‘What the Health’ film maker uses fear mongering, not science, to turn consumers away from processed meats
Kip Andersen, a documentary film maker and yoga teacher from San Francisco, Calif., released his most recent Netflix documentary, “What the Health,” a follow up to his earlier film “Cowspiracy.”
According to his biography, Andersen’s film career began after he “found out animal agriculture is the leading cause of environmental destruction.” The documentary aims to prove how big business affects the poor health of Americans, and he specifically points the finger at processed meats, taking aim at protein producers and agriculture.
The claim that processed meats cause cancer first reared its head in 2015 when the International Agency for Research on Cancer or IARC, a part of the World Health Organization, touted processed meats as a “probable carcinogen” and red meat a “possible carcinogen.”
In Michele Payn’s book “Food Truths from Farm to Table,” she aims to cut through the sensationalized misinformation that caused guilt surrounding the shopping and eating of food to offer a balanced insight.
Payn pointed out processed meats are in the same carcinogenic category as working the third shift, sunlight exposure and alcohol consumption. In an interview with Janeal Yancey, a meat scientist with the University of Arkansas, Yancey explained the IARC did not claim processed meats would lead to cancer but rather, sought a relationship, akin to the relationship known to exist between cancer and sunlight, alcohol or working the third shift.
“It did not say lunchmeat or red meat would cause cancer, which is a very complicated disease. Of the 900 things they’ve looked at, they’ve only found that one does not cause cancer. There are too many good things about processed meats,” she said.
Andersen includes images of a mother serving cigarettes in a skillet to her daughters at mealtime and also of children eating hot dogs in which the hot dog within the bun is actually a lit cigar. In addition to these fear-inducing images, Andersen is featured making a call to the American Cancer Society to inquire why they recommend processed meats on their website.
“This would be like a lung association having a how to roll your own cigarette section on their website,” Andersen said. “It’s kinda the same thing.”
Andersen’s documentary focuses on sugar’s minor role in causing diseases such as diabetes and concentrates instead on the huge role of beef, pork and chicken.
Caldwell Esselstyn, MD, is featured in the film and explains the “enormous role” played by animal protein in cardiovascular disease. Andersen asks him whether chicken is a superior choice to beef and he responds that “it’s a question of whether you want to be shot or hung.”
Payn, a professional speaker who was one of the first advocates for agriculture, has long been a spokesperson for agriculture and her latest book has been used extensively in the continuing education of nutritionists, valued for its balanced explanation of agricultural production methods. Payn encourages consumers to avoid the urge to be swept away by sensationalized headlines by standing on science. Farmers and ranchers, she said, are the first people consumers should turn to with production method questions as dietitians should be first for science-based nutrition recommendations.
“Find experts who use science and do not sensationalize,” Payn writes. “Focus first on the source, considering who is presenting the information, what their credentials are and what their incentive is for presenting the information. Don’t rely on sensationalized videos, one-sided journalism or celebrities for your food information.”
Susie Felton of Felton Angus Ranch in Springdale, Mont., is deeply involved in the family businesses of selling bulls and Angus beef. Part of her role within the ranch is marketing to consumers and she places emphasis upon the importance of communication between consumers and ranchers. Felton is the face behind Mrs. Montana Rancher on Facebook and Instagram, and is working to provide personal service to customers whether they came by way of gravel roads or the internet. Felton frequently reaches out to consumers through live video and social media posts, making her expertise accessible to consumers interested in finding and connecting with an expert. She and her husband, Jim, have been so successful connecting with consumers on social media that their ranch is often a stop as their social media followers travel through the area.
As the ranch prepares to launch a line of beef direct to the consumer, Felton posted a live video of triticale being packed into an ag bag to illustrate and explain to consumers the feedstuffs produced on the ranch are all fed to the cattle in both the bull program and the beef program, making it possible for the Feltons to know exactly what is going into the cattle and beef they sell.
“Some of these people have huge followings but if you really want to get the safest food and know what you’re getting, get to know your producer,” Felton said. “Our new customers are coming from social media and consumers can find a producer to provide whatever type of beef they want. If you want a Montana family ranch raised beef, you can find them. If you want grass fed beef, you can find someone who raises beef that way on social media.”
Just as consumers can flex their ability to choose at the grocery store, they can also choose which experts they want to be influenced by. A simple search on social media for hastags relating to the “What the Health” documentary results in a small army of fitness and nutrition experts and mommy bloggers posting about the film.
Leah McGrath, a dietitian from South Carolina featured in Payn’s book, is adamant that self-interest ought not replace science. She admits, though, science can be easily lost in the noise of the media.
“Look for resources that are unbiased and see what their agenda is,” McGrath said. “Follow the money trail — what is the motive of the individual or site trying to persuade you? Are they trying to sell a product or create fear?”
The Food Babe is one of social media’s loudest voices that has been repeatedly disproved by science as her expertise lies not in science. A slew of women who have been dubbed mommy bloggers also tout their nutritional advice freely on social media, often bullying food companies into giving into demands surrounding production methods. The experts — farmers, ranchers, food scientists, microbiologists and the FDA — can best be trusted as experts over the online personalities selling products and opinions online, Payn said.
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