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"What the Health" Documentary: A Review

Some thoughts on the latest of a growing number of food- and health-related documentaries, along with some thoughts about this documentary genre, in general.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
July 11, 2017
Episode #437

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Watching a movie like this may be informative and entertaining, but it’s less like reading an investigative journalism piece and more like attending a campaign rally. If I am running for office, I am not going to spend my campaign events exploring both sides of an issue. (And there are always at least two sides to every issue.) Even if I’m absolutely scrupulous about never saying an untrue thing and having sources to back up my statements, I’m still going to be very selective about the facts, evidence, and arguments I choose to emphasize, and which ones I’m going to leave out of the story.  

If my opponent has ever voted to raise taxes, for example, I’m going to be sure to mention that every chance I get. The fact that the tax increase she voted was more than offset by three other tax cuts that she also voted for probably won’t make it into my talking points. As a political candidate, my job at a campaign rally is not to give you all the facts or put them in context. My job is to convince you to vote for me and not my opponent. (And, of course, to fire up my base.)

If you’re a conscientious citizen, you’re not going to choose who to vote for based solely on what a candidate says about themselves and their record. Hopefully, you’ll see what other informed and independent sources might have to say about both the candidate and his rival. Perhaps you’d even attend a campaign rally for the other candidate, just to hear the other side of the story.

What's the Other Side of the Story?

Similarly, before drawing any hard and fast conclusions about the entire beef industry after watching the documentary Cowspiracy, which was made by vegan proponents, you might choose to watch the documentary Farmland , which was produced by those who work in the cattle industry.

As you might imagine, the two films paint very different pictures of the same industry. I’m not sure I’d take either one of them as a complete and balanced representation, but watching both of them would certainly give you more information than watching just one.

Documentaries can be a great way to learn about things that we might otherwise not have any way of experiencing. They frequently propel us to take action that might make us or the world a healthier place. And I’m not saying that these filmmakers are evil; I think they very much believe that adopting their point of view is in your best interests.

Documentaries can be a great way to learn about things that we might otherwise not have any way of experiencing, but they are usually highly selective about the information they present, and how it is interpreted.

But to that end, they are usually highly selective about the information they present, and how it is interpreted. They can be sensational and emotionally manipulative, and they sometimes misrepresent the facts - whether intentionally or unintentionally. So, before making any life-changing decisions, it’s worth at least investigating whether there are other points of view to consider.

If I’m researching a Nutrition Diva episode on a controversial topic, for example, I always try to interview people on both sides of the issue. I know that each one is going to be spinning the facts and citing evidence to support their point of view, but even if they are picking and choosing which facts to highlight, I know that both of them probably are more knowledgeable about their particular issue than I am. Plus, I often give them an opportunity to rebut or respond to the most incendiary charges raised by the other side. By listening to both sides carefully (and skeptically), I can usually uncover sources and facts that I might have missed otherwise.

And in fact, there are several episodes in the Nutrition Diva archives that take a closer look at some of the specific claims made in this movie, and I've included links to several of them below.

Comments on this week’s topic? Post them below or come join the discussion on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page.

Photos of heart healthy foods and eating a balanced diet courtesy of Shutterstock.

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