Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn take a page out of Michael Moore’s book in their new film What the Health. This documentary film featured on Netflix questions the meat and dairy industries, and their influence on government, pharmaceutical and other health organizations. Kip Anderson, who we get to know throughout the film, uses a voice over narration to explain his journey into investigating this topic, and similarly to Moore, trades on personality and direct engagement to win loyalty from his viewers. Throughout the film, there were moments where I genuinely thought I was watching Roger & Me (a 1989 film about Flint, Michigan).
I cannot decide if taking on Moore’s documentary style is really a positive for the film, or a negative. He is, of course, a critically acclaimed filmmaker, and there is no doubt that his work has had a large influence on Americans. However, at the same time, many of his films are criticized for their fact manipulation and one-sided perspectives. What the Health similarly displays a pretty extreme perspective with some questionable facts (according to some doctors and articles). The film can be overwhelming due to the way it capitalizes on extremes.
The argument What the Health makes is an important one, and one that needed to be made. The reality is, the dairy and meat industries are wrought with greed and corruption, and their influence on government policy and medical associations is real and sickening. The link between what we eat (we being Americans in general), and the diseases we have is not talked about enough. Bottom line, I really do believe that at the end of the day a plant based diet is the healthiest, most socially and environmentally conscious way to eat. Does that mean I think its the most accessible, affordable or easy thing? Nope. Am I going to radically adjust my diet after this? Probably not. The film does not really explore why veganism isn’t an accessible option for some, and it doesn’t touch on other food movements like the Slow Foods movement, which are also positive options. It is extreme in its view point and that can be both alienating and guilt inducing. Guilt is one of my least favorite feelings to have associated with food and diet, no matter what that diet is, so that in particular upset me.
I really appreciated the exploration of social justice implications of these industries. It is indeed a class and race issue, which is a fact too often ignored. Honestly, I hope this is their next area of focus, because a documentary on this would be phenomenal.
Something that stuck with me was the idea of trading on consumer doubt. Initially, after watching I was absolutely convinced. I had been trying to be vegan for a week with my housemate, and we felt a new inspiration to do it. As the days went on though, the more I thought about and talked about the film, the more I began to question it. I recognized its somewhat fanatical claims, and I also started to question how bad it can really be to drink milk here and there, to eat meat regularly, etcetera. But, as those questions came up, and as I told myself moderation is totally okay, I started to wonder if maybe my conditioning was the real issue. I was raised on eggs, milk and meat. These have always been healthy staples to my diet, right? Essential food groups. While there is room for doubt and questioning facts shown in the film, I’m starting to notice that it’s also important to keep in mind that I have grown up and been groomed and conditioned by institutions that have favored dairy and meat industries, or by institutions who didn’t know better.
What the Health is worth the watch, but it should be taken with a grain of salt. It is extreme, but partially because this situation is pretty extreme. The film itself works to make its point. It’s stylistically pleasing, and takes on classic documentary tactics to win you over. If you’re anything like me, be prepared to be convinced, and then as the days go by, to be doubtful. Regardless of who you are, what you believe, or how you eat, there is something to learn or at least think about in this doc.