The Game Changers has just appeared on Netflix and it definitely has people in the fitness industry talking.
If you haven’t heard of it, its a pro-vegan documentary that stresses the importance of a plant based diet for health and environmental reasons.
Which is all pretty unremarkable, we’ve heard it before. So who cares? Well, for one, Arnold Schwarzenegger is in it, espousing the benefits of veg over veal. The same Arnie we all worshipped as young gym monkeys. The man who who once said “I’d eat a kilo of shit to gain a pound of muscle,” but in fact gained all that muscle by eating mountains of red meat. Arnie’s gone vegan now.
The movie is designed to get under the skin of the typical macho gym bro. And it does that successfully if the sheer amount of people losing their minds about it on social media is anything to go by.
I love meat. But I feel that as a population we eat too much low quality meat. I understand the environmental argument and its not like I enjoy the idea of animals suffering pointlessly. If I had my way we’d be out hunting our own food every day, eating animals from nose-to-tail. But that’s pretty tough to do in Hackney.
There’s frankly some pretty bad science in the documentary, and it makes some claims it can’t back up. For example…
At one point they have people eat either steak or plant food. They then test their blood and lo and behold the steak-eater’s blood is thicker. It’s a pretty powerful image that conjures up clogged arteries and heart disease. But it’s also deeply misleading. The same thing would happen if you ate fatty vegan food like avocados and macadamia nuts. If you test the blood while the fat is still in the bloodstream, before its been transported to the muscles, liver and fat cells for storage, guess what? It’s going to be thicker.
The film introduces us to strongman Patrick Baboumian, a vegan strongman. And, yeah, he’s a very strong man. There are other, far stronger, strongmen of course. But here’s a strong guy who is also vegan. Great. Usain Bolt apparently ate chicken nuggets every day. So clearly if you want to be the fastest man alive you should eat deep fried, breaded processed chicken. Giving an example of a single outlier while ignoring what the vast majority of successful athletes do isn’t scientific and it tells us nothing about what’s best for the population.
Apparently ancient gladiators were fed a plant based diet. But they were great big strong dudes. Ipso facto, veganism for the win. Except no. This is stupid. Gladiators were slaves, captured by he Romans and trained to get murdered for sport. They didn’t feed them meat because it was expensive and why waste the good stuff on a guy who’s only purpose is the get a spear jammed through his head. But these gladiators weren’t raised vegan. Right up until the point they were captured and groomed for the Ancient Roman version of Super Smash Bros, they’d have eaten a mixed diet.
Anything Good In There?
Sure. The documentary does include plenty of good science about the benefit of more veg in the diet. But this is an argument for more veg. Not eliminating meat. Vegetables are awesome. So is good quality meat and fish.
I realise I’m laying into this documentary here but I want to quickly distinguish this from deliberately “pissing off the vegans”. The internet meme of the Militant Angry Vegan has been done to death and it’s just soul-crushingly dull. I know lots of vegans. I’m friends with them, I’ve dated them. I’ve spent my adult life in the fitness and nutrition world. And I have never once felt “preached at” by a vegan. I have however, many many many times, been bored to tears by meat eaters claiming they’re “Triggering” vegans like its somehow interesting.
Eating meat is like never having seen an episode of Game of Thrones. It’s not a substitute for a personality. It’s nothing to brag about. Nobody gives a shit. And aggressively straw-manning some fictional militant vegan doesn’t prove your point. It makes you seem less secure in your own conclusions.
If you feel it’s unethical to eat animals, isn’t that already enough of a reason to stop? I completely respect that decision. I also find the environmental argument compelling, so much so that I have started reducing my overall meat consumption and being more careful about the meat I do eat. Why should you also need to twist science to try and convince the world it’s also optimal for health? It’s not my job to ram my own beliefs down a client’s throat. I need to be able to work with them and get them the results they want, even if I don’t think its totally optimal for body composition. But twisting facts to fit an agenda helps no one.
Eating animals is a complex philosophical, moral, ethical, environmental and health issue. I respect anyone who engages with it. Frankly, I won’t even claim meat eating is definitely better. I may change my mind if better information comes to light. But it won’t be based on the information presented in this dumb documentary.
Words by Zack Cahill