I’m not a diet absolutist or a purist, but if I had to join a diet camp and stay there, it would be with the vegans, and specifically the whole-foods, plant-based vegans. My experience and common sense tell me that this is a good way to eat. There’s some evidence that it’s healthy. There’s a lot of evidence that it’s economically and environmentally sound. Mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, all that good stuff. I’m for it.
So this week, I watched the much-discussed What the Health, since when my partner’s out of town, all I do is watch documentaries about fitness and stuff. As a person who is personally and professionally invested in health, I wanted to like it. But alas, I was thoroughly disappointed, and even a little pissed off. Yes, I’m late to the party. But whatever. The thing is, I think the overall message is probably right– processed meat is bad for you, industrial production of animal foods creates major health hazards, animal agriculture is an ethical and environmental abomination, and major health advocacy groups take money from corporations that promote unhealthy products, thereby creating a colossal conflict of interest. So why package this message in a bunch of evangelism, cheap tricks, and scientific misrepresentation? It’s bad for the message.
Let’s take a moment to discuss crimes against science: no credible scientific paper would ever say something like “this definitely shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that a always causes b no matter what, and this is 100% true beyond the shadow of a doubt.” Science doesn’t work that way. Evidence accumulates– with nuanced approaches and varied findings, and over time, it may start to become clear what’s likely going on. Scientists study the studies and look at patterns and trends. They create meta-analyses and systematic reviews. They build a body of credible evidence. They don’t pull a handful of individual studies out and ask why they haven’t been made into policy.