What the Health Vegan Documentary Interview

Filmmakers Keegan Kuhn (left) and Kip Andersen. Photo courtesy of “What the Health.”

In a pivotal scene in What the Health, the new documentary from the creators of Cowspiracy, filmmaker Kip Andersen visits families in Duplin County, North Carolina — an area known as the “hog capital of the world,” where confined pigs outnumber people 40 to 1. “My neighbor there died from cancer probably just last year. My nephew down the street, he’s got cancer. Not a smoker, not a drinker,” resident Rene Miller tells Andersen. A stone’s throw from her home pig waste is sprayed weekly into the open air. North Carolina’s pig CAFOs disproportionately affect low-income communities of color, reflecting a pattern “recognized as environmental racism,” a 2014 study found. As the camera pans to containers full of dead pigs left to decompose by the side of the road  ( to be later ground up and fed back to the living pigs) Miller says, “I don’t eat bacon, because I know where it comes from.”

 

WHAT THE HEALTH from AUM Films & Media

 

Animal agriculture is eroding human health, much in the same way as it is decimating communities like the one in Duplin County. A multitude of peer-reviewed studies have linked animal products to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s. Dairy boosts the amount of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I) in the blood, which promotes cancer cell growth. Processed meats and eggs are carcinogens , and the list goes on. Yet as we learn in What the Health, not only are leading health organizations dodging discussions on the role of plant-based foods in disease prevention, they are actively recommending the consumption of animal products to sick people.

 

What The Health Documentary Exposes Truth

A still from “What the Health” conveys the truth about carcinogenic properties in a typical bacon-and-eggs breakfast.

In their quest to find out why, Andersen and co-director Keegan Kuhn uncover how the US government, medical industry and health organizations are colluding with animal agriculture in putting the public’s health at risk for the sake of profit. The truth, as it turns out, is stranger than fiction: There’s government-funded marketing schemes to increase meat and cheese consumption; tens of millions of dollars are spent promoting dairy products to children in schools; the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society and the USDA’s dietary guidelines committee all take massive donations from the likes of Tyson, National Dairy Council, Oscar Meyer and KFC. And the meat and pharma lobby is so rich and powerful, they’re practically writing the laws.

It’s a harrowing reality, but What the Health is ultimately about self-empowerment. Through compelling interviews with renown physicians, world-class athletes (including LAIKA’s former cover star David Carter) and regular people who have reversed chronic diseases with a vegan diet, the film shows that the solution lies in our hands. “It begins with us now. We can’t rely on the government to do something about this,” Kip Andersen tells LAIKA. “We have to stop eating all horrific animals’ flesh and end it from the demand side up.” Here, Andersen shares with us more candid thoughts on the film’s process and the meaning of true health.

 

Did you face some of the same challenges in making What the Health as you did with Cowspiracy?
The biggest trouble is these organizations that you think would want to talk, similar to Cowspiracy — the environmental NGOs, the health groups — just don’t want to, because they know they are essentially failing the public in telling the truth about what’s causing a lot of these diseases that they are supposedly in the business of trying to help stop or prevent. Cowspiracy was considered groundbreaking because there had only been a couple of people at that point who had really dug deep into the environmental impacts [of animal agriculture]. The medical community is in the dark, but you have quite a few doctors now who are kind of renegades who had to find out [the truth] on their own — of course they didn’t learn about it in medical school. There are a lot more doctors being turned on to the secret of a vegan diet and [its impacts on] health, so it was easier to find more people to talk to in What the Health.

Did making the film make you feel hopeful, then, that widespread awareness in the medical field is imminent?
It’s a matter of time. It’s just been hidden for so long. And in this time we live in, you just can’t hide the truth anymore. I feel What the Health is a big catalyst for getting this into the mainstream. That just has to fall over into the medical field, because people are going to start telling their doctors they’ve watched this movie. In 2-3 years, [this information] is going to be common knowledge. You’re going to see this taught, and known in the medical community.

What compelled you to embark on an undertaking as massive as a feature-length documentary on a highly controversial topic?
It’s personal for me because of my family history. That was the real driving factor. My dad has had several heart blockages. My grandpa died of heart disease and diabetes. I have cancer on both sides, a lot of diabetes. My aunt is dying of diabetes. [My family] always warned me, “Kip, you’re going to have heart disease.” And then to find out, [the cause] is mostly our diet! A lot of this is to, honestly, show my family and friends that I love.

How did you approach making a fact-dense film like What the Health?
It’s so important to have a strong narrative that’s entertaining, so the audience can easily digest it and actually enjoy watching it. A lot of it was about going further into research, finding out about the connections, the money trail. We kept interviewing people, they told us to interview someone else, we looked into that. One thing led to another. Then we laid it out into as entertaining of a story as we could, because there is so much information, like you said. The goal is definitely to get this into the mainstream.

True health is when you consider everything — not just yourself, but your community, the environment, and all the animals living in harmony.

People don’t typically consider the devastating impact that animal agriculture has on communities, like the one you visited near a pig farm in North Carolina. What was that experience like for you?
My Dad lives in North Carolina. I just feel so sad for the people who live anywhere near these awful places. There’s this whole bacon craze, and people think bacon is ‘cool.’ And it’s so not. In North Carolina, you really see the impact of those food choices. This state that is so beautiful is in such a state of urgency. Thousands of fish dead in the beautiful river. With What the Health, we wanted people to realize what true health is. A lot of people think of health as ‘paleo’, which is not [healthy] — you’re only thinking about yourself. True health is when you consider everything — not just yourself, but your community, the environment, and all the animals living in harmony.

What do you think can be done in the more immediate future to help these communities?
Other than lawsuits, a big thing that will progress the truth coming out is processed meat being classified as a carcinogen by WHO (World Health Organization). When something is a classified carcinogen, it has to be labeled. If you get something from The Home Depot that has arsenic, it’s labeled. So it’s just a matter of time before bacon, processed meat, deli slices have a warning label on. And when that happens, it’s going to have a big impact.

At the screening in New York, you said that if 10 percent of population believe in a vegan world, then that world will come to be. How, in your opinion, can we cultivate a sense of optimism, so we can get to that tipping point faster?
If you tell yourself, “I’m not going to be successful,” it’s not going to happen. You could be doing the right things, going to school, getting your master’s. But if you say you’re not going to be successful, you just aren’t. You’re not going to be happy. It’s [the same way] in society and culture as a whole. It sounds kind of cliché, but thoughts become things. The law of attraction is so true. And you have to see it, you have to believe it. These new companies popping up, vegan restaurants, everyone putting billions of dollars into plant based foods, and on and on. And then it hits you — oh my god, this is happening at an exponential rate! This is happening and it’s happening now.  You don’t have to convince 100 percent of the people, you only have to convince around 10 percent, and the rest falls into place. That’s how every social [justice] movement is. You get that core 10 percent of people who really believe, and then it just happens. And it happens fast.

 

By Julie Gueraseva

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