Eating, a documentary film written, produced, and narrated by Mike Anderson and shown on PBS (US Public Broadcasting Service), has a blunt and straightforward thesis: America’s principal health problem is the eating habits of its people. Our eating is killing us. In fact the film cites a US Surgeon General’s assertion that every year “eating kills 2 of 3 Americans”. Why? Because Americans (and those of other wealthy Western societies) are stuffing themselves with animal protein and cholesterol, instead of eating properly: a plant-based diet devoid of any animal products.
The basic thesis of the film is centered around the fact that, despite improvements in wealth and medical care over the past half century, Americans have more than doubled their consumption of meat during this period, which has had very negative consequences on overall health. The cause for this negative health impact is based on the following argument:
- Animal-based foods supply high levels of cholesterol to the diet – much more than is required for human consumption.
- The high cholesterol leads to the thickening of artery walls (atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries”).
- Hardening of the arteries impedes blood circulation throughout the body, thereby diminishing the body’s ability to respond to and repair degenerative and/or invasive tissue problems, such as cancer cells, bacterial and viral infections, or general cell damage.
The film’s primary thesis concerning the advantages of plant-based diets echoes the work of T. Colin Campbell, a nutritionist professor from Cornell University who documented his work in the The China Study. Dr. Campbell and his team were given access to detailed, longitudinal nutrition information from a large region of China and concluded that people who consumed less animal protein had reduced incidences of a broad ranges of illnesses and health conditions. The study was said by Jane Brody, nutrition editor of the New York Times, to be “the most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease.” A summary of some of the findings of “The China Study” can be found here.
Eating provides direct testimony from several people who, having been stricken with serious heart ailments and cancer, chose to ignore the conventional therapeutic programs recommended by their doctors and instead switched to strict plant-based diets. In each case, the plant-based diets let to dramatic reductions in the patients’ serum cholesterol. The results, for these people at least, were remission and reversal of their life-threatening conditions.
After outlining the case against cholesterol ingestion due to an animal-based diet, Anderson moves on to consider why meat, milk, and dairy products are so heavily promoted and subsidized in the US. It comes down to the political influence of powerful lobbies run by meat/dairy industry. They have brainwashed the American public into believing that all children should have three glasses of milk a day, which, as both Anderson and T. Colin Campbell point out, is actually harmful to childrens’ health.
Then the film briefly considers the deleterious effect of animal-based foods on global warming and the environment in general. After rapidly covering information about the dramatic impact that the animal-based-food industry has on the environment, Anderson concludes that the single most effective thing you can do to reduce global warming is to change your diet.
In terms of documentary exposition, Anderson’s narrative style in Eating is deceptively simple, but I found it highly effective and worthy of general consideration by teachers and college lecturers for articulating any argument. Unlike many documentary narrators, Anderson makes no effort to entertain or communicate in a casual, ingratiating style – instead his measured, simple, and deliberate disposition is straight to the point and relentless in the pursuit of his overall thesis. The visuals include frequent superimposed large-text titles that provide summary statements and emphatic redundancy, thereby reinforcing the main message. The cumulative effect of all the information he presents is overwhelming. A DVD of Eating can be obtained from Anderson’s Web site, "Rave Diet & Lifestyle" (http://ravediet.com), as well as from Amazon.com, for US$ 9.95. The only quibble I have is that the many factual assertions made in the film, such as
- “85% of adults suffer from hardening of the arteries; half will die prematurely due to heart disease”, and
- “. . .it has been estimated that excess cholesterol has contributed to more deaths than all the wars of the 20th century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents, combined!”,
From my own perspective there are four principal domains with respect to which following a vegan or vegetarian diet makes a crucial contribution:
- Environment. Animal farming consumes many times more hectares of land than plant-based agriculture to produce an equivalent amount of food calories for human consumption. In addition, animal farming wastes valuable fresh water resources. We are currently facing a worldwide food crisis due to the use of land and water resources devoted to animal farming. If humans consumed a plant-based diet, there would be no such crisis. In addition, animal farming contributes significantly to global-warming gas production, particularly methane, which has more than twenty times the impact on global warming than does CO2.
- Ethics. Every year there are roughly 50 billion animals slaughtered for human consumption. Yet animals are sentient beings like us that feel pain. They are existentially our brothers and sisters and do not deserve to be killed for our pleasure.
- Health. As outlined in this film and in The China Study, a diet with more than a tiny amount of animal-based food is very harmful to human health.
- Soul. Most small children are instinctively alarmed when they first learn that they are eating flesh from dead animals, but adults persuade them to accept it. That initial alarm that you felt back then was the voice of your inner soul – the essential core being who you really are. When you resolve to give up eating animal-based food, you are responding to that inner voice and following the path of your true, compassionate nature. You are becoming the complete person that you have always wanted to be.
Each of the four domains above supplies a compelling reason on its own for one's being a vegan/vegetarian, but in this film, the emphasis is primarily on health, the 3rd domain listed. Although supplementary material covering environmental effects (1st domain) and animal mistreatment (ethics, 2nd domain) was apparently added for the present edition, the main impact of the film and comes from the principal cholesterol-based thesis associated with the health-oriented material, much of which was compiled for the original 2002 edition. That emphasis on the health side of things is fine; more than 70% of vegetarians initially choose that diet just for health reasons, but they later expand their thinking to encompass some of the other reasons. Thus the move to a vegetarian lifestyle has helped them become more compassionate and responsible souls.
Everyone should see this film and think these things over.