'Game Changers': The Other Side of the Debate
You may have heard of a new documentary – Game Changers, which promotes a plant-based approach to eating. The film follows former professional mixed martial artist and military combat instructor James Wilks as he discovers and begins to research plant-based diets. We are introduced to several athletes touting its benefits, evidenced by their athletic performance, as they switch from eating meat to a plant-based diet. The film is peppered with snippets of scientific research and convincing animations. It is emotive and convincing and has created a lot of buzz.
However, one of the biggest issues I have with the film is its agenda-driven nature, rather than being an objective analysis of facts. This isn’t a debate where both sides equally present their point with unbiased evidence. Instead, the film is a societal nudge towards a vegan lifestyle supported by cherry-picked data. One of the biggest issues I have with the film is some of the big statements it makes – one segment suggesting that after consuming a single meat burrito a persons blood flow will be majorly compromised. Generally speaking, I think the film’s conversation surrounding plant-based protein versus animal-based protein is much more nuanced than the documentary portrays it to be. There is no doubt in my mind that we need to include more plants in our diet, however, I also don’t think animal protein should be so quickly dismissed as being the harbinger of poor health.
The importance of food quality
A major theme of the film is how harmful animal products are to our health, resulting in an increased risk of disease. In my view, the film fails to differentiate between a highly processed standard American diet and a wholefoods based diet. For starters, there is a huge difference between industrialised, grain-fed/finished meat and pasture-fed and finished meat. Not to mention the fatty acid ratios are markedly different – pasture finished meat has a better balance of omega 6 to omega 3, making it much less inflammatory than industrialised produce. You can read a lot more detail about this in my blog post here.
Conflict of interest
As always with any public health message, it is important to ask, “In who’s interest is this film being made?
Many readers will be aware, unpacking confusing health care messages is something I’m passionate about. Time and time again we have seen how industry-funded studies taint the outcome of research and skew public health messages in the interest of profit. this is something we’ve seen with the sugar, dairy, meat and tobacco industries in the past and is important to note that it is isn’t something the Game Changers film is free from. In fact, a majority of the medical experts in the film have something to sell promoting the vegan diet. The producer of the film, James Cameron, has invested US$140million in plant-based proteins in mid-2019, an industry estimated to be worth in excess of $14 billion by 2025.
Another common argument in the plant-based debate is the impact animals have on environmental degradation. The Game Changers film makes similar claims about greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, stating among other things, that meat production takes up too much farmland and cropland. Something I feel is often disregarded in this argument is the difference between the current systems of concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) and another solution, regenerative agriculture. While the films reductionist approach does acknowledge Industrialised meat has a major impact on the health of the planet, the animal and the human consuming it, it fails to acknowledge regenerative agriculture practices, that are about restoring healthy soil using grass-fed livestock and carefully managed land. Regenerative agriculture can actually sequester carbon and become part of the solution for the environmental issues we face as a species all while replenishing the soils we grow our foods in. Again, it’s a topic that rarely gets discussed in the debate surrounding the impact of meat consumption on our environment. I’ve spoken to some amazing farmers who are practising regenerative agriculture on the podcast, including Joel Salatin and Dr Charles Massey.
The bottom line
The bottom line is, there needs to be greater transparency on behalf of any industry when funding research. Consumers should be made aware of when public health messages are agenda and profit-driven. Of equal importance is an understanding that the science beneath topics explored in this film, such as human and environmental health, are deeply complex and always exist in context. There is almost never a one size fits all model for these things. If your interested in an in-depth objective analysis of what the science says, Chriss Kresser has done a phenomenal job of debunking the scientific claims in the film. He also sat down with Joe Rogan for a very informative chat.