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All Fired Up


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!

 

 

Show Notes

 

  •       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 effect.
  •       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 wonderful.
  •       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 being dangerous.
  •       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 reduce bias!
  •       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 sides.
  •       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 the rage!
  •       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 documentary.
  •       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 anything reasonable!
  •       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 sexual performance.
  •       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 community.
  •       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 experience.
  •       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 this?
  •       If you want to explore eating a more plant-based diet, see someone like Ebony to give you some non-diet support!

 

Resources

Joe Rogan podcast with discussion of the Connor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz UFC fight.

  •       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!