MARIKA SBOROS: Vegan hype of titanic proportions is a game changer in diet spin
The Game Changers is an extraordinary new movie, a “diet documentary” that is making scientific waves worldwide.
I say extraordinary because it is headed by, of all people, Academy Award-winning film director James Cameron. Yes, he of blockbuster Titanic fame.
It can appear extraordinary that Cameron chose to be involved as executive producer in this type of movie (it’s available livestreamed on Netflix). But what’s really extraordinary is that this isn’t a diet documentary.
It’s just another vegan-animal-rights propaganda movie in a long line of them. Think Forks Over Knives in 2011, Cowspiracy in 2014 and the most egregious vegan hype of all,What The Health, in 2017.
The Game Changers can claim to be a game changer on that score.
It can also seem extraordinary that Cameron could corral so many well-known names — Hollywood stars (fading), elite athletes, even a Formula One champion — to put their names, reputations and money to this movie.
Among executive producers are Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Lewis Hamilton, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Chris Paul. (If you haven’t heard of Paul, you’re not a fan of American basketball.)
Publicity material calls the film a “shocking new documentary that will change the way you view meat”. It claims to mix “shocking, ground-breaking science with cinematic stories of struggle and triumph”. It also claims to be “different” because it is “not haughty or preachy” but rather “informative and eye-opening” and “fuelled by the truth”.
The film is slick in presentation and has fans. It has also precipitated a flood of criticism from top nutrition scientists, medical doctors and dietitians worldwide for its lack of scientific balance, the chronic weakness of the science it does present and its wild claims.
One of the biggest problems with this film is that it does what all its vegan predecessors have done: it relies on emotion and cherry-picked epidemiology.
Epidemiological research is well-known — or should be by now — as the weakest form of evidence to use when making scientific argument because it can only show association, not causation.
Cameron does the film no favours by not declaring his significant conflict of interest upfront. He and wife Suzy — vegans since 2012 — founded the vegan food company Verdient Foods in September 2017. They recently invested $140m in a joint venture with US-based refiner Ingredion to expand its range of plant-based protein “solutions”.
Hamilton might have mentioned that he is a major backer of Neat Burger, a fast-food restaurant chain that launched in London recently.
Schwarzenegger’s contribution is an eye-opener but only for its ignorance and dishonesty. The former champion bodybuilder-turned Hollywood actor and politician built his spectacular physique at the peak of his career on a diet of animal foods, which he talks about.
And steroids too, which he doesn’t talk about. In 2005, Schwarzenegger unapologetically admitted to taking steroids to build his bulk.
He now claims the health benefits of meat are from nothing more than “marketing”.
The basic premise of this film is twofold: that plant-based, vegan diets are optimum for sports performance; and that meat kills — humans and the planet.
It repeats common vegan canards that meat causes cancer and saturated fat causes heart disease.
Spoiler alert: robust science does not support those claims.
The film doesn’t say that man can live by carbohydrate alone but comes close to saying it.
It fails to acknowledge that plants simply cannot match the nutrient density of animals foods. It also does not acknowledge the vast body of evidence showing that a vegan diet is an unhealthy diet because it is nutritionally deficient — and not just in vitamin B12 and iron.
There are other extraordinary claims: that the meat, dairy and egg industries are as bad as the tobacco industry; that they are involved in a sinister, “covert response” to fund studies that deny the evidence of the supremacy of plant-based diets; and these industries “bury their involvement in the fine print”.
There’s also a cast of characters that is more bizarre than extraordinary.
The “star” of this movie is special-ops veteran, British-born, US MMA (mixed martial arts) champion James Wilks. The film documents his journey across the globe to find the “real truth” about meat.
His guides include medical doctors and academics, all plant-biased, of course. They are mixed up with a long list of athletes, who include pro cyclists, endurance runners, weightlifters, bodybuilders, bloodied boxers — and another former special-ops veteran, Damien Mander, a sniper who did duty in Iraq.
The images and visual presentation of this movie purportedly about plant power help to make it discordant with its core content. There’s more meaty muscle, beef and raw brawn in this film than a team of Springbok rugby players salivating over a celebratory braai of rib-eye steak.
Allied to that is a strange detour into what it means to be man. The contribution of US urologist Aaron Spitz refers.
The film introduces Spitz as the “lead delegate for urology of the American Medical Association”. His pearl of philosophical medical wisdom: “When I think of a man, I think of someone who has strength, endurance, sexual prowess and fertility”.
Spitz should have stopped right there. Instead, he quaintly claims that “the more meat men eat, the more they quickly lose their sexual prowess, fertility and manly manhood”.
He sensibly doesn’t try to back that up with any science, just with a smile. I could only interpret it as a ham-handed (no pun intended) attempt to bolster Schwarzenegger’s argument about real men not eating meat.
The makers of this movie have lost the plot from original concept to final cut.
Given that, I’ve peered into my crystal ball and predict that this film won’t make the big bucks Titanic made for Cameron in 1997.
I see it sinking on the iceberg of solid science as quickly as the Titanic sank after striking a real iceberg during its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City in 1912.