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 as dangerous as cigarettes. And the list goes on. Yet as we learn in What the Health, not only are leading health organizations refusing to discuss plant-based foods’ role 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 dizzying corruption — 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 millions of dollars in 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 drove 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 masters. 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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Photo by Clara Polito

Writing a book is no small feat. Now imagine doing it while still in your teens. LAIKA’s one-time cover star Clara Polito has accomplished just that. Her first cookbook, Clara Cakes: Delicious and Simple Vegan Desserts for Everyone! was just published by powerHouse Books. It’s chock full of recipes for a dizzying array of creative desserts, with an entire chapter dedicated to frosting, plus sage business advice, a super handy guide to kitchen gear and egg substitutes, even a spread about why she’s vegan.

Photo by Logan White.

Polito is a serious pro with a heart of gold, but she’s no overnight sensation. She’s been running her LA-based company Clara Cakes since the age of 12, selling her creations at stores, restaurants and countless events across the city, as well as doing many brunch and dinner pop-ups. Her hard work has rightfully earned her treats a loyal following. The artist and skateboarder Ed Templeton says it best in his introduction to Polito’s cookbook, “Clara is the kind of girl that gives me hope for future generations. She didn’t wait for anything happen to her, she made it happen for herself.” Indeed.

Polito shares her S’mores Bar recipe with LAIKA, followed immediately by our Q&A with her.

Photo by Clara Polito

 

S’mores Bar
“I rarely ate traditional s’mores growing up because: 1) Marshmallows have gelatin, and 2) I’ve never been camping in my life. What I can remember of these sweet snacks is that the marshmallow always swallowed up all the other flavors. It was too sweet to be able to enjoy the perfect graham cracker and melty chocolate combo. These s’mores bars give you a balanced ratio of a lot of graham-cookie-bar crust, just enough chocolate chips, and a bit of melty marshmallow to tuck it in. I honestly don’t have much of a desire to ever go camping since I can just make these bars in my oven…”

Ingredients
1 cup crushed Nabisco plain graham cracker crumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips*
1 cup Dandies Marshmallows,* torn in half
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup v. butter, melted
1 tablespoon coconut vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
* Specialty ingredient, buy ahead

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×9 baking pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper.

2. In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar and baking soda with a fork. The baking soda will dissolve. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, flour, and baking powder.

4. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.

5. Add the vinegar and baking soda mixture to the butter and beat on high until the vinegar is fully incorporated, about two minutes.

6. Slowly add in the dry ingredients on medium speed and beat until it looks like cookie dough.

7. Reserve 1/4 of the dough and set aside, you’ll use this later for the topping. Press the remaining dough into the baking pan.

8. Sprinkle chocolate chips and marshmallows evenly onto the cookie dough layer.

9. Take the cookie dough you set aside and scatter grape-sized pieces over the marshmallows and chocolate chips.

10. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Place on cooling rack, serve warm.

 

Then and now. Clara covers our Summer ’13 issue (left); and is the author of her first cookbook four years later. Photos by Sylvia Elzafon and Logan White.

LAIKA: Veganism has become a lot less stigmatized in recent years. Do you even still feel the need to explain that you’re a “vegan” baker?

Clara Polito: It depends on who I’m talking to, or where I’m selling. Most of the time, I like to let my cooking speak for itself and win people over, and then tell them afterwards that it’s vegan which is always very much to their surprise! I think because being vegan is second nature to me, and such a part of my inner moral compass, I don’t have to work too hard on integrating it into my identity. Changing the way people eat is ultimately why I do what I do.

LAIKA: It’s a pretty crazy time, with this country’s government trying to escalate the oppression of both human and nonhuman animals. How does all this affect your craft and your sense of urgency to make the world better?

Clara Polito: I feel that being vegan is so important, especially now, as a way to express compassion. Our country is so accustomed to feeling disconnected to cruelty, corruption, etc. I think being vegan is the simplest, everyday activism you can do that touches on so many different issues beyond animal cruelty. I think it motivates me to make my recipes accessible. It makes me want to hold tight onto my craft and work harder.

LAIKA: The cookbook is so impressive. It must’ve been a ton of work to put together.

Clara Polito: Other than jotting down recipes, I had no prior cookbook experience. I think I needed someone to say, “Let’s do this, here’s what I need from you,” and from there it was a blast. The problem I run into is narrowing down recipe ideas, so coming up with new ones was fast. I took most of the dessert photos (Logan White took some as well), so there would be nights where I’d have four different cakes in my fridge calling my name.

LAIKA: The design of the book is also very eye-catching. Did you collaborate with the publisher and designer on it?

Clara Polito: My publisher was really open to my ideas for the book design. They’d send over different versions of possible designs and really listened to my feedback. The designer asked me to send over different tablecloths and aprons I use, and that’s where the flowers throughout the book come from. The handwritten old English was a tribute to the first business cards I made, and I love how modern it feels in the book. I love how much the book design represents myself and my baking.

LAIKA: And your best friend is a part of the book too, is that right?

Clara Polito: Sophia [Longo] is an extremely talented writer, and about a year ago she wrote a zine called Dessert Haikus. She wrote several different haikus having to do with desserts and then we put them together with photos of my baked goods. A couple months later when I started working on the book, it seemed like the perfect addition to it! She’s been a part of this adventure since I started baking, so it makes the book even more special and meaningful.

LAIKA: That’s so cool, and such a great example of young women’s camaraderie. So, people new to vegan baking are sometimes intimidated by the lack of eggs. What’s your take on that?

Clara Polito: My favorite egg substitutes are applesauce, coconut vinegar, and Mori-Nu silken tofu. I think texture and taste both taste more fresh when not using eggs. Isn’t it weird how non-vegan cake is technically chocolate eggs?!

LAIKA: Yep! What’s the top advice would you give young women your age who have a hobby or passion and yearn to turn into a career?

Clara Polito: I would say to embrace your passion and know your self-worth. People might offer you advice, which is nice, but you don’t have to take it. Do what you want to do.

LAIKA: Ok, final question — what’s inspiring you these days, and what are your must-eat vegan dishes around LA?

Clara Polito: Stella McCartney’s latest collection, both womenswear and menswear. I keep going back to the lookbook for inspiration! And specific dishes at particular places are: Organic Puff Pastry Tart with Market Green Salad at Elf Cafe (Elf is vegetarian, request this dish vegan); the Sweet Potato Falafel at Fala Bar; Spicy Sweet Potatoes at Azla; Masa Echo Park’s vegan Deep Dish Pizza (request vegan); the vegan pupusa combo that comes with fried plantains and black beans at Delmy’s Pupusas (request vegan); and the Jackfruit Taco with Chipotle Mayo and Tomatillo Salsa at Plant Food For People.

Clara Cakes’ latest pop-up dinner is in Detroit this weekend, and the NYC book launch is on March 23. Get to know this inspiring young woman even better in our Issue Two cover story. Pick up her stunning new cookbook online or at stores nationwide.

Interview by Julie Gueraseva

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Imagine What a Vegan World Would Look Like

Santuario Igualdad Interespecie vegan

David and Piopito at Santuario Igualdad Interespecie in Chile. Photo by María Gabriela Penela.

For thousands of years, the human species has relied on the exploitation of our fellow inhabitants on Earth – the nonhuman animals. It has long been our society’s status quo, the norm. There are over 7.5 billion people on the planet. Nearly eight times that many farm animals are killed by humans annually. But what if the use of animals was no longer part of the equation? “Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night,” Edgar Allan Poe once wrote. In the spirit of November being World Vegan Month, we dream of a vegan world and just a few of the amazing changes we would have to look forward to were it to become a reality.

 

Billions of Animals Would No Longer Suffer

Over 56 billion animals are raised and slaughtered for human consumption each year. This figure doesn’t include marine animals, whose deaths are measured in tons. Together, approximately 150 billion animals’ lives are taken by the meat, dairy, egg and fish industries. Billions more are destroyed, injured and deprived of freedom by the fashion, entertainment, sports and animal testing industries.

The abolition of animal exploitation would bring an end to the cycle of breeding and raising animals for the sole purpose of killing them. No longer would nonhuman animals be subjected to agonizing (yet standard) practices like forcible insemination, intensive confinement, tail docking, dehorning, beak trimming, being auctioned off as babies, gassed, electrically stunned, processed while alive. Traumatic events such as separating children from their mothers within 24 hours of birth would no longer be routine.

Transport trucks full of animals stop criss-crossing nations; there would be no more live export by sea or air. Fish would no longer endure the despair and severe depression of farming.

Our relationship with animals would be completely transformed from one of dominance to one of co-existence and respect. Their depth of sentience and sophisticated cognitive abilities would be an undisputed fact, and our treatment of them would be universally acknowledged as having moral significance. We would understand the animal kingdom as never before; sharks would no longer be vilified, and farm animals would not be reduced to objects. Nonhuman animals would no longer have the status of commodities, but of conscious beings with the inherent right to be free from bodily harm.

 

Painting by vegan artist Hartmut Kiewert.

“Large Picnic” by Hartmut Kiewert, 2015.

 

Nature Would Heal

The toll of animal agriculture on our planet is brutal.  The meat and dairy industries have been identified as major accelerators of climate change: animal agriculture produces more greenhouses gasses than emissions from all forms of transportation combined. Today, close to 80 percent of the Amazon’s deforestation is the result of land clearing for cattle ranching.

The environmental damage of raising animals for human consumption far exceeds that of plants — with beef production, for example, having emissions per gram of protein that are about 250 times those of legumes. A study published in 2015 stated that “consumption of animal-sourced food products by humans is one of the most powerful negative forces affecting the conservation of terrestrial ecosystems and biological diversity.”

With animal agriculture made obsolete, global CO2 emissions would drop spectacularly. A world of herbivores would mean that our individual dietary greenhouse gas emissions would be cut in half.

In a vegan world with more available land, biofuels would replace half of the coal used worldwide, which is currently responsible for about 3,340 million tons of CO2e emissions annually.

Rainforests play a crucial role in absorbing our world’s carbon dioxide, converting it to oxygen. In a vegan society absent of animal agriculture, the Amazon — the “lungs of the planet,” as it’s known — would be restored to its healthy density. No longer would trees be burned to clear land, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the process. Global warming would be de-escalated.

With humans no longer wearing the skins of nonhuman animals, our Earth would be spared the dumping of chromium-laced waste and other dangerous pollutants into water systems by the leather industry. Instead, our clothing, shoes and accessories would be made from materials like repurposed plastic waste and waste plant fibers.

 

Vegemoda bag made from pineapple leaves.

Vegemoda vegan bag made from pineapple leaves.

 

Our Water Would Be Protected

1 in 9 people around the world face water shortages. The water crisis is the #1 global risk based on impact to society, according to the World Economic Forum. A third of the world’s water consumption goes towards producing animal products. In a society without meat production, each former beef eater would save our planet nearly 130,000 gallons of water a year. The dairy industry’s catastrophic water footrpint (109 gallons to produce just one stick of butter) would be reversed in a vegan world.

Without industrial-scale animal exploitation, our water supplies would no longer be in danger of being polluted and made unsafe for human consumption by the frequent leakage of animal waste “lagoons” and fertilizer runoff. No longer would vast regions be affected by the disastrous manure spills of factory farms. Thanks to the end of the meat industry, communities would be safe from waterborne disease outbreaks caused by pathogens or having their drinking water poisoned by toxic pollutants like nitrogen.

With animal products obsolete, climate change would be abated; rising temperatures and the depletion of groundwater reserves due to drought would come to a standstill.

 

No More World Hunger

The bulk of industrially produced grain crops goes to confined animal feedlots instead of the 1 billion humans currently suffering from starvation and malnutrition. Over 50 percent of the corn grown globally, and 80 percent of soybeans, are consumed by animals farmed for their flesh. Yet it takes roughly 13 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat. Twenty-five times as much edible human food is being used to produce just one unit of meat.

In a vegan society, all field crop production that would have been used to raise animals would now meet the nutritional needs of the global population. It is estimated that by 2050, an additional 4 billion people could be fed with the annual energy value used to produce meat. Doing away with animal agriculture would free up land and resources, enabling communities to sustain themselves and making food sovereignty a reality. In the place of industrial-scale animal exploitation and slaughterhouses, there would be community farms and gardens, more schools and cultural institutions.

 

Species Extinction Would Be Halted

The systematic decades-long clearance of trees from the Amazon has condemned close to 40 species in the region to near extinction. And in the Southwest of the US, livestock grazing is the most widespread cause of wildlife endangerment. Not only do wild animals suffer from deforestation and climate change caused by the meat industry, but they are also killed en masse to protect its corporate interests. Keystone predators like California grizzly bears and Mexican gray wolves have been driven to extinction as a result of “predator control” programs.

Without the meat industry’s existence, more than 175 threatened or endangered species in the United States would be saved from peril. And according to Thiago Rangel, an ecologist at the Federal University of Goiás in Brazil, forest regeneration in the Amazon would help to “gradually recover species richness, composition and vital ecosystems functions.”

 

Kat Von D and Bruno in LAIKA, Issue Six. Photo by Melissa Schwartz.

Kat Von D and Bruno, who was rescued as a calf after falling off a transport truck to the slaughterhouse. From LAIKA, Issue Six. Photo by Melissa Schwartz.

 

A More Empathetic Society

Leo Tolstoy famously wrote that “as long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.” Could a world without wars result from, or coincide with, society abolishing animal exploitation? It’s not that far-fetched of a notion. Empathy is the ability to identify with the emotions of another and it is often the first step toward taking compassionate action for someone. And empathy literally transforms our brain.

A 2015 Neuroimage study showed that higher empathy scores were “associated with greater gray matter density” and that people “who have high cognitive empathy are those who are more rational.” A rational state of mind is calmer and less inclined towards impulsive actions — or, in other words, aggressive and violent behavior.

 

Rescuer Marc Ching with Lucky and Jack, who were saved from the dog meat trade in South Korea and Thailand. From LAIKA Issue Six. Photographed by Jenna Schoenefeld.

Rescuer Marc Ching with Lucky and Jack, who were saved from the dog meat trade in South Korea and Thailand. From LAIKA Issue Six. Photographed by Jenna Schoenefeld.

One of the core aspects of a veganism is being empathetic to the pain of animals, in being able to relate to them and recognize their suffering. Compared to omnivores, functional MRI brain scans reveal a more powerful empathetic response to both human and animal suffering in the minds of vegetarians and vegans.

The more we put empathy into practice, the more empathetic we become. It is nearly impossible to imagine wars still taking place once the last slaughterhouse shutters. In changing our relationship with animals, we could change our relationship with one another and pave the way to the world peace that we all long for.

 

Let’s Make It a Reality

It’s up to us to make the dream real — through leading by example, mobilizing our communities, becoming engaged with the world around us, participating in grassroots activism. The task is more urgent than ever, particularly since our President-elect is a climate change denier who is rounding up an administration similarly hostile to the protection of animals and the environment. When relying on the government to help us is no longer an option, we still have control over whether or not we choose to participate in industries and practices that are destroying our planet and its inhabitants. And that is incredibly empowering. We already know that a benevolent existence is possible — one need only flip through the pages of LAIKA to see how abundant, vibrant and interesting a vegan life is. It is us, the masses, who hold the key to transforming our society. Our potential to cultivate positive change is limitless, and the time to begin is now.

Posted by Julie Gueraseva

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