I did a happy dance when I saw that another health-related movie was trending on Netflix. I saved What The Health in my queue so I could watch it when I had time to really focus. The film received rave reviews on social media so when I crawled underneath my favorite blanket to watch it, I was excited.
I was only a few minutes into the documentary when I thought, “This is weird”. But, since it was the latest ‘must-see’, I ignored the inner voice telling me to switch to Highway to Heaven and instead, continued to watch. I got through the comparison of eating meat to smoking cigarettes. I watched through the conversation about diabetes being caused by fat. I even got past the part where the film-maker seemed disappointed when the person who answered the phone at the American Cancer Society, presumably an administrative assistant, could not answer his complex questions about the correlation between meat and cancer, as if the person answering the phone should be able to answer such related to job duty they aren’t hired to perform.
It quickly became clear to me that the film’s sole purpose is to use fear to promote veganism.
In some ways, this is a noble endeavor as it’s generally accepted that a diet high in the consumption of meat and animal products is highly correlated with the diseases such as obesity, cancer, and heart disease. However, this knowledge has yet to be enough to encourage most Americans to completely eliminate meat from the menu. This begs the question if we know that veganism is among the most nutritionally sound, why doesn’t everyone adopt it?
Everyone doesn’t embrace veganism because people make food choices based on many, many factors…not just nutrition. In fact, the frustration and confusion of trying to make sure your diet aligns with veganism, or any highly restrictive diet, can create unnecessary stress. This stress is itself harmful to health. So, I’d like to offer a perspective that I hope will help free us from some of the frustration and stress of healthy eating and give us permission to see food as something more than just fuel and to see health as determined by more than our food choices.
What if we make food choices based on what you want for your lives, not solely out of fear of what you don’t want?
One of the frustrating things about What The Health is how it presents veganism as the only option for people who want to avoid chronic diseases. It attempts to scare people
out of moderation and into a single dietary choice. In addition to mounds of evidence indicating that animal products, in moderation, can be a part of a healthy diet, it discounts that value of the myriad other factors that are correlated with health.
What is more helpful, I think, is to make dietary decisions based on your whole life. The truth is that if we look at diet as a choice to be made by a whole person…
…a person who lives within a culture
…a person who is socially assigned a race/gender
…a person who lives within certain financial parameters
…a person who has time/energy limits
…a person who’s government subsidizes some foods more than others
…a person who lives in a specific region of the nation
…a person who lives among certain environmental risks
…a person who has varying taste preferences
…a person who operates in certain social circles
…a person who has family ties, all of which affect food choices and many of which affect disease risk, it becomes clear that what works for one person’s life won’t necessarily be ideal for another.
Am I suggesting that we choose food that provides pleasure over food that supports health? No. I’m suggesting our health is determined by many factors, and it may be more important to find a sense of harmony among the factors you have some control over, including diet, than it is to enact restrictions that may be challenging to meet or maintain. Truthfully, you have options in terms of embracing a diet that helps you live the whole life you desire. Veganism is one of those options. It is not the only option.
If you’re watching this film, want to watch it, watched it, and had immediate thoughts of panic, fret not. I would encourage you to not get so steeped in fear of diseases related to diet that you forget that you are a whole person with a whole life to live. Sure, diet is part of that life but it’s not the whole thing. That’s just my perspective.