The Game Changers, Louie Psihoyos’s documentary exploring the potential recovery and health benefits of a vegan diet, released earlier this year. Needless to say, it's gotten a lot of people talking––some more heated than others.
The TL;DR of it is––watch it knowing that the film admits it’s not a substitute for medical advice. There’s no heavy-handed campaigning to leave you preaching the gospel of vegetables and evils of animal products by the end of its 108-minute runtime. Nor will the film leave you sick to your stomach like some other documentaries that tackle the meat industry. Feel free to watch it over dinner because the film is bound to get you talking, which we suspect is the point.
The Game Changers Review
When you bring up The Game Changers, there’s one review everybody’s talking about––the one written up in Men’s Health by the magazine’s Food & Nutrition Editor, Paul Kita.
There’s a snarky tone from the get-go in Kita’s skeptical review of the film for Men’s Health. He writes, “[...] a new documentary called The Game Changers is pushing the ‘plant-based’ lifestyle even further.” From the unnecessary air quotes around plant-based to asserting that the film is pushing a lifestyle, it all reeks of a Fox News segment flippantly mocking something new that might challenge the way we’ve been raised to live our lives.
The next thing you know they’ll have us marrying instead of eating cows!
Kita drops the tone for a moment to falsely assert that the film "argues that eating any animal products––including meat, fish, eggs, and dairy––can hinder athletic performance, wreak havoc on your heart, impair sexual function, and lead to an early death."
Here’s the thing. That statement is true. Those things can lead to those results. They also might not and I don’t think the filmmakers would dispute that distinction. That’s the difference between an absolute and a possibility. The film never stat es without a shadow of a doubt that consuming even a whiff of animal products will lead to those issues as Kita’s dire phrasing seem to imply. Rather, it challenges preconceived notions we have of how meat and other animal products impact athletic performance.
That, I think, is pretty clearly the goal of the film. There are some offshoot journeys, like when the film takes a look at how meat is marketed toward men––e.g. Manly men must masticate meat!––and puts that mythology to the test. The results (not a scientifically backed experiment, the film admits) reveal that a vegan meal appears to do wonders to a man’s erection compared to the rather, well, soft results from a dinner including meat.
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Men’s Health is right to approach this topic with a skeptical eye. Think about how many times you’ve heard eggs are healthy, not healthy, and then not healthy again. Scientific research on foods and diet seems to change at breakneck speed with lobbying interests muddying the waters by funding research to back up their industry. It’s hard to keep everything straight.
To that point, it’s fair for Kita to criticize the film for including research on how great Hass avocados are––research that was funded by the Hass Avocado Board. It’s not a great look considering the film uses the same point to criticize studies released by the meat and dairy industries. (Ironically, Kita’s article first included a quote challenging plant-based diets from an author with ties to the beef industry. They’ve since pushed the quote to the end of the review including that caveat.)
Kita delivers another fine point when showing how the film celebrates the antioxidants in lettuce over salmon and eggs. “By over-valuing one nutrient (antioxidants in iceberg lettuce), you devalue the host of beneficial nutrients in the other (heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, brain-aiding choline in eggs—just to name two),” Kita writes.
Sticking with vegan? Check out these vegan alternatives to eggs, butter, and more.
But again, reading this review you might think that Big Vegan set out to mislead or deceive its audience by way of The Game Changers to churn out new vegans. On the contrary, the film is merely a collection of anecdotes backed with some initial scientific findings that seem to support what the athletes say they’ve been experiencing, like feeling more energized on a vegan diet. The film doesn’t claim to be more. It even starts with a pretty clear disclaimer:
The statements expressed in this film are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
Having read the review before watching the movie, I expected a relentless onslaught of shame focused on the message that meat is evil. In reality, there’s no devious campaign to guilt you into a vegan diet. The film is an entertaining challenge to distorted myths around eating meat, encouraging its audience to investigate further. To insinuate otherwise would be, to borrow Kita’s hyperbolic words, face-smackingly stupid.
Dr. James Loomis, featured in the film, wrote his own response to the Men's Health review.
“Nobody likes being told that their lifestyle habits, especially the food they enjoy, might be dangerous, and the first response is usually denial,” Looms writes. He goes on to challenge the way Men’s Health characterizes some of the studies and information presented in the film. Rather than rehashing it here, we encourage you to read it for yourself.
Where are the everyday athletes? The couch to 5K runners? The mid-career professionals working a 9-5 who struggle to get a 20-minute workout in? The film focuses its attention on elite athletes––professional football players, MMA fighters, an Olympic weightlifter, and some college basketball players giggling over their erections (to be fair, it was pretty funny).
All of these athletes presumably have the benefit of working with a full-time, professional nutritionist who can make sure their clients are getting the nutrients they need should they decide to try a vegan diet. We see that in action when Tennessee Titan Derrick Morgan invites his teammates over for a vegan dinner cooked up by his wife, a working chef herself.
You’d be forgiven if you didn’t feel exactly represented on the screen.
That lack of representation leaves the film open to attacks of tone-deaf privilege. Living a vegan lifestyle properly, ensuring you’re getting all of your vital nutrients, requires a certain socioeconomic privilege. Without that privilege, you might not have access to the fresh foods that are necessary for a healthy vegan diet.
Worried about protein? Here are some of the best vegan protein sources out there.
Then again, it’s hardly surprising that the film came out the way it did with its hyper-focus on elite athletes with the privilege of having access to nutritionists and healthy foods. The film and its producers are subject to the culture of our media, which places more interest in the exploits of high-performing athletes than the lives of the rest of us who are either new to health and fitness or struggling to find a sustainable path to success.
“It’s A Process”
None of this is to say that we can’t glean anything from this film to apply to our own lives. And despite Kita’s defensive response, implying that the film is “pushing” some sort of nefarious vegan agenda, The Game Changers does give a nod to its everyday athlete viewers in closing the film with its insistence that nobody is suggesting a drastic lifestyle change. “It’s a process to it,” says boxer Bryant Jennings.
“People have this idea in their heads that if they're going to do something, it's an all or nothing approach,” adds Olympic cyclist Dotsie Bausch. “And that's not the case at all."
The Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger (a producer for the film), simply suggests planning one day of the week where you don’t eat meat. He is not a vegan. He cut back on meat by about 80 percent. Again, we can talk about the privilege of him easily being able to do that, but if the goal of the film was to push a plant-based lifestyle, as has been suggested by critics, then they sure picked a funny spokesman to end the film.
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Of course, you shouldn't blindly follow Schwarzenegger’s advice to remove meat from your diet one day a week. You shouldn’t blindly follow any advice. If you’re interested in learning more and are considering a change to your diet, consult professional medical advice. The Game Changers isn’t your doctor. But it never claims to be either.