What the Hell is up with ‘What the Health’?

  Ja Ma via Unsplash
Ja Ma via Unsplash

There is a new documentary pitting vegans and meat lovers against one another. It’s called What the Health. A 90-minute documentary made by Kip Andersen. Andersen sets out to show the audience how to prevent and revert some the leading causes of death in adults. His argument boils down to one “simple” thing: go vegan. 

Now, if you’re familiar with food documentaries, nothing about What the Health should shock you. Docs like Forks Over Knives and Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead all make cases for a vegan diet over any other one.

I’m not here to trash veganism. I even tried to participate in Veganuary at the beginning of the year to kick off my weight loss goals for 2017. Then, my boyfriend brought home thick cut bacon. I lasted about a week. 

I do want to challenge the documentary’s overbearing “go vegan” message. While What the Health provided a good case for being cognizant of our diet, Andersen’s pushy interviews with health organizations and neglect for other issues that contribute to health made it difficult for me to take him seriously.

Here’s what Andersen’s documentary failed to address:

1. Going vegan can be expensive, especially for poorer communities. 

After I watched Forks Over Knives I immediately grabbed a trashcan and threw everything in my fridge away. I was disgusted. That wore off pretty quickly when I went to a local grocery chain in town and saw the prices of organic food. 

I spend $45 a week on groceries. That usually gets me snacks for five days and three meals a day for 6 or so days. Friday night I tend to eat out and most weekends I’m eating one or two big meals. 

After one trip to the grocery store, buying only organic and vegan food, I spent $70. Imagine a family of four on a fixed income that has $100 to spend. They’d blow their budget out of the water sticking to an organic only, vegan diet. I know the documentary *technically* addressed this, but all we saw was Andersen’s receipt, we didn’t see what he actually bought and cooked for the week. We also don’t know if it included snacks or the typical three meals a day. The biggest challenge for me going plant based was that I was still hungry after leafy meals.

2. Not everyone has equal access to vegan friendly foods. 

When I graduated college, and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, I lived in the poorest zip code in the area. It was normal to see men and women making the trek to and from the only grocery store that was at least two miles away from their housing. 

That one grocery store we had in the neighborhood was a Price Chopper. It was consistently out of fruits and vegetables. When it wasn’t, they were picked over by the time I made it to the store in the evening. I felt like meat and bread were constantly on sale; the shelves stayed stocked with these products. 

One night, on my way home, I counted the number of fast food restaurants in the area versus grocery stores. There were two grocery stores; an Aldi at one end and a Price Chopper at the other, five miles apart from one another. Between them, were ten fast food joints, all with a drive thru. 

This is called a food desert. The people in my neighborhood did not have access to fresh food or consistent reliable transportation to get fresh food the way folks in suburban KC did. When you’re forced to work more hours to make ends meet, then have to walk further for your food, is it any surprise people choose the golden arches over buying spaghetti squash to go home and cook?

3. It’s not all about food. 

I was waiting for one of the dozens of doctors Andersen sliced and diced to mention exercise or mental health. Instead, it was strictly about diet. 

Diet is a large part of one’s health, but why not look at things holistically? Binge drinking is out of control on college campuses; our media consumption is keeping our butts in seats rather than at the park and suicide is one of the leading causes of death among adolescents. LGBTQ youth and people of color are even more likely to suffer from mental health issues, which was recently linked to experiencing racism and microagressions. 

In no way am I saying forget what you shove into your pie-hole each day and focus on these things instead. However, it’d be nice to see a documentary about health that takes a holistic, journalistic approach and lets the audience come to a conclusion themselves.

Everyone’s genetics are different. Unfortunately, Andersen failed to mention this caveat throughout his 90 minutes of propaganda. If you’re genuinely concerned about your health, talk to your doctor, nutritionist or even an obesity specialist. They’ll be able to run a series of tests, check your medical history and determine the best course of action for living a healthy lifestyle. Don’t let one-sided reporting convince you that you’re going to have a heart attack in 30 days because you just ate a burger. 

Besides, none of us are making it out of life alive anyway. 😉 


Have you seen ‘What The Health’? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below. 



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