28 February 2012

How to Tell if the “Documentary” You are Watching is a Steaming Pile of Poo:


I don’t know why I pressed play. I knew Forks over Knives was going to be a terrible documentary as soon as I read the synopsis. I must be a masochist, because I watched it anyway. But then I hit STOP halfway through. It was that bad.

I am sick of documentaries being made like communist propaganda videos or a FOX News report. It’s like everything else these days, as blogs, with no incentive to dig any deeper than Wikipedia, are being read as factual news because journalists have been sold to advertisers and every station on TV has an agenda to polarize what once were differences of opinion into the ultimate battle of God vs. The Devil. There is no compromise, no nuance. Just good and evil in their most cartoonish forms.

I am not writing this post to lay down the TRUTH or OPEN YOUR EYES, MAN. The fact is I don’t know all the answers. But I do know bull when I see it, because I have learned some of these fine points of scientific thought:


Claim: “A diet high in plant-based foods and  lower in saturated fats, coupled with regular exercise,  contributes greatly to overall health, both physical and mental.”

Extraordinary Claim: “Cutting all meat and dairy out of your diet cures cancer!”

There is sh*tstacks of evidence and research that concludes the former claim to be true. That is why it isn’t sensational sounding, nor does it say it is the be-all, end-all cure and panacea of human ailments. There are many other factors woven into health and well-being and the regular claim knows this. It is only stating what it can factually state. Now let’s take the extraordinary claim … “cures cancer, you say?” and ask where is this evidence?


Studies that are worth their salt are peer-reviewed and successfully replicated numerous times in other labs before the collective gets behind them completely. Anyone can do a study on anything and fudge facts or screw up their math or leave out some crucial step. So when some dude in a lab somewhere claims to have made pigs fly, cured cancer, found a definitive link between the MMR vaccine and Autism, etc., you have to ask if it has been backed up.

So, citing one half-assed rat study and ‘The China Study” (which both have more than a fair share of criticism) as definitive proof that meat causes cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and the blues,  while vegetables are the cure to all these diseases is flawed, to say the least.


T. Colin Campbell, the maverick doctor at the forefront of this film, is the source of all this mindblowing information. The only original source. A red flag to watch for is the lone hero, up against the world, who wants to “blow the lid off this whole thing.”


If they were, I would tell you all about my Aunt. She was a personal trainer, a marathon runner, an avid health nut and one of only 2 vegetarian/vegans in my entire family. By the time she was 47, she had developed Stage 4 colon cancer.  Clearly, then, vegetables cause cancer. The rest of us have been so far protected by cheeseburgers and bacon grease. I could flash a picture of Steve Jobs across the screen and say “Look what veganism did for this guy!” Then, I would add – in a snarky tone – “it seems consuming too many vegetables also causes prolonged episodes of megalomania and assholery.”


Meat consumption went up! Dairy consumption went up! Cancer went up! Just look at these line graphs! …. yes but, Population went up! Use of new chemical compounds went up! Life expectancy went up! Sedentary lifestyles went up! Prescription drug use went up! Hormone therapy went up! The volume of rock n’ roll went up!

Another way these docs try to confuse correlation and causation is by spouting random facts with scary-looking graphics. “500% of Americans are Obese!” “This fast-food megasandwich is the equivalent of 3 sticks of butter.” “I am a fat diabetic.” “100% of our children will have type 2 diabetes for 60% of their lives.” “Americans are fatty boom-batties.” “Use of cholesterol drugs, like Liptor, went up 98% in the last seven minutes!” ”Did you know that heart disease is non-existent for folks in Africa, where they eat a plant-based diet?”

(Yeah, because they’re all dead by 40.) Once you consider the source of these “facts” and weigh the actual evidence to support them, it still is not a cohesive argument, no matter how good of an ‘anonymous fat butts walking down the street’ montage reel you have to back it up.


Last but not least, if a documentary uses Bill Maher to support it’s hypothesis, GONG! It is done. Bill Maher is fine for opinions and a chuckle (sometimes), but that’s about it.

Look, I believe that regular exercise, plenty of veggies and fruits and whole foods does a body good. I believe that a healthy lifestyle can lower the incidence of some disease and lessen the severity of symptoms. But there was a point where a nutritionist brought up the fact of animal protein having the only source of complete amino acids and one of the interviewees responds with, “A potato has, what,  6% protein and that’s enough.” Well no one was debating how much protein one needs, they were questioning the claim that a person should solely consume incomplete proteins.

The filmmakers also brought out the obligatory parade of people who ate Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, Taco Bell for lunch and Culvers for dinner, who washed it all down with cans of Red Bull and CocaCola, to say “Look how healthy we are now that we’re on a vegan diet.” The fact that they started exercising too was glossed over and made to look like a natural byproduct of their new lifestyle. Well, no shit they’re healthier. I may be going out on a limb here, but my hypothesis is that they would be in great shape if they had some lean meat, fish, cheese and yogurt tossed in there as well. And for every vegan athlete in awesome shape, there are 40 who eat lots of  meat and are equally as awesome.

The fact is there are many factors contributing to ill health in America. Genetics, overconsumption, sedentary lifestyle, overmedication, stress and – yes – too much processed food all play a part. Science has only determined some of the roles these forces play in making us ill. It sure hasn’t found the cure for cancer, however, and there is no such thing as a panacea. Making these wild claims does a huge disservice to the gen pop by providing misinformation as fact, science as a joke, fanning the flames of conspiracy and creating not informed concern, but outright paranoia about what we eat and who is “in charge.” (Satan, head of the Monsanto board room, if you’re wondering.) Instead of inspiring people to ask the right questions and begin considering their lifestyle, these documentaries are creating more people who see the world in black and white and are unable to have a conversation on the topic without CAPS LOCK and words like “shill,” “sheeple,” “toxins,” and, the scariest phrase of all…. “THE TRUTH.”

On that note, a few years ago, I saw a documentary that balanced the line between humor and science fairly well: Bigger, Stronger, Faster* by Christopher Bell.  Other than that, I try to only watch lighthearted personal documentaries or documentaries that cover an event, like King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Pulling John, and Air Guitar Nation.

Viewer, be skeptical.

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