Mar 7, 2020
All Fired Up is back with a BANG for 2020! And we are SUPER
fired up about this Netflix SHOCKumentary ‘The Game Changers’.
Ebony McCorkell of EB Nutrition joins me to shout “WTF?” at the
dude-bro-fear-mongering- pseudo-scientific thrust of this
plant-based propaganda. As an ethical vegan and anti-diet
dietitian, Ebony is NOT IMPRESSED with the doco's misleading
oversimplification of nutrition science, and we’re both just flat
out BEWILDERED at the relentless focus on masculinity (and erect
penises!). It’s infuriating that thin white male doctors are
apparently able to say ANYTHING without giving credible evidence to
support their claims. If you’re tangled up in health knots after
watching this doco, this is a must listen!
- My guest is dietitian and chef Ebony
McCorkell of EB Nutrition, and we’re talking about the Netflix
documentary ‘The Game Changers’ (2018).
- We’re back for our 2020 season, and this
week we’re All Fired Up about SOCK-umentaries! There’s been a
string of documentaries in recent years that glorify one particular
way of eating while demonizing others. ‘The Paleo Way’, ‘The Sugar
Film’ … ‘The Game Changers’ is the newest documentary in this vein,
and Louise is seeing more and more clients coming in who have been
all shook up by it. The documentary upholds a plant-based diet (or
actually, veganism) as the be-all-and-end-all way to eat for
hotness, athleticism, and not dying from terrible health problems.
It’s got all the classic ingredients – raising fear, and condemning
other styles of eating (such as eating meat).
- Because ‘The Game Changers’ goes into the
science of food and how it affects our bodies, Louise wanted to
talk to a professional who works with food. This week’s guest is
Ebony McCorkell, who not only is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian
and chef (yum!), she’s also a long-term ethical vegan.
- As a dietitian and a vegan, Ebony is fired
up about ‘The Game Changers’ and the perceived benefits of eating a
vegan diet that the documentary espouses. You’d think she’d be
cheering for a documentary promoting vegan diets, no? No! The
documentary makes far-reaching claims and doesn’t hit the mark on
‘good vegan information’.
- Louise has seen in her clients, many of
whom have an eating disorder background, just how much doubt
watching a documentary like ‘the Game Changers’ can sow – even if
they’ve been working on HAES ® and the non-diet approach for a long
time. It speaks to how convincing this documentary seems.
- Ebony has also had clients coming in
telling her to watch it – just like when the previous vegan
propaganda film ‘What the Health’ (2017) came out.
- A successful documentary has to be
thrilling, and unfortunately anyone who has done a nutrition degree
can tell you that nutrition is not thrilling!
- We both resisted watching the documentary
for as long as we could, and when we did watch it, we came away
really understanding why our clients are freaking out. The message
throughout the documentary is that eating meat is very bad for your
health and will kill you.
- Using scientific terms and words a
layperson might not understand helps to build fear, and also makes
the documentary makers and the people they’re interviewing seem
more intelligent if they’re talking about all the science without
explaining what it means. The black and white ideas of ‘this is
bad, this is good’ – anyone who has done a nutrition degree knows
that nothing is as simple as ‘bad’ and ‘good’.
- The opening sequence with documentary
filmmaker James Wilkes bragging about how ‘deadly’ he is, is such a
strange opening to a nutrition film – the hyper-masculinity and
adrenaline gives a real feeling of ‘I’m in danger’.
- While recovering from an injury, James
Wilkes began researching (ie, he read some articles) and came
across the ‘gladiator diet’ which claims that the Roman gladiator
fighters were actually vegan. He went down a rabbit-hole exploring
how a plant-based diet might speed up his recovery.
- The Roman gladiators, while potentially
super strong, were also slaves – not the pinnacle of health. They
were forced to fight to the death for entertainment, and not
necessarily super-fit. They may not have been fed a lot of meat
because they were enslaved and meat is expensive.
- It’s a strange flip to the paleo/‘caveman’
diet, with the idea that cavemen were strong and didn’t eat plants,
therefore we don’t need to eat plants.
- We then see elite and Olympic athletes in
the documentary who are also vegan (and mostly men).
- In a way, it’s good to see a challenge to
the stereotype that vegans, particularly male vegans, are ‘weak’
and ‘wimpy’ – but the pendulum is swinging so far in the other
direction to this hyper-masculinity.
- Instead of saying that vegan athletes can
and do exist, which is the truth, the message is ‘veganism makes
you a superior athlete, the end’ – which is not the truth.
- An example of vegan athletes being
superior to meat-eating athletes used in the documentary is the
Connor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz UFC fight. Ebony notes that Connor
(the meat-eater) had to drop two weight classes to fight Diaz (the
vegan), meaning he was calorie restricting. That’s an exhausting
thing to be doing, especially while training. So, the documentary
holds up a fight where Diaz won as an example of his superiority
due to a vegan diet. In reality, McGregor won a fight against Diaz
soon after the fight featured in the film.
- The documentary goes so far as to feature
Connor McGregor saying “I think maybe I ate too many steaks”, which
McGregor may have meant as a joke.
- Attributing changes in athletic
performance to a switch to veganism is over-simplifying. It doesn’t
take into account many other factors, including the placebo
- After watching these athletes, we start to
hear from the scientists – and we hear science-y sounding words
telling us that eating meat is terrible, and eating plants is
- One aspect of the documentary we’ve heard
about more than anything else is the burrito experiment. Three
athletes – one is given a bean burrito, one a chicken burrito, one
a beef burrito, and then their blood is taken. The blood samples
are shaken to separate blood from plasma, and the beef sample had
‘cloudy’ plasma. The scientists in the documentary say this is due
to having fat in their blood and the endothelium not functioning
properly, leading to poor cardiovascular health. What does Ebony
think of this? The cloudiness of the plasma is a normal reaction to
eating a meal with fat in it, and what is most likely is that the
macronutrient content of the beef and chicken burritos was higher
in fat than the bean burrito. If the meals had all been equal in
fat content, the plasma would have been cloudy in each sample.
- Remember – we need fat in our diets! Fat
is an essential nutrient. We need it for nutrient absorption,
hormonal regulation and more.
- So, a perfectly normal adaptive human
response to eating fat has been misconstrued by the documentary as
- Louise felt the documentary cherry-picked
studies to support their claims that eating meat causes ill health.
The documentary maker dismisses research that contradicts his
claims by saying it is all sponsored by ‘big food’ and therefore
corrupt. As Ebony notes, it’s ironic studies cited as supportive in
the documentary were definitely sponsored by ‘big food’. Just
because the foods the companies represent are plant-based, doesn’t
- Research is not infallible – we SHOULD be
criticizing research and how research is interpreted. But we can’t
be one-sided in how we critique research; we have to do it to all
- A study included cited that eating one
hamburger increases inflammation by 70% - Ebony hasn’t looked up
that citation, so many measures are unknown such as what
inflammatory markers they are looking at. Inflammation is a normal
part of eating – Ebony remembers learning from a PhD candidate who
was studying inflammation who forewarned that everybody would be
talking about inflammation in the future.
- Inflammation is part of the digestive
process. In order to be able to digest food, the body needs to
recognise that it’s a foreign material and break it down. So, it
has an inflammatory response to the food – it’s a normal response.
‘Inflammation’ as a catch-all term is unhelpful. We actually don’t
yet know of anything we can do (e.g. eat a specific food) to reduce
inflammation – there are foods and activities with associations to
reducing inflammation, but we don’t have a causal link yet.
- The documentary leaves out any discussion
of inflammation being a normal physiological response. For example,
exercise causes an inflammatory response, which is a good and
necessary thing to help your body recover from activity.
- “Whenever we eat any animal product, it’s
highly inflammatory. Compounds are formed that corrode our
cardiovascular system”. How scary is that! And no references here!
They really start hitting us with that health fear.
- When James the narrator is talking, they
usually chuck some kind of reference in the corner – even if it
doesn’t necessarily relate to what he is talking about. When the
doctors are talking, however, they don’t use any references – they
can seemingly just say whatever they want without references. Bold!
And we note that it’s thin, white doctors talking. Just saying
something doesn’t make it true. This is where Ebony started feeling
- We start using the big words, we throw a
few cherry-picked studies in there, we give partial explanations
and then start raising the temperature of the health warnings.
Throw in a thin, white doctor saying science words and we’re primed
to buy into the fear.
- Saying the same thing or making the same
claim over and over is a cult tactic – it builds peer pressure.
It’s starting to feel like a propaganda film now!
- Louise found the documentary very
male-focused, and here’s the section where the film turns to
penises and erections. The bro mentality – it’s about masculinity,
muscles and dicks.
- A urologist(Dr Spitz) saying “the more
meat men eat, the more they lose their manly manhood” – yikes! You
have a model penis on your desk, you can say erection!
- Looking at the impact of eating a meal on
your erection – Louise wrote on her notes “what the fuck?!”. Ebony
notes that it’s so outrageous it became a talking point for the
- Dr Spitz conducts another burrito
experiment with 3 college aged males.On night one, they all ate
meat burritos, and a magic data-collecting cock ring measured the
strength and frequency of their erections as they slept overnight.
The next night they repeated this experiment with a plant-based
burrito. There was no base-line taken for this experiment, it has a
VERY small sample group, and HOW does measuring the strength and
frequency of involuntary sleeping erections of young men relate to
sexual performance? The results were bigger and longer erections on
the night of the plant-based burritos. There are so many variables
that weren’t controlled for in this experiment. You can’t conclude
- The doctor himself said “this was not a
scientifically validated study”. So, they’ve included it as a joke,
or for shock value. Either way, it’s not really telling us anything
– but it might make us feel more insecure about our masculinity and
- No discussion of vegan diets on women’s
sexual function or fertility – so many aspects of health got
ignored. It’s dumbed down to athletic performance and the number of
overnight boners. It’s purposely targeting a particular market –
most vegans are young women, so they’re trying to convert more
‘manly men’ to veganism. Louise has a real problem with health
scare tactics that are not based on reality, and Ebony agrees –
they could have made a documentary without the extreme messaging,
showcasing the great plant-based athletes out there and shown how
they train, how they adjust to nourish themselves, etc.
- One of Louise’s clients thought the
documentary was good because it didn’t talk about weight loss – and
Louise’s reflection is that it kind of doesn’t have to. There’s not
much size diversity in the documentary, and it’s focused more on
the new world of ‘healthism’ which is implicitly fatphobic. Just
because it doesn’t focus on weight loss, doesn’t mean it isn’t
soaked in diet culture.
- The sweeping statement that anyone who
disagrees with the documentary must be working for ‘big food’ -
- The ethical aspects of veganism were
glossed over, even though this is a common pathway into veganism.
Ebony notes that she doesn’t think James Wilkes is an ‘ethical
vegan’, but rather a plant-based-for-health person. Ebony
personally has been vegetarian since she was eight years old, and
became a vegan later, due to concerns for animals. The
plant-based-for-health fanatics might develop these concerns for
animals by becoming part of the vegan community, but their primary
motivation is not animal welfare or environmental concerns. As an
ethical vegan, it’s hard to watch your community be clouded out due
to a toxic diet-culture group. It’s a very polarizing and
uncomfortable thing in the vegan movement at the moment.
- There’s a parallel in the HAES and fat
activist community. Fat activists have been doing the work for
years, and suddenly ‘anti-diet’ is a *thing* in 2020 and becomes an
encroachment and misrepresentation of the original values of the
- This podcast isn’t about bashing veganism
or people who eat plant-based, but highlighting how this
documentary has a healthist agenda that misrepresents science.
- Any mention of a downside to making such a
radical nutritional shift is not mentioned in the documentary –
such massive fear-based restriction comes with risks! The
combination of restriction and guilt is straight from diet culture,
and risks creating eating disorders in many people.
- As an ethical vegan, if Ebony accidentally
consumes something that contains animal products, she might feel a
bit sad and remorseful but is able to move past it. If she believed
that the food she ate would KILL her, it would be a different
- Let’s be critical and move beyond the
messaging to find the meta – is this source fear-based? Is it
cherry-picking? And what’s the agenda of the people making
- If you want to explore eating a more
plant-based diet, see someone like Ebony to give you some non-diet
podcast with discussion of the Connor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz
- Find out more about Ebony, who runs EB
Nutrition in Chelsea, VIC and offers online consultations!
We’re not putting in a link to the actual Netflix doco, because
it’s just exhausting!