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Few recent documentaries have divided opinion like Cowspiracy – the 2014 film was executively produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and garnered both rave reviews and fierce criticism over its portrayal of the role of animal agriculture on climate change.
Now the directors of the film have produced the best health documentary to date, What the Health, which follows Kip Andersen as he uncovers the negative dietary impacts of animal foods.
He leaves no time to waste and the film starts with many hard-hitting facts delivered in quick succession, busting common bedrock assumptions about animal products. Although this comes across as a little rushed, its pace translates the urgency of the subject matter and gains the viewers intrigue.
This to the point approach runs throughout as Anderson seeks information from health associations only to be shunned and told they cannot answer any of his questions about nutrition and its role in preventing chronic disease.
Despite this, he ploughs on. Suspicion builds. And then, bang in the middle of the film, the penny drops.
The narrative comes to pinnacle point with a huge and truly disturbing twist about the relationship between health charities and industry.
But the film does not relent after the exposé: instead the viewer is forced on a rollercoaster of emotions, examining a wide range of issues – including the plight of communities living close to factory farms and how industry is connected to the government and other sectors.
Stylistically, the film is dense with information, featuring compelling graphics, and vibrant cinematography that is visually more compelling than anything in Cowspiracy.
A number of notable contributors offer ‘talking head’-style clips, which are woven seamlessly into the narrative. Emphasising the positives of a plant based diet, for example, best selling author Dr Michael Greger says:
“Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels”.
Perhaps the most thought-provoking quote comes however from Dr Milton Mills, associate director of preventive medicine at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:
“Our government is encouraging Americans of colour to eat foods that it knows will make them ill. This is so that it will benefit dairy farmers. That is a form of institutionalised racism.”
This interpretation of the data is engaging, and along with a brief mention of the environmental impact – as well as occasional clips of animals within farms – brings to the fore more reasons to question meat, dairy and eggs in the diet.
For the most sceptic of viewers out there, there may not have been enough emphasis on the deleterious effects of processed vegan foods. Also, the limited number of case study stories could come across biased and hard to believe. But with a quick search on the internet, it’s easy to find many similar health journeys.
Ultimately, the film asks questions that should have been asked a long time ago, and does a really good job of answering them. It highlights the myth that nutrition is separate to medicine, and uncovers raw and obvious truths that once seen cannot be forgotten.
Crucially, What the Health is not designed to chastise omnivores for their dietary habits. To the contrary: it is impressively effective in observing how muddied the waters around nutrition and health have become – and how we have been misled and manipulated by those in power.