro About Understanding Nutrition Research:
My commentary above is indirectly coming from another POV without being directed at your specific article. I agree with many of your points. I will post again if I have anything further to add specifically towards what you wrote, and I look forward to your reply.
I hope this can somehow help with your understanding with what’s going on at youtube. I just can’t believe for a second that WTH is doing hardly any damage versus youtube’s issues.
Just look how Unnatural Vegan is perceived at another popular Vegan’s channel. Be sure to read the comments BELOW the video. Way too much toxicity going on. And I certainly do NOT agree with the back and forth fighting nor am I taking sides with any of the accuracy with “the science”. It’s all too stressful to want to be associated with this kind of science being shared even by Unnatural Vegan. This is far more damaging than WTH. The viewership on youtube dwarfs any possible impact WTH can ever possibly have.
Please help if you can with UV not using personal attacks and only sticking with the science.
Thank you for all you’ve done and will continue to do.
Commenting directly now about your article I think it’s excellent about the inaccuracies and sort of goofy way Kit did things like the phone calls. I just see it as a goofy form of entertainment technique of the “everyday guy” up against “the system”. It’s just drama building, and I’m not surprised shady money is mentioned to fix the system. This is obviously way more DRAMA versus a documentary, hence docu-DRAMA.
Right at the very beginning Kip said he was a hypochondriac because of his family history of early onset diabetes (father/grandfather) and heart disease (father) and cancer with two grandparents. He shows himself as being obsessed reading books like Incurable Me and going to WebMd. He explores doing many healthy lifestyle techniques to avoid such an outcome for himself. I really don’t think it matters if he was a Vegan during the filming.
I’ve watched many of these diet and health docu-DRAMAS since the 2004 Super Size Me. This is just one of many, so I see this as a form of entertainment with a lot of controversy intended to spark debate.
If you asked anyone that saw this movie a month later about its main points I think they would say something like… “Animal fats are bad.” There’s a good chance they might remember the sausage-cigarettes and hot dog cigar images. I just laughed. I thought what a fantastic image to put into people’s head despite that it’s not accurate. I’m sure Kip stole this idea from the pus in dairy images, and this is an excellent mind-warp “impression technique” to fix memories with some revulsion too. It works.
People might remember about the pig farming and how bad that is. I think younger guys will remember this can work for extreme sports.
IMO, this is going to bring far more people with an interest to explore doing Plant Based or becoming Vegan more than otherwise, and I think most will use youtube or online info to begin with.
One last point, I do think Unnatural Vegan has done an excellent job with most of her videos. It’s only a few that escalate the personal attacks with other Vegan channels and creates a circle-jerk effect. High negatives are voted and Vegans become divided. I think that could easily be solved if she wants to. People will learn better and think more positive amongst each other, rather than be divided into taking sides and elevating more stress for all involved. I do like her but feel divided and conflicted about this one thing. Darn it.
In your article you wrote: “We hear, for example, that there is no evidence that consuming animal foods in moderation can turn heart disease around.” The study you cited is linked below in Full Text:
In reference to this study Dr. Garth Davis said people did better on the Mediterranean diet versus Low Carb (with some of the protein coming from chickpeas too), and the Low Fat Diet was not Low Fat (at 26%) compared to what the Heart Vegan Doctors will say and recommend… which I’m guessing would need to be under 15%. Dr. Esselstyn said he’s treated many Vegetarians and Vegans for heart disease. Here is a three minute clip about this:
So, due to their actual medical practice and proof in survival rates of their heart patients well beyond expectations on very low fat diets, I think this is why they believe this is the only “proven” method to halt or reverse CVHD and probably diabetes too. They refer to the before and after images of narrowed arteries as evidence.
We have to go on the best available science plus these Vegan Doctor’s experience practicing medicine too. I know that compliance is very difficult to achieve, but considering how sick our modern societies already are I think everyone should be made aware this may be helpful to do in their medical treatment for these diseases. I’m talking about lifetime changes in eating habits and not a limited time study. Reversing disease on weight loss benefits for 2 years is only indicative at best.
I’m skeptical of any study in and of itself proving anything, especially nutrition studies, so I want to take into account what Vegan Friendly medical doctors might say about their experience too. Of course, any “diet experts” that have been Vegan themselves and have formal education in nutrition science w/certification RD I will listen to what they might know too. I bought one of your books already.
From the study:
The interventions were reported in detail previously.11 Food diaries obtained from a subset of participants during the weight loss phase12 showed distinct differences between low-carbohydrate and low-fat diet in fat intake (41% versus 26% in the low-fat diet), carbohydrate intake (28% versus 48% in the low-fat diet), and dietary cholesterol intake (358 versus 174 mg/d in the low-fat diet). During the 2-year intervention, validated13 food frequency questionnaires revealed that the Mediterranean diet group consumed the highest dietary fiber and monounsaturated/saturated fat ratio (P<0.05). The low-carbohydrate diet group consumed the least carbohydrates and the most fat, protein, and cholesterol and had a higher percentage of positive urinary ketone determinations (P<0.05). Caloric deficit was similar among groups.11
Disclaimer:I am not a nutritionist or a Dr, I am a mother of 2 children aged 4 & 6. I for one am happy for the information relayed to me in the movie WTH. It has always been my goal to feed my children the most nutrionally superior food. Do they eat cupcakes, candy and chips, yes, but certainly not daily. I have some education in anatomy and physiology, so my goal was always to give them food that their little organs didn’t have to work overtime in order to process, and so that they could get the nutrients they need in order to become a healthy adult, I see that as one of the gifts I can give to them as a parent. Another gift is that I can be around to enjoy as much of my children’s lives that I can, and that they can enjoy me, not have to care for my sick body and mind.
The WTH documentary helped me make a transition into being meat free, and move towards being a vegan. I feel if this documentary is sparking a movement and people are making a desision to live on this planet and not eat animal flesh, that in itself should be applauded.
I for one know other people that this documentary has had the same effect on as myself and I think it’s marvelous.
It has prompted me to want to further educate myself about nutrition and potentially pursue that as a career when my children go to school.
Not eating animals = less animal cruelty/a future in less polluted world/humans feeling healthier. Shouldn’t that be the main focus? I do not doubt that there could be some inaccuracies, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
I was starting with a new trainer and she asked me to watch this documentary before starting to train. I did and based on this and lots of online reading, I decided to give veganism a try. About two months in and while it saddens me that these filmmakers choose to sensationalize the story to make it more dramatic instead of sticking to the important facts, I don’t regret my decision. I feel better about what I am putting into my body, what I am doing to help harm less animals, and what I hope it means for the planet. Still learning a lot but appreciate finding sources of truth.
Here is a WTH success story. My daughter was always showing me slaughterhouse vids and horrible stuff and it put me off even thinking about veganism. Then I watched WTH and went vegan straight away and have been ever since and I know I’ll never animal products ever again.
There was a lot of good info for people who don’t know a lot about the animal agriculture industry – the info about how much pollution is caused by pig farming, how much medication big pharma is selling to be used on animals, and how the govt is lobbied to promote the consumption of animal products. Also the before and after of the people who went plant based was pretty incredible!! And the interviews with vegan athletes was really interesting.
In the past every time I started an exercise program as an omnivore eating a “balanced diet” I would feel horrible, my muscles would ache and I’d take weeks to recover. Since I became vegan I cannot believe the difference it makes to my recovery after exercise. I think I need the shock tactics of WTH – every person is different. Of course I’m not stupid and didn’t suck in all the sciency stuff but the main points were enough for me.
Without WTH I doubt I would’ve changed.
I had chronic sinus and I have now been off my antihistamines and decongestants for months now since I went vegan.I also had heart burn all the time and liver spasms which I think may have been the start of gallstones.- all these symptoms are gone now.
The good thing about WTH is the way it doesn’t show slaughterhouse clips, it doesn’t appeal to emotion and make you feel bad because that can make people shut down (I was like that)
Being presented with “hey, your health can be better on a plant based diet and the government is tricking you into eating meat eggs and dairy” was the approach that woke me up.
I am SO grateful for that documentary!!
Just a question (may be someone ignorant but I just thought I’d ask anyway), I can’t remember the doctors name, but the doctor stated that the cause of diabetes is the cell being blocked with fat. Is this how it occurs in the body? Are there other ways to get diabetes if this is correct? I’m just curious.
I appreciate the quality and effort in outlining your opinions, tips, articles and information on this blog but I am also troubled by the high-handed way vegans are coming against What the Health, which causes even deeper confusion for those who are seeking information in an abyss of bad information out there. Any affirmative attention to movement toward a vegan lifestyle is one that can only promote wellness and health. If some information was exaggerated or skewed, why is that a big deal, when we are living on a standard western diet that is literally promoting chronic disease and is sanctioned by big agri, big pharma and subsidies? The environmental mess, animal abuse and many other aspects of the film were wholly accurate and the idea that there is dissension within the community only makes it harder to bring over the wall, those folds who are pensive an unsure about food changes/decisions. Instead of critiquing docs, why aren’t we laying into the industries that are polluting our fresh water, our environment and promoting chronic disease. Thank you for allowing me to comment.
I saw how people were distracted and marked ALL THE VEGAN HEALTH INFO as “vegan jerks propaganda” after understanding this thing and some vivid similar ones:
“In this film, smoking is viewed as being equivalent to processed meat as a risk factor for cancer. This is an unfair comparison, as smoking has an unequal contribution to different types of cancer. When it comes to colon cancer, a causal link with smoking cannot be drawn due to the quality of evidence at this time . In contrast, the link between smoking and lung cancer is profound with some cases being 90% due to smoking .” (even WHO 2 years before that film wrote a specific explanation of this, to stop such propagandists! http://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/ But who cares…)
So, driving vegan movement towards conspirologists-like and “POSTtruth”-like direction leads neutral and simple-minded people become 1) fooled 2) aware of they being folled 3) VERY distracted from all that bunch of freaks.
What do you think? Is my vision too dark and pessimistic?
Hi just wanted to say how refreshing it is to find a scientific vegan. My partner is vegan but not very good with meeting his dietary needs n although I’ve agreed to be vegan with the birth of our son, I have been on an up hill struggle for decent information n struggled to be confident in eating the right foods for a healthy diet whilst also breastfeeding my baby. I’m very politically minded so the compassion argument is the easy one for me whereas the healthy eating one requires more attention. Then after reading your review and discovering your books, this has helped me feel like I’m in the right place to get the right information I need to make good food choices and just wanted to say you have no idea how much of a burden feels as though it has been lifted by having good information. As a public health data analyst, I’m a sucker for good data!
Anyways on to the review, I have seen cowspiracy but not wth and was dubious of the science in that one. Kip’s documentary style allows him to get away with shifty science and many people don’t care however for anyone who wants to delve deeper, it seriously puts its credibility at risk.
(although I do love malcom x) I’m also not convinced of the argument by any means necessary; or by the lesser of two evils argument that some people seem to put forward in support of the documentary. If people are serious about building a movement, don’t lie to your peers by presenting shoddy or conflated data especially when there is plenty of valid data to draw reasonable conclusions from.
Hi, I just read your review of WTH and was refreshingly surprised. You see, I’m a dairy farmer and my interactions with vegans have not been good. We’ve been accused of many things that to me seem absolutely ridiculous. Most often the accusations are very mean-spirited. After reading your review, I have hope that there is a vegan community out there who are not quite as extreme as those I’ve dealt with. I have been tossing the idea around of having a vegan/dairy farmer discussion on our dairy’s fb page focused strictly on the care of our animals but have been very hesitant due to past interactions with some. Let me also say, I have seen some farmers who have been pretty mean to vegans as well. It frustrates me to no end! I realize that there are some things that vegans and dairy farmers will never agree on, the main one being killing an animal for food, but I do wish there could be a reasonable discussion about animal care. I noticed that you are partnering with Carol Adams to write a book, The Sexual Politics of Dairy. You said, “this is a project that will most likely evolve as we delve into the subject matter, but our plan is to look at all aspects of dairy: The physical abuse of cows, the ways in which dairy products have been marketed to women as absolutely essential for health and also for weight loss, the negative impacts of marketing dairy foods to those with lactose intolerance, and of course, the misogynistic representations of both women and cows in popular culture and advertising.” I’m wondering where you are in that project and in your research if you’ve talked with any dairy farmers or if you’ve been able to visit any dairies? As a dairy farmer, a lot of what we’ve been accused of, just isn’t true. We milk around 600 cows so I would consider us a mid-size farm. I would be happy to address any concerns you have regarding dairy farming. If you’re interested, you can check out our dairy page at Appel Family Dairy. Thank-you!
I think it would be interesting to have a space for vegans and dairy farmers to share thoughts. But, I don’t think that dairy farms can ever achieve a level of care that would satisfy those of us who are concerned about animal rights. The animals will always be sent to slaughter. Male calves will always be taken away and sold for veal or beef. I know that it is not possible for dairy farmers to make a living otherwise, which is why the whole idea of dairy is problematic. In answer to your question, Carol and I are not currently working on The Sexual Politics of Dairy because we got sidetracked with a different book. It does address some of those concepts, though. And I’ve never visited a dairy farm, but would welcome the opportunity to do so. I will definitely check out your website.
Stumbled upon your blog and very pleased that I did. I appreciate your eloquent commentary on this film as I, too, found the “gotcha” journalism tiresome, if not cringeworthy at times. I am a pediatric (school) nurse and have been vegan for about 5 years. I feel responsible for sharing (when asked) the most accurate evidence for eating a balanced plant based diet while recognizing that one’s dietary choices can be intensely personal. Harm to animals is irrefutable and the choice to not eat them or their products absolutely supports animal rights. When it comes to nutrition, I agree that absolutes, as in “vegan or die”, may be misleading. We are as a culture quick to jump on the next “holy grail” only to ditch it for the new and shinier promise. There is a heartening trend, though, that seems to be embracing plant-based nutrition and I agree that we best help others by presenting the real facts, warts and all.
After reading your full review of the film, it’s clear that you’ve viewed the film with a healthy dose of scientific skepticism. As a non-scientific academic, Kip & company convinced me to seriously consider vegetarianism after viewing Conspiracy and later Veganism after watching What the Health. Had I stopped there, I would simply be a blissfully ignorant Vegan. Yet, as an academic, I did the research and found abundant flaws in the research and argumentation along with an abundance if hyperbolic rhetoric. Still, after considering the incontrovertible impact of the modern American Diet on animals, the planet and the people, the only seemingly ethical choice for the greater good was to become an aspiring Vegan myself. Am I strictly Vegan? No. But I eat chicken once or twice a month just because I enjoy it. But, back to your valid critiques, of which there are many,, you also engage in pure speculation about others’s motivations. Please keep in mind that this impacts your own objectivity and argumentation here. One of your implied assertions is that the public will turn against Veganism because if the often wonky work in the film. I disagree. The broader public is saddly to poorly educated and disinterested in science to even watch documentaries. On the other hand the broader public IS swayed readily by rhetoric. I use these films in critical thinking classes I teach that focus on sustainability and the American Diet. The films are a starting point to begin investigating food choices and health, and the films are not the final word. The films are a great conversation starter and research starting point. By getting students to begin exploring how they can improve their health by improving their food choices by making such choices by first becoming well informed can change students, their lives and maybe make the world better and more sustainable. Thanks for sharing your insights!
Just read your review and while there are many fair comments, I have to politely disagree. The intent of the film / documentary / docu-drama was to raise awareness of a plant-based diet and the commercial and business impact of the various industries.
Are some of the elements dramatic. Sure. Is the science accurate – from your (and others) professional view, no. Yet, there are other doctors who would say yes. Just like some who would say a Paleo / Keto / Atkins / is healthy, others would disagree.
I watched WTH over the Christmas 2017 holiday season when my 18 year old son told me to watch it. The film changed me completely. From a big cheese / meat / milk person, I went vegan and found it very easy and won’t go back to meat / dairy / eggs. On a side-note, I lost about 10 pounds and interestingly, at the gym, I’m lifting the same and in some case heavier weights.
But the biggest impact I saw was on my 73 year old mother-in-law. She couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without stopping to get her breath, she was overweight, she couldn’t close her fingers into a fist because of arthritis, she was taking 5 pills a day. She stayed with us for 2 weeks and said she would try a vegan diet and eat what I ate (my wife and kids are a mix of vegetarian and meat-eaters).
On day 6, she was walking up the stairs without stopping. On day 7, she was opening/closing her hands without any pain. She lost about 10 pounds over the 2 weeks. On her flight home, she said that she had more space in the seat. She has stuck with it and months later, she has reduced her pill intake to 2 from 5. She has lost more weight and she has no pain in her hands. More than anything, she says she feels so much better – more energy, clear mind, and feels healthy.
I credit WTH with these changes. It may be a bit glamorous or far-fetched, but the main message I got from it was that dairy, meat and eggs are not healthy – which seems to be one of the messages from the vegan community.