Food Choices film by Michal Siewierski: a dishonest argument for veganism

Food Choices by Michal Siewierski is not a documentary. Its first dishonest point is that it calls itself one when it isn’t.

What is it?

It’s an extreme right-wing and privilege-based argument for veganism that draws false conclusions, ignoring moderate thinking and the choices ordinary people have to make within a social context.

Let’s be clear. To write up the ten pages of notes I took while watching this “documentary” would be to bore the living daylights out of you. So we’re not going to do that. It’s going to be a long enough read as it is.

Some points to start with:

Regarding food:

  1. I am a meat eater.
  2. I eat a small amount of meat less than three times per week (usually once), sourced from local suppliers and smallholders in most cases and never from supermarkets.
  3. I eat a small amount of animal products (e.g. milk and eggs) most days per week, but I try to source them well. That is, I support local businesses in my sourcing.
  4. About 85% of my diet is vegetable based.
  5. I make most of my meals from scratch.
  6. I have considered veganism and vegetarianism for many years, but for reasons detailed below, including poverty, availability, health, and access, have not gone for it.
  7. I am a farmer’s daughter and I support small farmers and small holders.
  8. I am not a scientist.
  9. I understand food groups, am able to bulk up or lose weight as desired, and I manipulate my diet to suit.
  10. I believe in the good of the balanced diet for humans.
  11. My long-term partner is a veggie, and has been for over 15 years.
  12. I have no personal issue or problem with anyone who chooses to eat any kind of diet. Some people need to eat vegan because they have health issues that require this. Others have culture behind them. Others choose to do it for ideological reasons.

Regarding film analysis:

  1. I am a media graduate, well used to analysing media programmes and films.
  2. I write for a living.
  3. I understand how language is used to persuade and cajole and influence.
  4. I understand how the language of pictures are used for same.

So, why do I believe Michal Siewierski’s film “Food Choices” is dishonest?

Food Choices film: language

Weasel words

Do not be fooled. This film does not ‘explore the impact people’s food choices have on the world’, despite what some reviewers would have you think. It uses the phrase ‘food choices’ to imply that what we eat is entirely down to our own personal choices.

Sure, we think they are. But if you really consider how you got to your current diet, there are a number of factors that come into play:

  • Your income.
  • Availability and access to a wide variety of food.
  • Your knowledge and understanding of what is good, what you like, and why you eat what you eat.
  • Your cultural background.
  • Your time.
  • Your health.
  • Who else is eating the food you prepare?

This film chooses to blame the individual as though we make our choices in some kind of social vacuum, but if you don’t have a decent income, or you work full time and you have a family, or if you just don’t really understand food groups and food in general, it is much more complicated than that.

Mr Siewierski is a gentleman who admits at the start that he has spent his whole adult life playing with [fad] diets. If you do not do fad diets; if you are a healthy eater; or if you believe in the power of a balanced diet, this is the first sign that the rest of this film will be filled with thinly disguised bullcrap.

Dodgy quotations

Right at the start of this film, an interesting ‘quotation’ comes up. It highlights and connects the words ‘ignorance’ and ‘illusion of knowledge’, deliberately setting out to tell you that what you already know is wrong. It’s a set up, laying the foundations for the bullshit arguments to follow.

Avoids the word ‘veganism’

Siewierski talks continually about ‘plant-based diet’. This is because ‘veganism’ and ‘vegans’ have such a terrible reputation for extreme political behaviour and personal attitudes that a stigma has been created around the whole movement.

Plant-based diet, of course, is what most of us eat. This is using words in a way that takes the meaningful and turns it into something less meaningful. I.e. they really mean the removal of all animal-based products. But it sounds like something we could easily manage because obviously we all eat a plant-based diet.

Talking about veganism without using the term veganism is dishonest.

Use of the words genocide and holocaust

This is totally unacceptable language. I shouldn’t have to parse it for you, but just in case, here goes:

“Genocide (noun): the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.”

“Holocaust (noun): the systematic mass slaughter of European Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II”

Farm animals are not deliberately or systematically exterminated. In fact effort, skill, knowledge and experience is combined to ensure that the lines continue for the benefit of the human race. This is not extermination. Farm animals are not people. They are systematically slaughtered for food, but it is not for some ideological reason, and not in order to be wiped out.

This kind of disgusting right-wing comparison of the incomparable is a big no-no. I hope, for your sake, for obvious reasons.

Blatant plug for the book of one of the film’s contributors

Slipped into a comment about how people find information hard to work out is a blatant plug for The China Study, a pseudo-scientific tome by ‘Dr’ T. Colin Campbell PhD (so not a medical doctor then). He’s the one in this film who claims that the more milk you drink, the higher the risk of osteoporosis, thus putting many women who watch the film at risk of osteoporosis by trying to convince them not to drink milk—for many, milk is one of the few sources of accessible calcium.

Food Choices film: arguments and claims

Dose dependent

Two contributors in particular talked about how human consumption of protein—particularly animal protein—is dose dependent, i.e. the more you eat, the worse it is for you. One contributor I respected: Pam Popper—she talked a lot of good sense, but I was baffled by the extreme conclusions that were drawn from what she said. The other contributor, Dr Michael Greger (at least he is a real doctor), used triggering language in almost every segment.

They are essentially right. Society as a whole, and individuals across the western world eat far too much meat product, a result of the onslaught of marketing by huge capitalist corporations.

What makes the Food Choices argument fallacious is the assertion that we must eradicate meat production altogether to solve this problem. There is no need for such an extreme angle. If we supported smaller producers in our countries, knowing that they are bound by the law in terms of animal welfare, we would still achieve a much better situation for the world.

This isn’t possible for everyone, but a reasonable aim would be to eat less meat altogether.

Save the world

One of the Food Choices film’s biggest claims is that you can save the world if you ‘change your diet’. But it isn’t necessary to remove all animal products from your diet to do this.

The film states that Big Agriculture is destroying the world and its environment. This is more or less true—it is certainly contributing to the overall environmental burden in a truly massive way—and has added to the misery of incarcerated farm animals on factory farms.

This is how it goes: corporatism and capitalism have led us to the over production of meat products. These can only be sustained through factory farming. Massive numbers of animals are kept unnaturally in crowded quarters indoors and instead of feeding them on grass alone—or in the case of pigs, feeding them on food waste—they feed them on grains.

What’s the problem? Well, apart from the over production of the pernicious greenhouse gas methane, due to farting cows …

First point: indoors is an unnatural, crowded environment for animals. This makes them prone to illness and infection, hence the overuse of antibiotics which may eventually lead to the decimation of humans. We are going to be almost wiped out by a common illness if we don’t sort this shit out.

Second point: a third of our cereal crops feed livestock. Massive arable farms have helped to destroy ancient forests (of which only 7% remain) and other land that was used for other purposes, for the sake of producing unimaginable quantities of grain to feed to indoor-bred farm animals.This is a far cry from the efficient use of land of old, where arable land was used to produce crops and grassland that didn’t grow much else was used to produce meat.

But again, this doesn’t mean we need to stop eating meat and using animal products. Humans do not need to eat meat three times per day, seven days per week. We don’t have to eat just over our own body weight in meat every year.

Hunter-gatherer ‘proof’

However, we do largely need to eat meat. The film points out that certain groups of indigenous peoples traditionally were hunter-gatherers. It uses the word ‘primitive’ to describe those peoples, a hint at racist tendencies. It states that they gathered more than they hunted. Of course they did. Large amounts of meat were rare and required luck, opportunity and skill to acquire in this manner.

But according to Siewierski’s film, this is proof that we don’t need the meat. I call bullshit. Most of us do. It depends how crap you don’t mind feeling.

The film claims: it is natural to consider a plant-only diet, because most of the time people didn’t get the meat anyway. In fact, those groups did eat meat, much less often. They did this because meat provides humans with an efficient way of consuming a large amount of protein, minerals and vitamins in a form that our bodies most efficiently process.

For example, you may believe that lentils and other legumes have adequate protein for your needs. In fact they do not have quite the right kind of protein for your needs. They’ll do, but your body won’t do quite as well as it would do with meat. In most cases.  Some people may feel they digest these things more easily than the concentrated form of meat.

Why? For humans, the bio-availability of vitamins and minerals in meat is better than in vegetables. Our bodies process them from meat more easily. (NB: best way to achieve a better protein through plant-based food is to combine lentils with nuts).

Sure, older versions of humans were probably herbivorous. ‘Lucy’ was found to have only grains and vegetable matter in her stomach. ‘Lucy’ was a different species of human. Our species adapted to meat, so our stomachs are smaller, our bodies metabolise it efficiently, and our jaws are designed to exert less force (study).

It doesn’t follow that ‘our ancestors only ate meat sometimes, so you should never ever eat it at all, ever.’ This just isn’t logical.

Also, stating something is ‘natural’ is a classic logical fallacy:

 

Threatens the viewer

Weasel words again. Here, it is claimed that eating meat makes you more likely to get cancer and heart disease. Of course it does if you eat it all the time. Also if you consider all the drugs and other substances that are added to processed meat products. However, it doesn’t follow that you shouldn’t eat it at all. A tin of Spam has a lot less going for it than a fresh steak.

Remember T. Colin Campbell and his osteoporosis claim? Do you think your GP knows about this? Do you really think your GP would put credence into this man’s work?

Another claim is that protein elevates blood cholesterol levels, but there are at least a couple of issues here. First, emerging evidence suggests that diet doesn’t affect cholesterol levels as previously thought. Secondly, it is fats – saturated fats, to be precise – that have always been implicated. The reason protein might be said to affect cholesterol is if the protein choices were high in saturated fat, but this doesn’t necessarily mean animal proteins. However, cholesterol risk is largely considered now to be based in genetics, not diet.

And the big one (for some): erectile dysfunction. Yet only around 26 men of 1000 suffer from ED, and the majority of these are older. Age, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and, interestingly, lower education (see comment about classism at the end of this piece) are all factors in these. Not meat eating. Of course, heart disease can be affected by what you eat, but like the cholesterol, it’s related to the consumption of saturated fats, poor overall diet, and a lack of fresh vegetables, not meat eating per se.

Omega-6 is a baddie

So you’d think that if saturated fats are bad, these people plugging this “plant-based” (vegan) diet would be keen on polyunsaturates, the good guys of the fat world. We’re talking extra virgin olive oil, for example, that natural detergent for the arteries, the base of the much admired Mediterranean diet …

Nope.

In the midst of explaining about how the fish oil industry (and the supplements industry) is nothing but a massive scam—an argument I would largely agree with—the film took a sudden unexpected turn. It stated that polyunsaturated fats were also bad. That fat vegans were not cutting out oils.

Why would they? Human bodies need to take in a certain amount of fat in order to support cell growth, give the body energy, protect organs and keep the body warm. It’s considered dangerous to cut out fats altogether.

Knocking polyunsaturates is a strange, strange choice here. Which leads us to the next crazy claim of the film Food Choices:

The fat you eat is the fat you wear

This is dogma. The sugar industry has been running low health expectations for the majority of the western human population for over 40 years, and this has only recently begun to be debunked. Even medical science has been infected by this corporate-sponsored thinking.

Low fat is the scourge of healthy diets. Naturally low fat ingredients are fine, of course. But when a ‘low fat’ product is created to replace a product that is normally moderate or high in fat—for example, yoghurts and desserts, spreads, low fat quiches, mayonnaises, sauces, you name it, that product tends to taste like shit. Or cardboard. Or both. Or nothing. That’s why those things inevitably contain high quantities of sugar,  because dear god they have to make them taste pleasant somehow.

If you’re eating a largely balanced diet, in reasonable quantities, but still gaining weight, sugar is more likely to be the fat you wear. Refined carbohydrate. Not fat. It’s the hidden sugars in low fat tomato pasta sauces, curry sauces, dips, canned goods, and other factory created foods. Read the ingredients on everything.

Vegetarianism is a cop-out

It wasn’t until the movie got to the bit where it bashes vegetarianism that I realised what the overall aim was. Here’s a halfway house that is more possible for more people: vegetarians don’t eat meat proteins. They stay away from processed products that contain animal ingredients such as rennet, gelatine and lard. But they still often eat dairy and eggs, neither of which result in the death of the animal, although there are still ethical issues around the mass production of both. Mass production is the real evil, but this film isn’t interested in that.

According to the film, vegetarianism is not good enough. This is an extremist view based in ideology, not science, that should be regarded with suspicion. It’s talking about veganism, where you get to eat ‘sheeze’, fake mayonnaise made from god knows what chemicals and where soya milk is preferred, despite its insidious effects on human hormones. Not to mention the inevitable tofu (implicated in cancer) and TVP mince (god. only. knows).

Fish eaters beware

And if veggies don’t get away with it, neither do fish eaters. After all, fish have feelings too! (Not that they mention that). Oh, and according to the rather sinister Dr Michael Greger, mercury levels in fish mean that you’ll also damage yourself doing this.

Yet, he also believes pesticides cannot cause you any issues. Right. Sure. I bet those chemicals wash right off with a quick rinse under the tap. Not.

Vegan athletes exist

The film drags out a couple of vegan athletes. They look healthy, sure. But two vegan athletes who are obsessed with the body beautiful does not an entire theory prove. Pull the other one. Just because it works for ‘Rick Roll’ doesn’t mean it will work for everyone.The guy has money, for a start.

Veganism is cheaper than meat eating

Honestly? Buying fruit and veg at the levels needed to create full balanced meals from scratch is not a cheap option. If it is cheaper, through the use of dried legumes and pulses, then it’s more expensive on your time, and without those fresh veggies, is pretty depressing too.

As Food Choices states, supermarkets control the prices. They also control availability unless you have access to an independent shop of some kind. £30-35 is a likely cost of a basket of fruit and veg for a week’s worth of meals, and more if you’re making food for a whole family. Depending on where you live, you may have better or worse availability.

If you buy seasonally, you may be able to do it cheaper—good luck figuring out what is actually in season in a supermarket. Eating seasonally also makes it harder to provide yourself with variety. Air miles on veg are difficult to dodge. For example, most of everything—even onions—in our local veg shop is Spanish at present, and in the Co-op comes from much further afield, e.g. Peru, South Africa, and so on.

Buying large quantities of meat and processed meat products definitely bump the prices up, but buying vegetables only isn’t a significantly cheaper option, since you have to buy larger quantities to get a similar nutritional pay off.

Is veganism healthier?

Most vegans are not especially healthy—if most of the contributors on Food Choices are anything to go by. (Just look at them). And let’s not forget that the film is unimpressed by the supplements industry. So apparently, fuck you if you can’t get all the nutrients you need from your food. This article claims anecdotally that immune systems do not easily hold up against the common cold and other regular illnesses without some input from concentrated sources of vitamins and minerals. My partner, however, a veggie of 15+ years, does not seem to suffer in this way. But vegans tend to eat a great deal of overly processed foods, so this may be a clue to those who suffer from poor health.

Animal torture

The last 10-15 minutes of the Food Choices film shows you a series of videos of animal torture in appalling conditions in slaughterhouses that are clearly breaking the law. It is highly upsetting and unpleasant, and I don’t recommend watching this.

This is a poor show on the part of the film makers, particularly given that they have avoided the emotional trap throughout. It is a blatant guilt trip and an assault on the viewer who has sat through nearly an hour and a half of this propaganda claptrap.

There are no two ways around this particular argument, and actually, for me, this is the most honest part of the argument. The only honest part. If you want to avoid any chance of the meat you eat having gone through traumatic experiences like that as animals, you will need to buy your meat from small and local producers who either kill their own or use small slaughterhouses. Or kill your own. Or give it up entirely.

Is veganism a ‘personal choice’?

Of course it is. Veganism is a personal choice, but it is not at all easy to follow as dishonestly implied by the Food Choices film. It is not only a personal choice. It’s not a diet that just anyone can do. We do not live in a social vacuum. We do not all have the access to plant-based natural foods that we would like. Many people do not have the skills or knowledge to make tasty adequate meals from scratch using only vegetables and no oil or fat of any kind.

To imply that the choice is due entirely to personal morals is dishonest. There are many more factors at play.

If you are revolted at the thought of killing animals for your food, then you should stop eating animal products. This is, in fact, the only argument for veganism that holds up. All the other arguments in the Food Choices film can be answered with the solution of eating less meat.

Classist arguments around veganism and meat eating

My own commonly used argument for eating less meat is that you can afford better quality meat, even organic, if you eat less. But if you want to avoid supermarkets, you need to go to a small producer, a farm shop, a local smallholder, and so on.

But this is essentially classist. I am fully aware that if you live where I do, you’ll have a much better chance of achieving that. Yet most people live in large towns and cities. There’s no way around this. The only way I can see to improve your ethical intake of meat products is to reduce the quantities right down and aim for the Organic label.

At which point you still need money. If you start with nearly nothing, it doesn’t matter how little you eat, that organic meat will still be off the table. Compare that to the price of a tin of Pek and it’s easy to see how poverty plays a huge role in the lack of control and choice people have over their diets.

Bear in mind that worrying about the details of what you put in your stomach is an incredibly middle-class preoccupation. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a good visual explanation of this:

No-one who is suffering for food, water, shelter, security, rest, or warmth is worrying about the details of what is going into their belly.

In the same way, these ‘arguments’ postulated by this propaganda film Food Choices are just as classist. If you’re broke, decent veg in the quantities that you need to fill you, energise you and keep you healthy is hard to come by. And that’s without even acknowledging the effects of Western veganism on countries where certain ‘staples’ are produced. For example, those who pick and process the quinoa; those who have suffered the destruction of their countrysides for the production of avocados to the West. Over production is a problem, no matter what you eat.

Can you win? Sure, get educated, be vigilant, and aware of what you eat. Read the ingredients. Learn about food groups.

Can you become the ‘ideal’ that this movie wants you to believe? Who knows. All I do know is that Food Choices by Michal Siewierski is a dishonest series of arguments aimed to make the meat-eating, veggie or pescatarian viewer feel bad about their lives. Food Choices by Michal Siewierski: welcome to ideologically driven guilt.