“The Game Changers” - Louie Psihoyos (2018)

The Game Changers (2018) is a documentary film dedicated to the idea that not only is a vegetarian diet generally good for overall health, but it is also, in particular, a key contributor to increased strength, endurance, and general athletic success [1].  This is intended to counter the conventional belief that in order to be a real he-man, you have to be a heavy-duty meat-eater.  The film is directed by past Oscar-winner Louie Psihoyos (The Cove, 2009 [2]), is written by Joseph Pace, and features a long list of celebrity cast members (more than forty) and  production contributors (more than sixty) that includes:
  • film producer/director James Cameron
  • actor and body-builder Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • actor Jackie Chan 
  • actress Pamela Anderson
  • racing car champion Lewis Hamilton
  • tennis champion Novak Djokovic
  • NBA basketball star Chris Paul
  • Martial arts and UFC star James Wilks
  • Patrik Baboumian, the “World’s Strongest Man”
I am not sure about the extent to which all these various producers contributed to the final product, but the film certainly has excellent production values and is very well paced.  So some credit for this must also be given to the film editors, Stephanie Mechura and Dan Swietlik.

Note that with regard to vegetarianism, I have earlier discussed some other films that promote the advantages of being vegetarian (Eating, 3rd Edition (2009) [3], Forks Over Knives (2011) [4], and Loving the Silent Tears (2012) [5]).  And in this connection, I have noted [4,5] that there are really four main spheres of increasingly more personal interactive compass that underlie why you should become a vegetarian:
  • World. It takes more than ten times both the land acreage and energy from fossil fuels to produce a calorie from animal food than from plant-based food.  We are currently facing a worldwide food crisis due to the use of land and water resources devoted to animal farming. The world’s cattle alone eat enough grain to feed 8.7 billion people. If humans consumed a plant-based diet, there would be no such crisis. In addition, animal farming contributes significantly to global-warming gas production . . . .
  • Community. Every year roughly 70 billion animals are 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.
  • Body. . . . a diet with more than a tiny amount of animal-based food (meat and dairy) is harmful to human health.  Following a vegetarian will make you stronger and healthier.
  • 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.
Different films may focus more specifically on one or two of those spheres (for example Loving the Silent Tears focuses on the Soul sphere).  Here in The Game Changers, the virtues of pursuing vegetarianism with respect to all spheres are discussed, but the real focus is definitely on the Body sphere.  The idea is to encourage the people who are most concerned about strength, stamina, and performance that following a vegetarian diet will give them the best results. 

In order to cover all the information and topics on this subject effectively, Psihoyos and Pace have to setup a narrative scheme to guide the presentation.  So the viewer is first introduced to James Wilks, a combatives and mixed martial arts (MMA) expert who describes his experiences in the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC).  This is one of the most macho of activities, and all the participants are shown to be ruthless competitors.  However during a practise session, Wilks suffers an injury that debilitates him for several months.  So during this downtime, he decides to investigate more thoroughly into the truth of the rumours he has heard that being a vegetarian is good for you, and this survey makes up the rest of the film.

To his surprise, Wilks first learns from recent archaeological studies that the ancient Roman gladiators, those symbols of classic manhood, were almost all vegetarians.  Later on we also learn that the real paleo diet – the diet on which our palaeolithic-period human ancestors lived – was a plant-based diet, too.

Wilks then goes on to talk to a number of high-level athletic practitioners, for whom maximal physical fitness is essential and who have decided for that very reason to commit themselves to vegetarian diets.  These athletes include
  • Nate Diaz, a famous MMA and UFC fighter;
  • Morgan Mitchell, a champion woman sprinter from Australia;
  • Dotsie Bausch, a famous women’s cycling champion;
  • Lucius Smith, a former National Football League cornerback, holder of four black belts, and now at the age of 60 still in perfect physical condition;
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger, the famous actor, body-builder and former governor of the state of California;
  • Many members of the Tennessee Titans National Football League team who have collectively converted to a vegetarian diet;
  • Scott Jurek, a renowned ultramarathoner, who recently set a speed record for completing the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail in the U.S. in less than 47 days; and
  • Patrik Baboumian, an Iranian-born Armenian, who has won many strongman competitions and is now known as the “World’s Strongest Man”.
Each of these athletes has had to rely on maximal physical conditioning in order to achieve their respective athletic successes, and each of them has an interesting story to tell about themselves and about how being a vegan or vegetarian has been a crucial ingredient in their lives, both in and out of the competition arena.

But Wilks covers some other interesting people, too.  One is Damien Mander, a former member of the Australian Royal Navy, who has since taken up the cause of endangered wild species whose continued existence is threatened by poachers.  In this connection Mander founded and heads the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (cf. https://www.iapf.org/).  In the course of his efforts out in the field to save the lives of rhinos and elephants, Mander came to reflect on the fact that all animals are sentient beings who do not deserve to be killed, and so he became a vegan.  So here the film’s arguments in support of vegetarianism are extended beyond the Body sphere listed above to those of the Community and Soul spheres, too.

Other topics covered include testimony from well-known heart doctors like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn advocating vegetarianism and even evidence from other healthcare studies that a vegetarian diet can enhance masculine sexual prowess. 

In spite of all the evidence supporting the advantages of a vegetarian diet, though, the meat and dairy industry, through its lobbies like Exponent, Inc., has persistently funded misleading advertisements and questionable reports that claim animal products are essential for good health.  The film likens these activities to the earlier misleading claims on the part of the tobacco industry denying the damaging health effects of cigarette smoking.

The final part of the film briefly takes the viewer up to the World sphere regarding the reasons for vegetarianism, and it makes the following points concerning global issues: 
  • 3/4 of all the agricultural land in the world is used for meat-producing livestock;
  • Meat, dairy, eggs, and fish farming use up 83% of the world’s farmland, but provide only 18% of the world’s calories;
  • 70 billion animals are consumed globally each year;
  • The livestock sector is responsible for 15% of all the global manmade carbon emissions, which is about the same as that from all human-made transport in the world
In the end, Wilks convinces his own initially-sceptical father to join him in becoming a vegetarian.

Overall, The Game Changers makes an excellent case for the benefits of plant-based diets, particularly in connection with a vegetarian diet’s contribution to athletic success and overall physical prowess.  If you want to be physically fit, forget about meat and follow a vegetarian diet.

  1. The Game Changers (Official website), (2019).  https://gamechangersmovie.com/ 
  2. The Film Sufi, “‘The Cove’ - Louie Psihoyos (2009)”, The Film Sufi, (26 July 2009).    
  3. The Film Sufi, “‘Eating, 3rd Edition’ - Mike Anderson (2009)”, The Film Sufi, (19 September 2010).   
  4. The Film Sufi, “‘Forks Over Knives” - Lee Fulkerson (2011)”, The Film Sufi, (16 November 2012).   
  5. The Film Sufi, “‘Loving the Silent Tears’ - Vincent Paterson (2012)”, The Film Sufi, (13 May 2016).   


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