‘Game Changers’ review: What’s the beef?



It doesn’t take long for The Game Changers to show itself for what it really is: an hour-and-a-half advertisement for vegan living. This is not so much a tumble down the rabbit hole as it is a clobbering over the head with endless arguments to ditch the beef.

The new documentary has caused quite a stir since it was released globally on Netflix in October. The meat industry has thrown a tantrum, while countless tweeters have vowed to eat green — of course no one would ever lie on Twitter.

But going green is a good thing, right? Well, it’s not that simple.

The doccie begins by introducing us to the protagonist of the story, and its narrator, former mixed martial arts fighter James Wilks. After having eaten his vegetables he woke up feeling great so he decided to do research about a plant-based diet and tell everybody about it. He then introduces us to a number of elite athletes — from powerlifters to endurance runners — and talks up their achievements.

From there, the documentary’s formula pretty much remains constant. You see that big, strong guy over there? He survives solely on a plant-based diet. How about that cyclist Dotsie Bausch winning an Olympic silver medal at 39? Yup, she took it to the next level after swearing off the flesh and eggs. Remember that epic first Nate Diaz-Conor McGregor fight? Diaz won because he wasn’t eating steaks for breakfast, unlike his opponent.

Oh, you thought meat was important to getting enough protein and stuff? What an idiot.

“Someone asked me how could you get as strong as an ox without eating meat,” Germany’s strongest man, Patrik Baboumian, chirps. “My answer was: ‘Have you ever seen an ox eating meat?’”

All participating athletes seem quite happy to give broccoli all the credit for their success. It’s not as if training, hard work, genetics and hundreds of other factors could have anything to do with it. It’s all down to plant-based living, baby.

At this point you might be wondering about “plant-based” , but it turns out there is good reason to stay away from the V words.

“Veganism and vegetarian are stigmatised,” Wilks told Men’s Health magazine. “We’re not trying to tell people to go vegan. We are presenting the facts and letting people make their own decisions.”

But that’s not quite true. At every turn The Game Changers does it’s best to instil horror at even the thought of drinking a glass of milk. The claim is that not only is all meat — not just red meat — unhealthy for you, it will also hinder your athletic performance dramatically. There’s even a neat animation of your capillaries collapsing in on themselves.

This insistence on vilifying animal products is what has everybody so riled up. The common critique is that the cited evidence is far too limited and incomplete to justify the bold recommendations made in the doccie.

“What’s going to happen … is people will adopt a vegan lifestyle, fail in their health and ultimately suffer from physical and mental ailments,” meat ambassador Amanda Radke wrote in Beef magazine (yes, that is a real thing). “Shame on Arnold for doling out this kind of advice.”

The Arnold she is so disgusted with is none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the many high-profile names listed as a producer of this doccie. After going through the rest of the credits, it’s hard to shake the sense that there is a strong agenda here.

A quick Google search reveals that almost everyone involved has vegan skin in the game. A couple of examples among the producers are obvious. Titanic director James Cameron is a founder of Verdient Foods, which, according to its website, was “created to address the current and future global sustainable plant-based protein food demand”. There’s that amorphous phrase again.

Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, who many have been inclined to call a hypocrite after he said this month that veganism was the only way to save the planet, recently launched Neat Burger, “a plant-based restaurant” chain.

The featured athletes seem to be no different. Most seem to have given a TED talk on healthy eating at some point in their lives and have found decent side gigs in promoting their lifestyles. Bausch, for example, has founded two nonprofits that attempt to scare people away from dairy products, among other things. Baboumian, meanwhile, has become one of the faces of animal-rights group Peta.

When all is said and done, it’s a shame that the doccie went in this militaristic direction. Most experts would agree that there is no shortage of misconceptions floating around about meat — those that would have you believe that a sirloin three times a day keeps the doctor away. But countless aspiring athletes do believe they need a diet filled with raw eggs and steaks to achieve peak performance. Yet, instead of inspiring a balanced diet, The Game Changers happily goes to the other extreme.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.


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