What a night at Canberra’s What the Health premiere

 

On Tuesday 13 June I had the great honour and privilege of attending the Canberra premiere of the brilliant new documentary What the Health, as a member of the expert panel for the post-film discussion.

If you haven’t seen What the Health yet, it’s time to set that to rights! The follow-up to Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn’s smash hit 2014 documentary Cowspiracy, which explored the catastrophic impact of animal agriculture on climate change, water pollution, species extinction, ocean dead zones, desertification, land clearing and a range of other environmental issues – and asked the pointed question, ‘Why aren’t mainstream environmental organisations talking about this issue?’ – What the Health follows a similar trajectory.

The documentary presents the scientific evidence for the health benefits of a wholefood plant-based diet in an engaging and easy-to-understand manner; features interviews with a host of plant-based health professionals including Drs Alan Goldhamer, Michael Greger, Neal Barnard, John McDougall, Michelle McMacken, Garth Davis and Caldwell Esselstyn; athletes including ultraman Rich Roll, surfer Tia Blanco and former footballer David Carter; and tracks the journeys of 3 individuals plagued with severe, medically incurable health conditions who turn their lives around by adopting a wholefood plant-based diet.

Along the way, Kip Andersen has some pointed conversations with representatives of organisations such as the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association – organisations which promote consumption of the very foods that have been clearly shown to cause the diseases they’re supposedly there to ameliorate – which range from the darkly amusing to the downright shocking.

As in Cowspiracy, it becomes undeniably evident as What the Health unfolds, that powerful commercial interests are preventing the public from getting accurate information – in this case, on the steps they could take to improve their own health and reduce their dependency on the medical-industrial complex, in which individuals are viewed merely as sources of profit (as was disturbingly illustrated by a scene in which a representative of a hospital at which Andersen had arranged an interview with a heart surgeon who advocated a plant-based diet, advised him that the hospital made too much money from conducting cardiac procedures to permit the interview to go ahead).

Over 250 people from the Canberra region attended the sold-out event, which was held in the beautiful National Film and Sound Archive. When panel moderator Caitriona Reed asked the audience to indicate whether they were already eating a plant-based diet, many hands shot up. But when she asked whether the film had motivated those who weren’t already plant-based to head in that direction, the vast majority of this group indicated that it had.

And that’s where the panel discussion came in. Having been invited to other documentary screenings as the guest expert for post-film Q&A sessions, I know how important it is for people whose eyes have been opened to new possibilities, to get reliable answers to the questions and concerns that might otherwise inhibit them from making significant changes to their diet and lifestyle.

Panellists Dr Andrew Davies (an intensive care physician from Melbourne), Dr Stephanie Dakin (a GP registrar from the ACT), Clare Mann (a psychologist from Sydney, whom I’m proud to call my friend) and myself, brought a wide range of both professional and personal experience with wholefood plant-based eating to the discussion. Andrew poignantly shared that most of the people he treats in the ICU are there because of their diet and lifestyle habits, while Stephanie explained that her personal plant-based epiphany had motivated her to take the extraordinary step of studying medicine in her 40s, in order to transform our dysfunctional medical system from within.

Clare shared her perspective as a psychologist who has not only counselled many individuals through the many social and relationship difficulties that arise when one adopts a way of eating that deviates so dramatically from the mainstream; but has also co-developed a wonderful app, Vegan Voices, that teaches crucial communication skills that help vegans and other plant-based eaters to navigate these difficulties with grace.

Many of the audience’s questions related to specific health problems such as Crohn’s disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which – as the only panellist whose practice is founded on the use of plant-based nutrition to overcome disease and optimise health – fell to me to answer.

L-R: Robyn Chuter, Stephanie Dakin, Andrew Davies, Clare Mann, Caitriona Reed

Andrew Davies recorded the panel discussion and has released it as episode 15 of his New Normal Podcast. You can also check out the panel discussion from the Melbourne What the Health premier (podcast episode # 4), featuring my friends Dr Malcolm Mackay, a Melbourne GP, and Dr Renae Thomas, a new graduate of Monash medical school, along with medical oncologist Dr Despina Handolias and neuropsychologist Dr Ash Nayate.

One audience member challenged the science presented in the documentary, raising the question of whether the film-makers cherry-picked the studies they highlighted. As I pointed out, there aren’t that many cherries to pick, since the only diet ever documented by angiography to produce reversal of atherosclerosis (blockage of arteries by cholesterol-laden plaque), which underlies the leading causes of death, disability and reduced quality of life in every industrialised society – from heart attacks to strokes to erectile dysfunction to chronic lower back pain – is a low-fat, wholefood plant-based diet.

The highlight of the panel discussion for me though, was the final question. A woman of mature years shared that she was so inspired by the film, she wanted to adopt a wholefood plant-based diet immediately… but didn’t know where to begin. Fortunately, each panel member had a wealth of resources and tips to help her get started!

The take-home messages for me from this exciting experience were:

  1. Documentaries possess enormous power to catalyse change. If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to improve your diet and lifestyle habits, I strongly encourage you to watch What the Health, Eating You Alive, Food Choices and Forks Over Knivesthe film that started it all. On the other hand, if you’re struggling to reach your loved ones and friends with the plant-based message that could save their lives, invite them to watch these documentaries with you. If a picture speaks a thousand words, a movie speaks a million!
  2. Contrary to the assertions of many health and medical professionals, many people are willing to change their diets in order to improve their health if they’re presented with evidence that it would work; the large percentage of the audience who expressed their desire to go plant-based after watching the documentary was testament to that. It’s way past time for doctors, dietitians and other professionals to stop treating their patients and clients as if they can’t handle the truth. ‘Moderation’ is clearly not a successful dietary approach for the vast majority of people; a more evidence-based approach to nutrition is clearly required.
  3. People who are on the threshold of change can be held back by doubts and concerns, but promptly addressing these throws the door wide open, welcoming them through to the life of vitality and health that awaits them.

Has a documentary changed your life? Share your experiences below!

If you need support for transitioning to a wholefood plant-based diet, check out my EmpowerEd health and nutrition education program. It’s packed with resources on how to implement this way of eating, including video recordings of my full-day Empowered Eating seminar and Plant-Powered Oil-Free Cooking workshop; Healthy Eating 101 which covers kitchen set-up, meal planning and batch cooking; and 2 live webinars per month – an open Q&A session and an in-depth exploration of an important health topic. Your first month of membership is 100% free. Register here and get EmpowerEd to live your best life!

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2 Comments

  • gypsy

    Reply Reply June 24, 2017

    OMG!!!!!
    I’m watching ‘what the health’ now and it is MIND BLOWING. It is so well compiled, explained and presented.

    Interestingly it doesn’t present any info that I haven’t already heard from you! But it’s so great to have all this information in one place, simplified, in video form, and presented in different ways by different people.

    I’m so grateful to you and the other plant based diet and lifestyle coaches for teaching me all I know. I feel so sorry for people my age who are only now starting to learn about this.

    • Robyn Chuter

      Reply Reply June 24, 2017

      I totally agree! I’ve seen so many documentaries about this subject, but this one really nails it when it comes to answering the question, ‘If this wholefood plant-based diet is so good, how come I haven’t heard of it before?’

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