Media Product Review
What the Health is a documentary that was released on March 7th, 2017 (access the trailer here). I chose this movie because it is informational, eye-opening, and at the very least, interesting. Knowledge is power, and this documentary, although extremely biased towards living a vegan lifestyle, has a lot of health facts that people don’t always know about. Being vegan is all over social media, there are a multitude of other documentaries like this one (Forks over Knives, Vegucated, Cowspiracy, etc.), and this lifestyle is talked about constantly. I found this documentary extremely eye opening, not only for health reasons, but also to become more informed about the corruption in the food industry that no one really knows/talks about.
Veganism is identified as being someone who does not eat any animal products. This includes even eating honey, as it comes from bees. On a more basic level though, it consists of not eating meat, dairy, eggs, or any byproduct of an animal. The documentary What the Health, in a nutshell, gives viewers who don’t know much about this lifestyle, an eye-opening look in to what these animal products do to our bodies. This information is given in the hopes we all convert to living this vegan lifestyle. One of the producers, Kip Andersen, has a family history of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, making him very aware of the role food has on our health. Although he knew this from a young age, he still ate animal products, until he finished documenting all the implications even cheese and meat have on your health. He is now a vegan himself, and promotes this lifestyle through the documentaries he’s made, as well as living the life himself and letting others see how it has made him feel. He is also a yoga teacher who originally graduated with a business degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, before founding the AUM Films and Media that his two works have been published through. The second producer, Keegan Kuhn, is an award-winning filmmaker, and plays music professional as well. He takes pride in his filmmaking, but also has a passion for the environment, animals, and overall health. Through the combination of these three things, he has been able to help video Kip Andersen’s films that promote all the things Keegan is also passionate about. Together they have filmed What the Health, and Cowspiracy, both pieces of film promote living a vegan lifestyle. The film I will be focusing on, What the Health, is available to watch online for $9.99, but it is a non-profit film, so any proceeds go to the various organizations the film makers want it to go to. This makes it difficult to find how much the documentary has made, but it does have a viewer rating of 8.4 out of 10 on IMDb. As stated, this documentary was filmed by the same people who filmed Cowspiracy in 2014, both films have several similarities and differences.
Several similarities are present between these two documentaries, as they are promoting the same lifestyle: veganism. The producers don’t just promote this lifestyle through their own experiences, but they go in depth by talking to professionals in both documentaries. These are people like doctors, nutritionists, environmentalists, and many others who all promote being vegan. In What the Health several doctors don’t just promote this lifestyle, but they live it themselves, and urge their patients to as well. These patients, are shown throughout the documentary, where they go from a very poor health state living under the typical American diet, to becoming the healthiest they’ve ever been while living a vegan lifestyle. In Cowspiracy the same producers go throughout the world talking to several different scientists who cover topics regarding the environmental impacts of not being vegan have on our planet. These professionals all back their information with facts they have researched and proven, so it allows you to be more trustworthy of the things they say. Lastly, throughout the documentaries, they both show the corruption that is going on with health organizations. For example, although beef should not be promoted to people who have heart disease, the American Heart Association promotes eating beef. This was later found to be due to beef companies sponsoring the very heart organizations that promote them to their clients. If they don’t promote these brands of foods, the organizations won’t have the sponsors they do, leaving funding for research unavailable. The same type of corruption was shown in the Cowspiracy documentary. Although there are these similarities, there are some differences between the documentaries as well. One big difference is that What the Health is a vegan documentary based on the beneficial health effects of living this lifestyle, whereas Cowspiracy is all about the environment, and how it is changed negatively while we stay living the standard American diet, and not becoming vegan. Another example of a difference between the two documentaries is the agenda the producers had towards the viewers. What the Health was individual based, and was promoting you to be a vegan so that you could live a healthier lifestyle, and feel better. The Cowspiracy was trying to target a large population of people because fixing the environment through veganism isn’t just individual, it’s a team effort that needs to be done all together so our planet can thrive. In relation to the similarities and differences between other films of this genre, What the Health, and all the other documentaries in the vegan category, all promote a vegan lifestyle. This is the main similarity, but the differences involve how they get that point across as to why this is the best option for people. For example, Forks Over Knives gets the veganism pitch across the table by relating the American diet to causing diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, this is similar to What the Health. Another vegan documentary, Meat the Truth, examines the possibility of a relationship between factory farmed animals and global climate change, like Cowspiracy.
As I said already, knowledge is power. I’m not the best at always following this motto, but when it comes to the topics of health and the environment, I’d like to say I’m a pretty avid learner. The documentary What the Health is filled with information that everyone needs to know. I’m not saying this because I think everyone should go vegan, but because you can’t deny the facts they talk about that can help everyone’s diet get better, and improve your life. These facts, such as the implications fat, not sugar, has on causing diabetes and heart disease, are checked by other doctors and proven to be true. That is why this movie is so important for people to watch, it gives information that is isn’t common knowledge, but things that everyone should know, and have been proven to be factual. Over one third of adults in America are considered obese, yet several fad diets are advertised constantly, but not able to be adopted as a lifestyle, which results in the person going back to their old ways. This is a common theme with our culture right now, because people aren’t always adopting lifestyles that are healthy and applicable to long-term goals, whereas a vegan diet is. This goes against the common trend in our culture of people wanting a quick fix to being overweight, because this “diet” is a long-term, healthy way to lose weight, but the people adopting it for a healthier lifestyle need to know it is not a quick fix. Kids are the products of their parents, so to get children on a vegan diet, you will most likely have to go through their parents. This is why the documentary’s target population is young to middle-aged adults. While the documentary targets this age group, the producers may be offensive at times when trying to get their point across. They will say how if you live the standard American diet, you’ll become obese, get heart disease or diabetes, and ultimately die. This is an extreme point, and may do the opposite of getting people to change their diets, but rather get them to turn the movie off. I would encourage a different approach, as non-vegans watching may get offended, or even feel like it’s too late for them to change since they’ve eaten “bad” their whole lives already.
Aside from the weakness stated above, there are a couple others as well. Firstly, the documentary is extremely biased. Every professional they talk to in the movie is a vegan themselves, so they are obviously going to promote this lifestyle. These same professionals do back their claims by research, but nonetheless, people may be more adherent to the information if someone who wasn’t vegan did the research, and then decided to go vegan themselves, not an already vegan doing the research. Aside from these weaknesses, there are quite a few strengths to balance it out. To start, although it is biased, I’ve worked at looking up the claims made, and found a large majority of it to be true. When fact checking, and finding truths, it makes me trust these producer’s other documentary, and any future ones as well. Another strength is that it doesn’t just show people stating claims, but it also shows real people in the documentary going from a standard American diet, sick, unhealthy, and on several medications, to a vegan diet, where in just under a month they feel better, can exercise, and are on half the amount of medications they were in the beginning. If nothing else makes you eager to implement some parts of this diet into your life, seeing real people, un-fabricated, get healthier, is very persuading, I think. With all that being said, I found this documentary to be very good. I’m definitely pro-vegan, or at least implementing some of these healthy habits into your life, so I might be a little biased myself, but this documentary is very informational and has tons of truth to it as well. These producers only have one other documentary out, Cowspiracy, and I’ve seen it as well. I would say What the Health was an even better documentary, as it is more targeted towards the health reasons to go vegan, not the environmental reasons. I’m all for the environment, but I feel like people, myself included, are more encouraged when their health is talked about. We have an obesity epidemic, as stated already, so I think this movie will be around, and become more popular in years to come. People looking to change their eating habits may stumble across this documentary, or others like it, so it will be watched by many people in the future. All of this is what I think, but critics have their opinions as well. The Orlando Nutritionist website has agreements and disagreements with the claims in this documentary. The author of the article “can’t overstate enough that I am totally in favor of the main points is trying to make. Eat more plants.” They go on to talk about this, as well as how diets aren’t a “one size fits all”. They point out how many people may feel great on a vegan diet, but the documentary fails to talk about how others may flourish by keeping their diet they have already, and just taking out/adding a few tips from the documentary. They’re main point against this documentary is not that they don’t agree with the producers, but that the producers are failing to talk about all the other healthy things people can do in their life without going cold turkey and changing their whole diet completely. Another critic from the Loveland Medical Clinic states that the documentary is a “great showing on how corporate America is influencing our diet”, but has “crap science and is totally one sided.” This is more extreme, as there are numerous people who fact check and prove the claims in the documentary are true, but also agree that it is completely one-sided. I’d say in comparison to what I believe, The Orlando Nutritionist is what I’m more in agreement with, but I don’t agree with hardly any claims made by the Loveland Medical Clinic (as they are extremely biased themselves). With some negative comments through the media, as stated above, the producers also have a lot of support. This is seen through their social media pages that they use to support the documentary.
Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn don’t promote their works on their personal Instagram pages, but there are specific pages for the documentaries they’ve produced. The What the Health page has over 86 thousand followers, close to 300 posts, with an average of around 5,000 likes per post. Through this page they promote the documentary, the book that is joined with it, the vegan lifestyle, and occasional funny memes to joke about the standard American diet. The majority of the individuals who post comments on the photos are raving about the documentary, with multiple people saying, “I’m switching to veganism right now”, or “I don’t know why I haven’t done this lifestyle sooner”, etc. This is very good publicity for the producers, as it gives people who haven’t seen the film, but read the posts, an incentive to watch the documentary. This documentary, along with their first one, Cowspiracy, have been some of the few I’ve ever seen (other than the ones in school I was forced to watch). After seeing What the Health, I saw online that they had produced the other one previously, so I had to watch it as well. Luckily for me, I have Netflix, so I could watch both for “free” with my monthly subscription. You can also access Cowspiracy here, for around $5.00, and What the Health here, for around double the cost. I’m such a promoter of this documentary, because it was very eye opening for not only me, but my boyfriend as well. He’s the only one who has seen it that I know, but I’m hoping to get other family and friends to watch it as well. He loved the movie, and has started implementing some of the health habits they talk about into his own life, and in the last month has felt a lot more energetic, and healthy. He thought it was just as informative as I did, and hopes his family will watch the documentary as well.
All in all, this documentary was very informative, had a lot of factual information, even if it was biased, and talks about health in realistic terms that everyone should know. Although there is a “target population”, this documentary could be watched by anyone, and they would benefit from what it can teach them. Not only does it talk about being vegan for your health, but also for the animals suffering in factory farms, and how stopping the market for animal products will help stop the corruption of health agencies who are sponsored by the very products they recommend, but shouldn’t. I learned all this, but I learned even more while doing my own research for this post. There are a lot of critics and doctors out there who dispute the information in this documentary, even though these same doctors can’t back up their points, while the doctors in the movie can with the research they’ve conducted. I noticed this trend, but I also realized how this lifestyle isn’t possible for everyone. Some people are on different welfare programs, get their food from fish food banks, and don’t always have access to the foods this documentary promotes, all while still needing to feed their families some way or another. I became more aware of how much I promote this documentary, and how not everyone can live by the “rules” they advertise. With that, even making just small changes can be very easy and everyone has access to resources that they need to make small changes with, and the smallest change can make a very big difference in your long-term health.